How To Foster Care
It takes a special kind of person to adopt a child. And an even more special person to open their home and foster kids for an unknown length of time.
But my friend Adam Tank, who recently became a foster parent with his wife Kelsey, disagrees:
“You don’t have to be some sort of special person to do it. You just have to care.”
Well-known as “the water guy,” Adam leads commercial activities for the early stage water tech startup, Transcend Water. We met during Cohort 4 of Write of Passage where he earned another nickname: “the comma killer.” And now he proudly identifies as “foster dad.”
While foster families often get a bad rap, many of them provide a safe and loving environment for kids. When I asked Adam about their metrics for success as foster parents, he said they get to be the fun aunt and uncle for some period of time. If the kid has fun, that’s success:
“The other weekend I’m out playing Spike Ball with these two boys and we’re having the time of our lives. I know that even for that hour, they’re not thinking about all the crap going on in their life. To watch them laugh, to give them some semblance of control over their own happiness, that’s huge.”
For Adam, a seed was planted in college when he lived in Mexico for a summer and worked at an orphanage. Adam remembers, “To see [kids] so happy despite their circumstances and to be able to give to them was, selfishly, extremely fulfilling.”
Over 400,000 kids in the U.S. are in foster care. It’s not their choice. They’re taken from their families, most of the time at a very young age, and there’s not enough good parents in the system who just want to provide a loving home for a kid. So Adam and Kelsey said, “Let’s give it a shot.”
The process to become licensed foster parents can take anywhere from three months to a year. It starts by reaching out to a local agency that is contracted by the state to place kids who are in foster care in foster homes. These agencies provide about 30 hours of training. There are classes, paperwork, background checks, walk-throughs of your home, and deep questions about your relationship with your spouse and your relationship with your family, to determine if you're fit to be a foster parent.
The mandates and stipulations to foster are detailed and rigorous. Adam gave an example:
“Imagine someone coming into your home, searching through your medicine cabinet and saying, ‘You don’t have a 4x4 sheet of gauze? Sorry, you’re not fit to be a parent anymore.’”
But passing inspection, Adam says, was the easy part. There’s no training that can prepare you for the hard stuff:
“Imagine being a 13-year-old. You’ve lived with your biological family your entire life. It might not have been a good home environment but at least it’s home. And one night random people show up on your doorstep, take you out of the house, drag you to a stranger’s home and say this is where you’re staying… So of course they’re going to run away, of course they’re going to cause problems, of course they’re going to put holes in walls. They’re going to be disruptive. Nothing can prepare you for that.”
Fostering kids is a huge commitment. But there are ways to test the water and ease your way into it.
As foster parents, you can only leave a foster child with licensed foster parents. So Adam and Kelsey are respite care providers, which basically means they babysit for current foster families. The kids who stay with them don’t stay for longer than a week or two and then return to their foster family.
So how does fostering end for Adam and Kelsey? The most likely outcome will be they open their home to a permanent placement and eventually adopt a child.
But there are other ways to help kids who are in foster care without becoming a foster parent.
One of the biggest challenges foster kids face is when they turn 18, they age out of the system. The statistics for these youth are staggering. Of the more than 23,000 children who age out every year, half of them end up homeless or incarcerated. Less than 3% will earn a college degree.
There are programs where you can become a volunteer to help kids who are about to age out of foster care as they transition into adulthood. Just because you’re not opening your home to a kid doesn’t mean you can’t be there for them in other impactful ways.
In a recent Daily Dad newsletter, Ryan Holiday explained how kids need adults to believe in them:
“Every kid can be something and someone provided they are given that one person who believes in them... Someone willing to be a fan, even when things are bleak. Someone who is willing to help and encourage and fight for them.”
Adam is being that person for every foster kid that walks through his door. He does it with adults, too.
So Adam was right. You don’t have to be some special person to foster. You just have to care.
It just so happens that Adam’s superpower is how much he cares.
Adam’s book recommendations to prepare for fostering:
In The Body Keeps The Score and Complex PTSD From Surviving to Thriving, learn how trauma in your childhood affects your life as an adult. Things you might not have thought were traumatic might be continuing to affect you today.
Getting the Love You Want is more about the relationship with you and your spouse than it is with the kid. You learn how to be a better partner.