It is important to keep in mind that you will need to constantly be adapting to each new situation. Each child brings their own set of challenges and issues. Each child responds differently to the demands of family life, school life, and social environments. Each child responds differently to discipline. What works for one child doesn’t always work for another.
Some children thrive with one-on-one attention. They need those personal interactions (Of course all children need some amount of one-on-one attention but certain children need more of it than others). If you have other children in the home you may need to make plans to have some alone time with each child, paying attention to those that really thrive in that situation. Other children thrive in a group environment. That means that if there are no other children in your home you will need to make arrangements with other parents for play dates or regularly bring that child to the park to play with other children or sign them up for various sports. Again, each child is different and each situation is different. Adapt and change is the name of the game.
Some children are impulsive, not thinking through the consequences of their actions. One of our foster children is like that. Before he came to live with us he was in a group home. One day, without thinking, he decided he would hang from the fire suppression pipes. As he did the pipe broke and flooded the building. If you have a child who is impulsive then you may want to walk around your house and your yard looking for potential problem areas and either making them safe or simply keep that child out of those areas.
Many children in therapeutic foster care are on medications for different reasons. Some are on anti psychotic meds, others are on ADHD meds, still others maybe on multiple medications for multiple diagnoses. As a foster parent one of your many jobs is to administer these medications. Keeping track of a child’s medication(s) is of utmost importance. As you can imagine if a child skips a medication or is given the wrong one at the wrong time it can cause all kinds of problems. Reactions can be anything from eradicate behavior to suicidal thoughts and more. Diligence is needed when administering medications. One way to help keep track of the proper medications and the proper times to give them is to use medication organizers (Pill organizers). There are a variety of kinds and sizes. If you chose to use this kind of organizer make sure the agency you work for allows you to use them. Some agencies do not allow parents to use these organizers but instead demand that the pills stay in the original bottles with the original labels on them. They see this as a way of making sure your foster child is given the correct pills at the correct times because the bottles will have all that information on them.
If you are unable to use a pill organizer you can always use a reminder on your phone or computer to tell you when the medication is needed and what dosage, ect. Most phone and/or computers have programs that allow you to set up reminders with notes. In the notes field type in what child receives which meds and then set that reminder to go off at the appropriate time during the day then simply do the same for all of your children that are on meds. Again, this is an area of extreme importance and organization is key.
It may appear from what I’ve written so far that there are more difficulties and challenges than there are joys. That is simply not true at all! The joys really do out weight the stress and the struggles. The struggles are real, this is real life with real children who have real needs, but the joys are every bit as real as well and in my opinion simply out weight the difficulties (So long as you are doing it for the right reasons).
When you watch your foster child or your child who has special needs, play soccer and score their first goal there is joy there. When you watch as they practice Karate and get their first belt, you rejoice with them in their achievement. And when your child who has special needs crosses the finish line after running in the Special Olympics and shows you their “proud face”, you feel that joy deep inside.
It is also extremely rewarding to know that you are working for God. James tells us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction… (James 1:27, ESV)”. Jesus made it clear that what we do for others, we do for him and so keeping that in mind, we are blessed to be able to serve Christ by taking care of these children.
Throughout all the pain, difficulties, and joys we have learned so much. I can only share a few of the things we’re learned because time would simply not allow me to go into detail. One of things we’re learned though our experience working with special needs children and foster care is patience. We are much more patient now than we were before having Ethan and fostering. Are we perfectly patient all the time? Not at all, but have we grown? You better believe we have. It takes patience to work with your child who doesn’t speak. It took Ethan a very long time before he spoke one word. During that time we learned patience as we used PECK boards and sign language in order to communicate with him.
When Angel, who runs non-stop like the energizer bunny, tries to tell you something, but he is going all over the place, that takes patience and when the agency you work for or the State continually wants to do things that you know would be the wrong thing for your child, that takes patience.
My wife and I have also learned to rely on each other more. We simply know when the other one is getting worn down and needs a break. She will say to me “I think you need to go out for a while” or I might say to her “I think it’s time for you to go get a massage”. We’ve learned to work together better and have learned to rely on each other.
Probably the biggest thing we’ve learned in the 7 years we have been doing foster care and the 11 years we’ve been raising Ethan, is to lean on Christ for our strength. There is simply no way we could have done any of this on our own, maybe others could have but we couldn’t. Our prayer life is stronger as we daily ask him for strength. We are always asking him for wisdom and guidance and always asking him to give us the ability to love and care for these children. We of course pray for them and thank God that he has blessed us by placing these children in our home.
This was mentioned briefly above but let me take some time to elaborate here. There are two major things that are needed when doing Therapeutic Foster Care/Taking Care of Children with Special Needs.
The first and most important thing is that you and your spouse have a strong walk with God. You will need to rely on him and his strength on a daily and many times and hourly basis. It is no good to have a superficial relationship with God. One where you say hi to him once or twice a week at the worship service or bible study. Of course this should be the normal life for a Christian any ways but sadly it is not always the case. It is important to keep in mind that God is the creator and sustainer or life. He is able and willing to help you through the good times and the bad.
The second thing that is needed is a strong marriage. You will be tested in all kinds of ways. You will be stressed and tired. You will get angry and frustrated (Not always with the children but many times with the system). You will need to be able to communicate with your spouse and let them know when you need some time or when you feel overwhelmed. If your marriage is not strong adding a special needs child into the mix is really a recipe for disaster. That does not mean that there have not been couples whose marriages were weak and they took in a child with special needs and their marriage survived or was even strengthened through the process, but that is more of the exception than the rule.
Make sure you talk things over before you jump into Therapeutic Foster Care and make sure the lines of communication are open. There will always be surprises but try to talk over some of the anticipated difficulties and obstacles you imagine might come. It is far better talk things over before you have a child placed with you and while things are clam than to try and do it in the midst of a torrent of emotions and frustrations.
Be honest as well. If you do not think you can handle a special needs child or simply do not feel called to do Therapeutic Foster Care, make your feelings known. If you do not want to do this and you end up taking in a child it will not be long before you start to resent your spouse and become bitter over the whole situation. You want this to be a positive experience for you and these children. So be honest!
It is also important to know why you are doing foster care in the first place. If it is simply for the money there are plenty of other jobs you could do. Please do yourself a favor and the children in foster care a favor, do not move forward. If you are only in this for the money, it will not be long before the money is not enough of a reason to keep you lovingly motivated. You are likely to get burnt out faster and give up if your soul reason is because you think this might be an easy way to make a living. If you do get burnt out and give up that will mean sending that child away to another home or institution. So please think carefully before you go forward with fostering.
Doing it to serve Christ by serving these children was why my wife and I got started. We believed that God had been preparing us to do this kind of work. It is my conviction that the main reason a Christian should do foster care is to serve God almighty, to be his hands. When foster care becomes hard and difficulties arise, and they will, knowing that you are working for God helps to keep you focused and motivated.
There are certainly lots of challenges and struggles when taking care of children with special needs but there is something extremely rewarding as well. I am always reminded of the passage of scripture that says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction… (James 1:27, ESV)”. We are here to work and serve our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ and one way we have done that is by taking care of children with special needs. It has been a privilege and a joy, even in the midst of trials and heartache.
If you have the ability and the desire, therapeutic foster care is a great way to serve God by serving children in need.