Challenges Faced by Foster Parents

By Todd Bowerman

Being a foster parent is a challenging and often frustrating task. Working within the foster child system can be discouraging and heartbreaking, and many of the children that you foster will have behavioral or developmental issues because of being bounced from home to home. You can prepare yourself for many of these mental and emotional challenges by getting a grasp on some of the more common issues that are faced by people in your position. Patience and positivity will win the day when faced with most of these problems.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

Children learn many things while they are still too young to understand them. For instance, when a child cries due to hunger, that child learns that when he cries, his needs are then met by his mother or father. Children from abusive or neglectful families may not receive the care they need when they cry, so they develop what is called Reactive Attachment Disorder. Essentially, the child learns he cannot trust anyone but himself. Forging new relationships with children suffering from RAD is a time-consuming process that traditionally requires outside therapy, but you can help build trust with your foster child by keeping your promises and being there when he needs you.

Behavioral Problems

Moving from home to home and family to family can have long-lasting consequences for a child. Many children that have been in the system for a while develop behavioral problems like defiance, lack of emotional control or irrational fears. Each of these behavioral problems can be addressed by a foster family, but need to be approached sensitively and carefully. In most cases, once a child learns to trust their foster parents, these issues will naturally decline.

Working with the Birth Family

Depending on where you live and the specifics of your situation, a child's birth family may have a legal right to visit the child while in your care. This experience can be frustrating, as some birth families may be resentful to the foster parents, or may simply show a complete lack of interest in the growth and development of their child. Work with your social worker to develop healthy visitation habits and plot a course for the foster child's future. It can be hard to work with the birth family, but it may be a necessary burden in protecting the child.


If you are looking to permanently adopt your foster child, expect to spend a lot of time waiting for courts to render decisions. You will be faced with uncertainty regarding where you will be allowed to keep the child and may find yourself in battle with the original birth family. These court proceedings are emotionally and financially draining, so do what you can to be prepared on both fronts. Stay up-to-date on court deadlines and documents and make sure you perform any court-mandated tasks to prevent losing your foster child over a technicality.