When Foster Care Traumatizes Your Family!

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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In previous posts on foster care we've talked about the trauma children who enter our care can experience due to the difficult situations they've come from. This is a real battle. For everyone involved. Nearly every foster parent has dealt with this, or will deal with this. But there's another form of trauma that often occurs, and often goes unnoticed. It's the trauma your biological children, or children who are permanently a part of your family, may go through as the result of a placement.

We were having a conversation with a real estate agent when the reality of this hit us. He found out that we were adoptive and former foster parents, so he took the time to share his personal story. Growing up, his parents took in several children through foster care, mostly during his teen years. “That was the problem,” he said. “It was traumatic for me. I was dealing with the ups and downs of being a teenager and then I watched my parents deal with exhaustion and stress over some of the placements they received. It took a toll on our family.”

Later on, we reflected on our conversation with him. Truth is, our family went through this over the 9 years we were foster parents. The majority of the children who came into our care were not an issue, but there were a few who severely disrupted our home. Four years into being foster parents, we cared for a little girl with special needs that demanded every ounce of our time. Her diagnoses was failure to thrive which meant special feeding requirements. The time her care consumed put a halt on many family activities or time spent with our other children.

A few months after she left, we took in an unruly teenager who completely disregarded any of our boundaries. She argued everything, blew off the curfew we had set, and blatantly disregarded our household rules in front of our other children. The disruption these situations, and a few others not mentioned, caused our family to go through created trauma for our children that we weren’t clued into.

Why? Well, in short, we as a society tend to compartmentalize the term ‘trauma’ into either the result of a severe accident (like a car accident or work-related accident), or the result of severe abuse (sexual, physical or emotional). But trauma comes in many different forms, not just through accidents or pro-longed abuse. A human-being can experience trauma when they’ve gone through a major change, like moving to a new city, starting a new job or going to a new school. Trauma can also happen as the result of a big life disruption, like a difficult child coming to live with you through foster care, or watching a parent go through the emotional ups and downs from the behavior of another child.

So, what am I saying? If foster care can cause trauma to the rest of your family, does this mean you shouldn’t do it?

No. In fact, I’ve previously written about the reasons why the foster care system needs good people like you. If you feel called to do it, then do it. What it means is that you should take some critical steps before you enter the system to ensure that your family is ready (and you are ready) for the potential heavy challenge that foster parenting brings.

  1. Understand what you are getting into. As any seasoned foster parent can attest to, foster care is like getting on a roller-coaster and continuing to ride it with no stops. No situation is like the other, and nothing is guaranteed. The only guarantee is that there are no guarantees. The system is incredibly unorganized and, at times, very inefficient. There is a high turnover rate among case managers, and you will always have children in your care longer than you are told. The best thing you can do is prepare yourself for this reality. Talk it through with your spouse and your biological children or children permanently a part of your family. As much as possible, I recommend creating times of open dialogue so that everyone can share their viewpoints, fears and questions. Getting things out in the open ahead of time helps you navigate the possible rough waters of foster care. You will be frustrated, you will be tired, and you will be overwhelmed! Be ready for this. Enter with your eyes wide open.
  2. Protect time with the children who are a permanent part of your family. After the children who have come to you through foster care leave your care, the rest of your family remains. Remember this. Keep this thought at the forefront of your mind as you begin. It’s easy, because you have a good heart, to care so much about a foster child’s situation, that you pour all of your time and energy into caring for them and end up forgetting about your other children. Don’t do this! The truth is, this is the quickest way to cause resentment in your children. We know because we’ve made this mistake. Our rule of thumb is this: protect, protect, protect! You must be intentional about protecting time with the rest of your family, and you must intentionally spend time with the children who are a permanent part of your home.
  3. Set up non-negotiable boundaries that safeguard your family. Stick to them as if they are the Bible! The first day that a child is in your home, and in your care, you should have a family meeting to go over the boundaries. Make sure there is an understanding that these boundaries are not changing, and they are not up for negotiation. Other rules can be negotiated but these are untouchable. If we could go back in time, we would do more of this. We did okay at setting some and sticking to them (we are both first children, so we were a force to be reckoned with :-)), but we should have set up more.

I’m writing this post to you from an honest heart, and as one who has been there. We’ve learned the hard way and our hope is that our experience can help others achieve greater success. By all means, if you become a foster parent, love the children in your care with no strings attached. But, take it from us- be prepared for the unforeseen and unknown issues that often come with the territory of foster care!

Current (or former) foster parents- weigh in! What are some other things you would add to this post?

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.