Whether they’re with you for weeks, months or years, caring for foster children is a story of ups and downs. It’s most apparent in long-term care, where a child could stay with you until they reach adulthood. You’ll have countless challenges to overcome, but seeing the results play out over time can be so much more rewarding.
The best possible start in life
The usual aim of foster care is to provide a safe, nourishing environment for a child until they can return to their biological family.
Sometimes this only takes a few weeks or months, so the child stays with a foster family short-term until their parents are ready to take proper care of them. Sometimes it takes much longer, so they either move from one short-term placement to another or stay with one foster family for as long as possible.
Whereas short-term care is invaluable for last-minute placements and short stints, long-term care is where you can make a lasting difference. For consistency, structure and trust – vital to a foster child’s development – it can’t be beat.
Take the good with the bad
You’ll be helping someone through the most difficult time of their life, so don’t expect it to be easy. In addition to the usual challenges of looking after children, like clothes scattered across the floor and nightly negotiations over bedtime, foster children often have health complaints, behavioural issues and learning disabilities too.
This can all make for a trying time, especially if the child you’re working hard for takes out their frustrations on you, but it’s never in vain. Every time you stay up late to hold their hand or fix a shirt they’ve torn in anger, you’re showing them that someone cares. In many cases, that’s the first step to solving their problems.
Help them grow and share their success
In long-term care, you get the bonus of seeing your hard work pay off. It could be making them smile for the first time after years of abuse, giving them their first real birthday party, or watching them clean their plate after dealing with an eating disorder. The little victories make every struggle worthwhile.
As they become comfortable living with you and learn to trust you, you’ll teach them how to interact and forge the meaningful relationships that ground them in a community. That includes maintaining contact with their biological family – something made much easier by having a consistent home life.
Sometimes a foster child’s relationship with their biological family can break down, but you’ll be there to help them through. New challenges come with this change, but they always do over time. Toddlers have different needs to teenagers, who have different needs to young adults. There’s no end to the new trials you’ll overcome together, but the hardest part is usually saying goodbye.
You're not in it alone
Your foster child might be with you until they’re an adult, or they might not, but no matter what you’ll always have the help of an expert team. You get training for your foster child’s specific needs, 24-7 phone support, a dedicated Supervising Social Worker and support groups with other carers. You also get financial support to help you provide for and treat your foster family.
Support lasts until the child reaches adulthood, but that doesn’t mean your relationship ends there too. In many cases, former foster children maintain contact with their foster parents for their entire lives. They’re part of the family.
In all, long-term foster care isn’t an easy road and the challenges can make you ask why you do it. But the answer is an easy one to come by: you’re doing it to show a child who has nowhere else to turn that they can still find hope, love and a family who cares. There’s nothing else like it in the world.