What effects can fostering have on my birth children?
When it comes to fostering effects, one of the most common questions people thinking about becoming foster carers have is “what effect could fostering have on my own children?”
Not only is it a fair question, it’s one any potential foster carer who has young children or teenagers at home absolutely must consider carefully. Deciding to foster, after all, affects the whole family – not just the adults in the home.
In this article, we will look at some of the common concerns held by foster carers, and the experiences of carers and their biological children in a foster family environment.
As part of this, we’ll meet Tonia – a current foster carer from Croydon in South London – who will explain her family’s experiences of foster care, including how it affected each of her two children in very different ways.
GOT QUESTIONS?: If you want to know more about becoming a foster carer in London, ask our team here.
Concerns about the fostering effects on biological children
Let’s look at the kinds of concerns parents often have when considering starting their foster care journey.
All of these examples are perfectly normal worries any parent is likely to have. In fact, according to a 1993 American study, 77 per cent of foster carers are concerned about the potential fostering effects on their biological children. It’s OK to feel these things.
- Is it fair that my birth children will get a smaller share of my time?
- Will my birth children feel abandoned, or hostile or resentful towards me?
- What if my birth children feel hostile or resentful towards the foster child?
- How do I balance the needs of the foster child with the needs of my family?
- What if my child picks up bad behaviour or habits from the foster child?
- How will my birth children feel when the foster child eventually leaves the family?
And here are some things biological children might sometimes feel as a result of a foster child joining the family:
- The house rules have become more strict
- They feel left out or pushed back
- The family does fewer things together
- The family dynamic has changed (and changes with each new foster child)
- They have had to become more responsible.
On a positive note
All these are fairly negative points so it’s worth mentioning here, before you get too discouraged, that in that 1993 study mentioned above, more than half (54 per cent) of foster carers said their birth children had had a positive response to fostering (40 per cent said the response had been both negative and positive). After all, fostering effects can be both postive and negative.
When it comes to behaviour, 57 per cent said the effects were positive. Sixty-five per cent said their biological kids appreciated their own family more because of fostering.
It’s worth noting biological kids in foster families also often report feeling more empathy for foster children and what happens to them. Many also feel a greater sense of freedom, appreciate their own family more, and even want to become foster parents themselves.
A foster carer’s real-life experience
In a moment we’ll look at some strategies and solutions that will alleviate or answer the concerns outlined above but first, let’s meet Tonia.
Tonia is a first-time foster carer in Croydon, South London. She has two birth children, a pair of twins — a boy and a girl. When Tonia was considering becoming a carer her children were about 11 or 12 years old. When her foster child eventually joined the family, he was 15.
That was three years ago. Now Tonia’s children are 15 and her foster child is 18.
“I didn’t kind of think about things long-term really,” Tonia said. “One minute I had no teenagers in the house, the next thing I had three! It just kind of happened overnight.”
Tonia said she had “totally underestimated” the impact of fostering on her own children, but they had each reacted in a very different way.
“I had one that was absolutely fine with and one that absolutely hated it,” she said.
“I didn’t realise the impact it would have on my daughter, bringing a teenage boy into the house. For the first year she was very clear about how she felt. She was constantly asking me when he (the foster child) was going.”
Why Tonia’s daughter hated the fostering experience
These feelings in a birth child in a fostering situation don’t come from nowhere. Although her daughter had been involved in the initial assessment process, her feelings really only became clear after the placement had begun.
During the panel review after the first full year of the placement, Tonia’s daughter explained how she felt. From there, the Lika team worked closely with Tonia and her daughter to understand what she was feeling and why, and to develop some solutions.
Here are some of the fostering effects Tonia’s daughter struggled with:
- The foster child needed a lot of attention and she struggled with someone else taking up her mother’s time
- The foster child liked to brag about his criminal experiences in graphic detail, which she found scary to listen to
- She found the whole experience intrusive and she could not relax with an older male in the house. She was always “aware of his presence”
- The foster child smoked drugs and it would often stink out the house or lead to behavioural issues she didn’t like.
“Part of the panel process is for Lika to obtain the birth children’s views,” Tonia said. “I told her to make sure she was honest about everything and she did — she gave the experience a one out of 10.
“I think it was also a test to see whether she could control whether we continued or not.”
After the panel, the Lika team helped Tonia’s daughter work through what she was feeling, during some weekly sessions. Tonia said this process made a huge improvement to the way her daughter felt about fostering and the foster child.
“I think we were made more aware of how she was feeling, which we kind of guessed, but we had more of an understanding of where she was coming from,” Tonia said.
“She has a really good insight now but it took a really long time. I’m asking her to understand another child’s behaviour. She has a lot of empathy now. I know that when she goes into adulthood she will take a lot from this experience, positives.”
How did Tonia’s son feel about fostering?
Tonia’s son was a different story.
“Her brother has been totally fine with it,” she said. “I think being a boy he didn’t miss me, my physical presence, as much as my daughter did. Being a boy, he was pulling back from his mum at that age, anyway.
“He has had his own issues with secondary school, but I would say the fostering hasn’t impacted so much on him.”
But was Tonia concerned about the potential negative influence of a foster child who uses drugs and has been involved in criminal activity on her son?
“I thought I could protect my own son from the outside influences,” she said. “I would say that some of the ‘gang’ music probably influenced him a bit, but I don’t know if that was school or the foster child. I can’t say it was solely down to fostering.”
How to approach concerns about fostering effects with your birth children
So, how do you give both your birth children and your foster children the best possible chance to flourish in your foster home environment?
Here are some ideas that researchers and foster families have discovered work well:
- Providing training to the birth children before a foster placement starts
- Providing birth children with opportunities to speak with other birth children already living in a fostering environment
- Providing birth children with access to a social worker before a foster placement starts.
If Lika is your foster care agency, we can make training, social workers and other professionals available to help you and your biological children at any time, should you need it.
Advice for foster carers from Tonia’s real-life experience
What advice does Tonia have for parents considering fostering?
“You just need to balance your time, really, between all of the children and the foster child,” she said. “Our foster child was brought in and very much part of the family from very early on.
“If you’re fostering teenagers, it’s always going to be a bit difficult, because they’re coming to you at a very difficult time in their lives – and every young person’s story impacts on the way they settle in, anyway.
“I think (my birth children) have a better understanding that life isn’t easy for everybody. And I think they’re proud of us and what we’re doing.”
Tonia said her birth children and her foster child aren’t particularly close friends: “they don’t go around together,” she said. But they do get along and they respect each other’s space and privacy.
“You need to have a realistic expectation of how they’re going to get on,” she said. “You can’t have these high expectations that they’ll be great friends. They’re polite to each other, but they’re all very individual.”
If you’re considering becoming a foster carer, find an agency that will support not just you but also your birth children with pre-training and any advice, strategies or help required to ensure your foster home is a happy place for your whole family.
Live in South or East London and interested in becoming a foster carer?
Lika recruits foster carers for children in local authority care. We’re recruiting potential foster carers in Croydon as well as South and East London in Hackney, Barking, Dagenham, Lewisham, Redbridge, Ilford and Newham). Lika supports foster carers to develop their skills and knowledge to care appropriately for these children.
If you’re interested in foster care, get in touch.