By Carrie Dahlin
One of the conflicting aspects of fostering can be knowing when to use your voice, how to speak up for the children in your care and when to embrace your emotions or keep them on the back burner. Foster parenting is such an emotional roller coaster and we often have little time to respond to a situation.
Stay Professional. Sometimes this is easier said than done, especially when there is a concern or threat about the child in your care. Let me encourage you that it is much more effective to communicate in a healthy and professional way than in a harsh and abrasive manner. You need those around you to see you as a capable force, someone who can go the distance and work with those around them for the sake of the children.
Just because you are communicating in a professional way to those you are working with, does not mean that you need to be passive. Stand up for yourself but do it in a way that is effective. You should demonstrate that you are knowledgeable and willing to be an active voice.
Build Relationships. Communicating with the professionals involved can be a blessing as your child’s case continues. It is work, but it will go a long way. Bringing photos to the judge and doing a written report for court hearings, even if not requested lets everyone know you are interested in being a voice for your child. Showing up to court lets the judge and lawyers see your dedication. Email updates to the caseworkers. Touch base with therapists and keep everyone in the loop. Being a good communicator and building relationships will let people know they can trust you and your efforts for the child.
Don’t Be Intimidated. Sometimes in order to get things done you have to go up the chain of command. Do not be intimidated or nervous to reach out to those who can help make decisions. If you are trying to communicate with someone who will not connect back with you, then you should move forward and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Know Your Rights. So many new, and even seasoned, foster parents, do not know their rights. They struggle to know what is acceptable to speak up about. Sadly there are many overworked, over tired caseworkers and professionals who are balancing more than they should. So, knowing what your role can and should be will help you keep healthy boundaries when needed.
Embrace Emotions. You will have strong emotions at times, and they are a real part of this process, so embrace them. Keep in mind that some emotions are best let out at home in the privacy and security of those who support and love you. Other times it is normal and sometimes effective to show some emotion during other aspects of the case. You are a fighter and fighting is hard and can take its toll.
Sleep On it. I don’t know how many times I had a strongly worded email ready to send or an intense voicemail I wanted to leave for someone but thankfully remembered that I needed to approach it with a fresh mind before I decided to communicate in an intense way. I will add that there are times we have to act fast and firm and that is just as crucial. We are all human, and we will not always use our voice well. It is a hard balancing act, one that takes effort and humility on our part.
Find Support. I talk about this often, but it is only because there are so many blessings that come from it. If you are able to vent to other people who get your position first and bounce ideas off of them, you will be blessed by their support. This will also spare you from responding harshly when it is not needed. Find an online group or local foster parents or mentors who can walk through the trenches with you. These are people who have been there and there is power in sharing our stories.
Don’t Forget to Listen. As much as we need to speak up, take inventory of your communication style, understand that there are other perspectives at the table and ask yourself how well you are listening. When those around you feel heard and validated they are less defensive. Before you use your voice to advocate be sure you are also listening to all perspectives at the table.
Our voice is a powerful way we will advocate for the children in our care.
Carrie Dahlin has been a foster parent for nearly a decade. Carrie and her husband live in Portland, Oregon with their five children, two bio and three adopted from foster care. She is the author of “What Led Me to You,” a foster parenting memoir, which you can find on amazon. She also writes for the Fostering Families Today magazine in her column, Spilled Milk. Carrie is passionate about connecting with other parents living in the trenches. You can find more about her story at CarrieDahlin.com.
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