Foster Care and Special Needs

I recently read a great article about adopting from foster care and destroying some of the stereotypes. One had to do with foster children having a high level of special needs. The article, rightfully and truthfully, pointed out that even kids who are labeled as special needs or “harder to place” aren’t always developmentally disabled or dealing with behavioral problems; sometimes it’s just older kids, sibling groups, or minorities that create the label “hard to place.”

I’m not going to argue that-it’s true! My two absolutely perfect older kids were considered harder to place because it was a sibling group, opposite sexes, and teen/preteen ages. I’ve dealt with less problems with them than…well any child ever.

But the question I’m here to raise is, what if the “special needs” label on foster children actually meant all the children in that grouping had special needs?

I’m not here to convince anyone raising a child with special needs is the same as raising one without it. I mean special needs parents are nothing special-we wake up in the morning, feed our kids, mostly do our best, sometimes lose our cool, and go to bed at night beating ourselves up over what we did wrong that day. I’m not saying they learn everyday, they make it work and sometimes it’s hard and scary, but that’s what you sign up for when you become a parent-the Unknown.

Oh wait…maybe I sort of am.

Kids who have special needs can be on a huge spectrum of behaviors. And those needs and behaviors can change while they’re placed or adopted by another family.
My children have amazed me-in less than three years, two kids are out of diapers, speaking, writing, reading, and all kinds of great things. Trauma and neglect do have a part in the behaviors that present at the first meeting of a child. Most kids will grow and change.
But again, I will open up the question, what if they don’t?
If my five year old were still in diapers as he was at three, if he still was not speaking, if we were back to that time when I had people honestly ask me if I was going to “send him back because he’s going to be really hard as he gets older”, would I love him less? What if it was my biological child who was developmentally delayed? Would I be presented with the same question?

If my next son comes out with developmental delays, am I going to be asked if I’m going to “keep him?”

Every time we have a child, there is the possibility of having one who has special needs. My parents have six of us who would come with that title attached. Does that mean they only should have kept the one who doesn’t? (My sister is probably nodding right now…)

I’ll be the first to acknowledge, not all people can parent all special needs.

It can be exhausting. Just a few nights ago, my mother was talking about how it’s sometimes so tiring to parent a child with ADHD. For me, the attachment issues and PTSD presented in kids is exhausting; those anxieties bring out my anxiety. It’s scary to think about the future sometimes. When we had a warning that he may never potty train, he may never speak, it was terrifying to consider where he would be when he became an adult. I love my child. There’s no “even with his special needs” comment in there. I love every aspect of him. He brings sunshine and daisies and a touch of sass into my life daily. But that doesn’t mean I cannot acknowledge we live in a world where sometimes, they aren’t very nice to those who are not nuerotypical. Nor that I have to ignore that sometimes, his special needs are disabling and debilitating.

Some kids do need a special placement. We had to say no to a child with special needs because her behaviors were too much for us to add to our other kids. There’s no shame in knowing sometimes you have limitations. But my honest to goodness answer to this is if my biological son in ten years was doing the same thing…I would have him removed from the house for safety reasons too. Some children have behavioral problems that can endanger the adults and children in the home with them. Some of those children are foster/adoptive children. Other’s are ones who live with their biological parents. Again, there’s no need to pretend we don’t all have limits-I know I do.
I know another mother who has four children with special needs, all on varying levels of behaviors and such. She’s a miracle worker in my eyes-kids who have RAD, anxiety issues, food insecurities, etc. I’ve told her multiple times I don’t know if I could do it in her shoes. And she always tells me she knows I could, because I would. She swears she’s no super hero; she’s just another mama doing what she can with what she has and some nights a glass of wine in the corner.

And the last I want you to take away is a thought that was mentioned to me on the post “How Do You Do It?” In that instance I was talking about number of children, but it’s also been a question raised when my kids are screaming at the top of their lungs in the middle of a store. Lauren commented with “As far as kids go, I once heard a mama say that the number you have is the most you could take care of in that given moment.”
I think the same goes for kids with special needs. The amount you’re given in that moment is the amount you can care for.

You just have to be willing to try.

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10 thoughts on “Foster Care and Special Needs

  1. My siblings were special needs foster care adoptions. It has not been easy for my family. My sister passed away at 32 from her food eating disorder and suicide attempts last year. However, my family has learned things about compassion and empathy that we never would have understood. I decided to pay it back by becoming a special ed teacher and taught that for three years. I’m glad people like you and my parents exist!

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your sister. my parents also adopted two children who are special needs and I thank them daily for teaching me this<3

  2. This was a fantastic post! I was a special needs foster parent. They don’t have any more or less problems than all the natural kids I know, or my own honestly. 🙂 My grandparents have fostered 56 kids and adopted 4 of them, including my mom and they still have all their past foster kids in close contact. 🙂 So awesome! More GOOD people need to be foster parents! Thank you again for this post!

  3. Where I live you have to be a foster parent before you can adopt. We are actually considering adopting specifically for special needs, specifically a Deaf or hard-of-hearing child. Kids with special needs get left behind because they are viewed as hard and it is not always true. They can be the sweetest most wonderful child as well!

    1. That is amazing! We discussed going back into it again after these kids grow up a bit and fostering/adopting specifically for special needs children. It’s really hard to place kids who are Deaf or HOH because so few people are able to communicate well with them. (we actually had a call asking if we could back in the day!)

  4. So many complex, beautiful points here. Like you said, a huge part of parenting is the unknown, and just like you can’t control what your biological kids are like but you still love them and commit to them, you can love and commit to foster kids. I love your heart for this so much, Lauren!

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