The number one response I get when I share that I’m a foster parent is, “I could never do that; I’d get too attached.” People usually mean well when they say this, and the conversation is more awkward than rude, but I do think it’s important to address this sentiment because it is a real barrier for a lot of people who may otherwise consider foster care. When my husband and I first started the process, I basically smiled and nodded when people said this. Now that I have a better understanding, I can truly say that attachment is the point.
Foster care is designed to provide children with healthy attachment and family relationships while they are not able to safely remain with their families. Children need families and they need to be able to form strong bonds with their parent(s) whenever possible. There is a strong emphasis on providing services to help keep families together and prevent children from being removed whenever it is safe to do so. Being separated from family, even when it is not an ideal environment, is traumatic for children. When children cannot safely remain with their own family, foster care allows them to still live in a family setting. A major reason the US moved away from orphanages to foster care with individual families is that being raised in a family setting is generally better for children. Attachment is not just good for a child; it is essential to healthy development. Being a part of a nurturing family is something all children need. Not only does it impact future social abilities and interpersonal relationships, it also impacts future cognitive ability.
For children who have experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma, attachment is a crucial part of healing. According to the Annie E Casey Foundation, “Forming supportive relationships with consistent, caring adults is the most important way to heal and build resilience. Because brain development is such a highly interactive process, every interaction with a young person has the potential to heal – or to hurt.”
Far from disqualifying you from foster parenting, the fact that you could be deeply attached to a child who is only with you temporarily actually makes you a good candidate for foster care. Even so, many still fear the grief that would come when a child leaves, and that fear prevents them from fostering. Our next blog post will address the issues of grief and loss that come with foster parenting and why welcoming foster children into your home is worth the emotional costs.