If you have biological or adopted kids when you decide to foster you are deciding to become a fostering family. Your children will become children who foster.
This means that they are not just sharing their house and parents with foster kids -- they form relationships with those kids.
There have only been a few attempts to study children who foster, but what there has been seems to indicate:
- Children have few complaints about "sharing" their parents, but have a very hard time dealing with kids who treat the parents badly.
- They seem to be okay about sharing their possessions but get very upset if their things are damaged or stolen.
- They have a greater understanding of the inequalities in society and tend to be more tolerant.
- They recognize that they are privileged or "lucky" even if they don't get what their friends get.
- They show more signs of separation anxiety. In older children this can manifest as more sick days.
- The younger they are the more likely they are to think that foster children were given away because they were bad. This includes babies whom they think "cried too much."
- They do not tend to develop behavior problems similar to those of the foster kids. In other words they tend to be "good" kids.
- In general they seem to cope better with foster children who are younger rather than older than they are.
- Their feelings of grief and loss when they get close to kids who are later moved can be severe.
We started doing care when our "fostering children" were only 6 and 10. The three fostered boys who have come into our family are older than they are. This has worked for us because we work in a program in which we are carefully matched with kids who will mesh with our family. We started with a youth who was in care for an easy to understand reason: his mother had died.
When people who already have children are considering foster care I tell them two things:
- The risks of your child being physically hurt or learning bad habits (which is what most people seem to worry about) exist, but are lower than you think.
- Don't do it unless you think your children are ready to be told the truth about why other children are in foster care. This is not to say that you give them all the ugly details (or even most of the ugly details). Realize though that you will be teaching your children that terrible things happen to children in this world, and that there are good people who open their homes to help. It is a powerful lesson.
I would do it again and I believe my kids would too. It was not the idealic love-filled experience I might have imagined it would be, but it is an adventure that has made all of us stronger.