People who are interested in becoming foster parents often want to read perspectives on foster parenting from current foster parents. Youth perspectives can be helpful. As I advocate for current and former foster youth, I'm finding more opportunities share my story and what I hope can become a more positive reality for foster youth in the future.
My best experiences in care were when my foster parents supported me in a hobby. This is when I felt like I was given the opportunity to thrive instead of simply survive. They helped me participate in the community Youth Symphony Orchestra since my new school didn't have an orchestra program, and drove me to private instrument lessons once a week. I also enjoyed when my foster parents invited me to participate in their hobbies, in this case, horseback riding. I enjoyed when my foster parents celebrated when I did well in school, for example when I got to be part of the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG) and go to "Brain Bowl" competitions. I liked that my foster parents gave me chores and taught me how to be responsible because I was able to gain skills to take with me wherever I was placed next.
Some experiences I had while in care weren't as positive. My foster parents knew that the case plan for me was reunification, yet would speak unkindly of my biological family members. They would say that my parents were lazy, that they needed to lose weight, that they needed to get jobs instead of using social security disability benefits, and that their religion was stupid, among other comments. This was difficult for many reasons, one of which being that reunification with my birth family was the route my case was supposed to take. Villainizing the family I'd be returning to didn't make sense. Even though I knew my parents had made some mistakes that were inexcusable, they also were victims of oppression in other areas of life that my foster parents wouldn't acknowledge.
My foster family didn't give me much choice in when or what I could eat, and mealtimes became a constant battle because I didn't like eating red meat. I didn't like having to eat one large meal at night instead of being allowed to snack on healthy options in smaller portions. I think this would have been an opportunity to come to a decision together as a family that could work, and being a part of that discussion could have helped me build trust with them.
My foster parents would choose my clothing for me, and wouldn't let me dress like the boys at school like I wanted to because I was assigned female at birth. My foster parents had spoken of LGBTQ+ people with offensive language and had talked about ending friendships with people of those identities, so I didn't feel safe coming out to them when I did learn more about my gender and sexual identity. My foster parents often mistook my anxiety or trauma-responses as a form of disrespect, which was never my intention. I often felt like I was viewed as a child acting out with malicious intent, instead of a youth in need of mental health resources.
I didn't like when my foster mom forced me to kiss my foster dad on the lips when he was in the hospital because I told them that in my family we don't kiss on the lips. I think it's important for foster parents to share their family culture with their youth, but only when appropriate and with the child's consent. When a foster youth has a family culture that is important to them, that needs to be honored. It is never okay to make a foster youth kiss or hug someone they don't want to.
As a foster parent, it is important to meet the youth where they are at. They come with their prior experiences - both good and bad. Sometimes keeping firm boundaries is important. Equally important is being open to negotiation with the child on what is important to them. Involving them in the process gives them back some of the power they have lost by being moved around between different houses, schools, and social workers. For youth who were neglected at home, showing you have an interest in their perspective is huge. For those who have suffered verbal or physical abuse, giving them the opportunity not just to watch but to actively participate in calm and patient negotiation and resolution of reasonable conflict helps them learn skills, build trust, and feel safer. In my opinion, foster parents shouldn't use physical reprimanding or writing lines as punishment or discipline. Instead, educating yourself to take trauma-informed approaches to discipline are better. Another important thing is educating yourself on disabilities and neurodivergence. The best way to do that is to learn from people who have these experiences themselves and advocate for their communities. Making foster youth feel safer should always be a priority.
When I become a foster/adoptive parent, I hope to support my youth in many ways. I want them to know they have access to pursuing a hobby, their spiritual community if they have/want one, and/or other cultural identities. I hope to be able to take in sibling groups, but if for some reason a youth must be separated from their sibling, I want to make sure if that relationship is important to them that they have as many opportunities for quality connection as can be made available. I want them to know I am available to teach them what they need in terms of life skills. I want to be transparent with them about why I became a foster parent so they know I have good intentions, and that I'm willing to make amends for when I make a mistake. Even though I am an adult, I am not perfect, but I can learn how to do better. I'll always seek out resources for how to support them better.