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Is Foster Care a Game Worth Playing?

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Maybe you've been thinking about becoming a foster parent or you've been one for a while. Either way, foster care is incredibly hard and you have to be certain this is a journey you want to travel. Your reasons for fostering will be different from everyone else's. The reality is that most foster parents don't last more than a couple of years before they decide to call it quits. People close their license for many reasons. Maybe they feel ill equipped to deal with challenges they face, maybe they have an unrealistic expectations of how things will go, or they simply lack support when they need it most. Either way, foster care can be incredibly hard and you have to ask yourself, is foster care a game worth playing?

Family game night

As a family, we love playing games. It's a great way to spend time together, build family bonds and have fun. But it also can create some of the greatest rivalries and bring out the competitiveness in people you didn't even know existed. I want to take a look at some of the games we play and the lessons they can teach us. These games can teach us that foster care is a game worth playing, you just need the right SUPPORT!


Strategy

Have you ever played the game Farkle? It’s a dice game that uses five dice that you roll to make different combinations that score you points. The first player to score 10,000 points wins. As you roll and score points you can choose to stop and bank your points, or you can keep rolling trying to gain more points. The trick to the game is that you always have to have a one or a five or you lose all your points. Some people are very conservative and aren't risk takers so they often stop and bank their points, making small gains at every turn. Then you have the risk takers. The risk takers want to gain as many points as possible so they keep rolling hoping to score big. No matter which person you are, you need a strategy on how you will play the game in order to win.


Having a strategy means that you have a plan of action to achieve a certain goal. Fostering is no different than playing a game like Farkle. We all need a strategy, a goal set in our mind. For most people who foster, they start that journey with a specific goal in mind as to what they want to accomplish. That goal may change over time, but they still have a goal. Zig Ziglar once said “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time”. As a foster parent you need a strategy to meet your goal.


What are some reasons to have a strategy?

  1. Plans can help you maintain a sense of direction and focus.

  2. The foster care system can be overwhelming and you can easily lose your sense of direction. Your goals and strategies will bring you back into focus.

  3. Plans help give you control in the areas you can control. There are so many things that are out of your control so you should do your very best in the areas you can control.

An important component to your strategy is knowing your limits. If you’re always saying yes without counting the cost to your family, your marriage, and your goals, then you’re risking failure in various areas of your life. It’s hard to say no, but sometimes it's necessary. Some questions to also ask yourself is “How will I make tough decisions?” or "How will I know when I need a break?”. Remember that every family is different and has different strengths. So what you plan for, and how you plan for it really matters for your family.

Understanding

In my opinion Uno is one of the best card games around. You can play it with a group of adults or a group of kids. Everyone can understand the game. The rules are simple and straight forward. But did you know there are multiple variations of Uno? There is Uno Flip, Uno Attack, Uno All Wild!, Uno Dare, Uno Flex, just to name a few. All these versions have slightly different rules than the classic version and you have to understand the differences if you're going to play. If you tried playing Uno Flip version while using the classic version rules, you are likely going to lose.


Fostering is no different. There are constantly changing rules (or lease it seems that way). What happens in one case never seems to happen in another case. It can be really confusing. As a foster parent, having understanding is a key to success. Understanding gives you insight, helps you gain comprehension, and allows you put things into perspective so you have the right approach to everything you do while fostering. When you have understanding you tend to worry less and have less stress.


What areas do you need to have understanding?

  1. Understanding of the child welfare system. While this may seem like a daunting task, being intentional in understanding the different factors that play a role in why team members make decisions can shift your perspective. Another perspective shifter is knowing who gets to make what decisions and which decisions you can make. Families are often placing blame on team members for decisions they didn't actually make.

  2. Understanding the child’s experiences. Factor in the number of placement changes the child has had, then multiple it by the trauma they’ve experienced, and then you'll gain a new level of perspective that you'll need to help you understand the behaviors a child may be having. Learning about trauma and how it impacts children can influence how you respond to children placed in you home. It definitely gives you a new set of "rules" to parent your kids.

Patience

One of the most frustrating games ever invented is Jenga. I always make the tower fall. You have to be so careful, take your time, make precision moves, then “BAM”, it all comes crashing down. The worst part is having to set it all back up just so you can make it fall again! Anyone who wins at Jenga has mastered the art of patience. They have the ability to observe, knowing which piece to move, and they have the patience to wait for just right time, even if it's difficult.


Doesn’t that define foster care? There are so many things that are out of our control! Case management, court hearings, family support team meetings, visits, and the list can go on and on. We wait, we build, we feel like things are going well and then, "Bam!", it all comes crashing down. We have to have patience in a system that is frustrating and broken.

But why is patience a support? Let’s think about the meaning of support. It is the thing(s) we need in order to succeed. What about the meaning of patience? It is the ability accept or tolerate difficult things without getting angry or upset. It’s about how you act. If you really want to succeed, you have to endure the difficult aspects of the foster care system by acting the right way. You have to know which battles to fight with the system, and the kids too.


Don’t ever forget that your kids are always watching you. And when you lose your patience and get out of control, it reinforces to your kids which type of response is acceptable. You wonder why your kids are impatient, but it's a behavior that you have reinforced to them. Developing patience enables you to continually give, even though you very rarely get anything in return. You’re banking on the fact that the rewards come later.


Perspective

You either love puzzles or you hate puzzles. They have tiny pieces that get lost, someone forgets to put the puzzle away, and part of the box goes missing. It is so hard to finish a puzzle without the box top that shows you the picture. It feels like you should just throw the puzzle away rather than try and figure it out. Fostering and solving a puzzle have a lot of similarities, not having the right perspective can really make things hard.


Most families start out with the greatest amount of excitement, eagerness, and determination, but somewhere along the way things happen. They lose their perspective and they forget why they're fighting the battles they face everyday. They no longer see the point of view they started with and they give up.


Think of the importance of this illustration.

I heard recently about a lady who went into an auto parts store. She asked for a seven-ten cap. The employees all looked at each other and say, "What's a seven-ten cap?" She says, "You know, it's right on the engine. Mine got lost somehow and I need a new one." "What kind of a car is it on," they ask. Perhaps it was an old Datsun 710 but no, she says, "It's a Buick." "OK, lady, how big is it?" She makes a circle with her hands about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. "What does it do?" They ask. She says, "I don't know, but it’s always been there." One of the employees gives her a note pad and asks her if she can draw a picture of it. So she makes a circle about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and in the center she writes 710. The guys behind the counter are looking at it upside down as she writes it...and they just fall down behind the counter because they are laughing so hard. One guy finally says, "I think you want an oil cap." She says, "Seven-ten cap, oil cap, I don't care what you call it, I just need one, and I don't see what is so funny about it." (by the way, in case you haven't figured it out by now, the word "OIL" upside down looks like "710”


In foster care it’s all about how you see things. It is so easy to get bogged down in the day to day with the amount of work it takes to just get through the day. Appointments, visits, tantrums, homework, laundry, meals, tantrums, dishes, baths, counseling, and even more trantrums. You lose your perspective. You need the right perspective to succeed. You need to see the big picture and not get discouraged and bogged down. Start by determining what's most important to you and stop letting the less important things take priority.


Optimism

Spades is one of the most well known 4 person card games. The object of this game is to correctly guess the number of hands you will win. What makes it more challenging is that you have to trust your partner to do the same thing. Your success with this game is partly based on strategy and partly based on your optimism that you'll win the cards you say you'll win.


You’ve probably met some foster parent who seems lifeless, negative, and dreadful. They've most likely lost their optimism . Yes, foster care is hard. Yes, foster care hurts. Yes, foster care leaves you helpless. Yes, foster care makes you cry. You might have a lot of doubt in the foster care system, and rightfully so. But as a foster parent one of the most powerful supports you have is your sense of optimism, hope and confidence. The foster care system can never take that away from you.


Why is optimism so powerful?

  1. Optimism motivates you. You had a purpose/goal. Otherwise you would have never started this journey. Have you forgotten it?

  2. Optimism keeps you looking forward. You can make a difference! You must have believed that at one time otherwise you would never have started this journey. What difference have you already made?

  3. Optimism helps shape your decisions. There’s more than just the here and now. If you didn't believe that you would have never started this journey in the first place. What are you aiming for?

Resilience

In the game of Sorry you draw cards that move your pawns across the board. But you have to be aware because there are cards in the deck that your competitors can use to send you back home. It’s a game where you have to be focused on moving forward, rather than focusing on the fact that you keep getting sent home. It’s easy to get stuck in a game of revenge. You have to be resilient and quickly move forward so you can achieve a victory.


If there ever is a word that defines a foster parent, it is resilient. Foster parents have to be able to withstand difficult situations and recover quickly because you never know when they next difficult situation will arrive. Foster parents have to keep bouncing back time and time again. See how you stack up to this list.


7 Characteristics of a person who has resilience.

1. Competence – the ability to know how to handle stressful situations effectively. You learn from stressful situations and add skills that will help contribute to future successes.

2. Confidence – knowing you have the ability. You use your strengths in different situations to achieve success.

3. Connection – close ties to friends, family, and community groups. You have a strong sense of security and a sense of belonging. You know who your people are.

4. Character – having a strong sense of right and wrong and are prepared to make the right decisions. You know your values and you’re comfortable sticking to them.

5. Contribution – personally knowing you’ve made the world a better place because of something you’ve done. You remember the ways you've contributed and you can keep doing it.

6. Coping – a repertoire of skills used effectively to overcome life’s challenges. You can identify your ways to cope and you keep using them.

7. Control – having a say over your decisions and actions. You know when you have options or choices and you know when things are beyond your control.


Teammates

Group games like Taboo expose how good of a teammate you are. In Taboo you're trying to get your team to guess the word on the card without using certain common phrases associated with that word. When you end up with zero points on your turn you realize you're not as good of a teammate as you once thought.


Foster parents often feel like they are not a part of the foster care team or a valued teammate. They express their opinion and no one cares. They tell about the heartache of the child they are caring for but no one listens. Foster parents throw their hands up in frustration and say, "What team!". Even if "the team" doesn’t include you, develop your own team for support. Find people who have the same goals as you who will work together with you and others for the success of the child(ren).


How are team’s powerful?

  1. Better problem solving - you can rely on your teammates skills and knowledge to find solutions that are practical and useful.

  2. Help push you to growth - you gain new insight and perspective from teammates.

  3. You’re happier - research has shown higher emotional well-being for those who have teammates.

  4. Personal growth - teammates can help you learn new things about yourself.

  5. Less burnout - you have emotional support from your teammates because they understand what you are doing.

Leave a comment and share how support is a game changer for you!

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