63: Myth vs. Truth: Foster Care | Hannah Provost

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Summary:

As a foster care parent, Hannah debunks the common myths about foster care. You may be surprised what’s true and what’s not!

Quotes:
  • “Just as varied as families really are around our country, there’s all kinds of families that could be good for foster care. The biggest thing is just being willing to do it, having the want to do it.” – Hannah Provost
  • “The nice thing about fostering is that you are able to do it kind of at your own pace and incrementally.” – Hannah Provost
  • “The way we always thought about it was that we are giving these children love and support and security while we can, and it might not be forever.” – Hannah Provost
Highlights:
  • 1:46 – Hannah’s family
  • 5:28 – Why some don’t feel suited for foster care
  • 9:34 – Myths of being a foster parent
  • 23:13 – Staying strong as a foster parent
View Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.

[00:00:17] Emily Melious: Hey everybody, so glad you’re back for another episode of Mothers of Misfits. I’m really excited for today’s conversation with Hannah Provost. She and her husband Brad, are parents of three wonderful misfits. I had the privilege of meeting the oldest, who joined their family through adoption. They love to share their experience with foster care and adoption in hopes of inspiring other prospective parents to consider opening their homes and hearts. Hannah, thank you for coming on.

[00:00:48] Hannah Provost: Thank you so much for having me.

[00:00:50] Emily Melious: Yeah, this is going to be such an insightful conversation. I was just sharing with you that you provided me with some foster care and adoption myths, which I love a good myth-busting. So this is going to be an awesome myth-busting session. But as I was reading through them, I realized that I believed in a lot of the myths.

[00:01:11] Hannah Provost: Yeah, and it’s so tough because I think that it’s a sensitive topic. And so sometimes people are afraid to ask those personal questions. And so what they learn is from TV or a movie or something that happened 30 years ago, I think is actually the biggest one is things that used to be true about foster care are not necessarily true today, but they stick in your head. So I think we all have these heuristics about what is foster care, and they’re not necessarily true and they are different state by state as well. So it’s great to have these conversations.

[00:01:43] Emily Melious: That is so true. I hadn’t thought of that, but absolutely true. Okay before we dive into the nitty gritties, do you mind just sharing with us a little bit about your family?

[00:01:52] Hannah Provost: Sure I’d love to. So my husband, Brad and I, raise our family up in Plattsburgh, New York, way up North. And we have the joy of having three wonderful kids in our family. So, we became foster parents just about eight years ago now. And the very, very first call we got was for these two little girls. They were going to drop them off to us later that day and we didn’t know really anything about them except for their names and that they were three and 18 months old. So we thought, okay, great. This is it. And that was our first foray into parenting at all. So, you know, they’re our only kids. As it turns out they didn’t get dropped off that day.

[00:02:31] I got a call later that day saying just kidding, they have to go to court. And then the next week, yeah. The next week they were supposed to come the following Wednesday, they didn’t come that Wednesday, and went on for two months. And finally, when Brad and I had finally given up hope that we were going to get these two little girls, we got a call that they really were coming. And so they ended up being our daughters, Ayanna and Athena. And they were our first kids ever in our home, we learned so much about parenting in general and then foster care as well. And after about two and a half years, we were able to adopt them. We have had lots of other kiddos in between that have been with us just for a short period of time.

[00:03:11] All kinds of different configurations, including that phone call in the very middle of the night saying, hey, we’ve got a kid. He was actually wandering the streets near us. They had no idea what home he belonged to and where his family was, and they called us. And so we got this little boy in the middle of the night. They called two hours later and said, we figured out where he’s supposed to be. His family wants him back, he just got out of the house in the middle of the night. So had that call, we’ve had kids that stay with us for a weekend and for a couple of months. So everything in between. And then just about five years after we adopted our girls, we knew we wanted to add one more kiddo to the family.

[00:03:49] And so, we learned that Brian was free for adoption through our state and started to get to know him. And eventually we were able to adopt him as well. So we’ve, I don’t want to say we’ve had every type of experience you can have in foster care cause that could never be the case but we, we have had just a huge range of experiences. So we’re, very happy as a family of five now.

[00:04:14] Emily Melious: And I would say that was quite a crash course to go from the two of you to having a full household of a three-year-old and an 18 month old. I really admire that you went all in. What made you decide to build your family this way?

[00:04:30] Hannah Provost: So we had both known families growing up that had been foster parents and, Brian and I both thought it was kind of a cool thing but didn’t give much thought to it. And we had tried to start our family the natural way, and it just wasn’t happening. And I wasn’t that committed to having my babies that way. It just wasn’t that, having a family was a bigger deal to me than birthing a family. And so we started looking at our local foster care program. And they, along with lots of other places around the country offer a 10 week class, it’s called the MAPP class. And you can take it for free. There’s no commitment or obligation.

[00:05:09] They call it a mutual selection process. So during that 10 weeks, you learn as much as you can about foster care and the folks teaching it also learn as much as they can about you to make sure that it’s going to be a good fit on both sides.  So once we got through the class, we were absolutely all in and we knew we wanted to do this for sure.

[00:05:28] Emily Melious: What are some of the reasons why people feel they aren’t suited for fostering?

[00:05:34] Hannah Provost: All kinds of reasons. I hear all kinds of reasons why people want to foster, but they think there’s this barrier. And sometimes it’s a real barrier and sometimes it’s not. So one of the ones that I hear most often, and this again is a little bit different state by state, so I can really only speak to New York state. But I’ll hear most often, well I’m not in a straight committed or married relationship and we don’t make enough money. And so people tend to have this perception that there needs to be two parents at home, and that they need to either both make a lot of money or that one of them needs to be a stay at home parent, all kinds of things that I hear. And that there’s like some perfect family that is the foster care family.

[00:06:15] And that’s just not the case. So just as varied as families really are around our country. There’s all kinds of families that could be good for foster care. So the biggest thing is just being willing to do it, having the want to do it. You do need to be able to sustain yourself. So it can’t be that you’re looking for an income stream and this is it. But as long as you are able to sustain yourself the way that you’re living now, and that you have the want to be a parent. So whether that means that just like any other parent you’re working full time or you’re not, or whatever it is, there’s no right way to be a foster parent. It’s just the people who want to do it and who have some stability in their lives for themselves already.

[00:06:59] Emily Melious: That’s so encouraging because we do, we hold up this perfect picture, TV picture of what a family should be like, and that’s just not reality anyways, but it can be a barrier to these kids finding homes or, you know, just finding a loving place to be. You also shared with me being a renter is not a barrier. Too young, too old, no experience as a parent, or already having kids. Can we speak to that? Do some people perceive it as being either or? You know, we were able to biologically have kids, so this is not something we need to look into.

[00:07:32] Hannah Provost: For sure. Yeah, I hear that all the time. Or families that worry about the effect that it will have on their own children that they already have. And I think that, it definitely doesn’t preclude you from being a foster family, but you really are a foster family and not foster parents at that point.

[00:07:47] So having those conversations with your kids about, you know, what situations these other children might be coming from, how to provide empathy, how to be inclusive and welcoming. And if for some reason that your child is really against it, then that should be honored just as much as if one of the adults was against it, right? It’s your whole family that’s going in on this. But in terms of the effect that it has on your children, I think it has a really positive effect to go out and say, yep, these are kids who are just as loving and as deserving and as worthy, and we’re going to welcome them into our family. Not as a charity case because that’s, I don’t think that that sets up a good dynamic, but just, this is another person that has something of value to offer and they should, you know, they should be celebrated and yes, they’ve come from this challenging background, but that doesn’t define them. And so I think that’s a great message to share with your biological kids. And that, the nice thing about fostering is that you are able to do it kind of at your own pace and incrementally.

[00:08:54] And so if you’re just not at the point yet where you’re ready to do that, that’s okay. You can tap the brakes on it. If you have, say that you get a child as a temporary placement and afterwards you think, wow, I really need some time to decompress that and go through everything that just happened. You can say I’m closed for the time being.

[00:09:12] So I think that’s one of the other perceptions is that you lose control over your own home. And although you’re certainly committing to something, that means that you don’t have all the control that you had before, it’s still your home. You can still tap the brakes or put up boundaries as you need to.

[00:09:30] Emily Melious: Let’s dive right in. Let’s just tackle some of these big myths. You’ve already been doing some of that, but I’m going to share with you a lot of the misconceptions that are out there, and then I’d love to hear from you what’s truth versus misconception. So the first myth is that foster children are so damaged that they would be a danger to my family.

[00:09:50] Hannah Provost: Yeah, and I hear that all the time. People that just say, well, what if they X, Y, and Z. And really, first of all, I don’t look at a child as being damaged, a child might’ve gone through trauma. Absolutely. Just like any adult that you’re walking around could have gone through trauma. And so looking at a child as damaged is not the right way to approach it to begin with. But informing yourself about what you are capable of helping with at the time and what you’re not is really important. There are lots of children that are waiting for homes in the foster care system who don’t show signs of having gone through trauma or that don’t have any of these troublesome behaviors that you would worry about. So instead of just writing it off and saying, all these children are damaged, if it’s something that you’re apt to do, and you have some curiosity about foster care, think about what you would be able to help with and what you wouldn’t be able to help with. So maybe there are some things that would be triggers for you personally that you know. That’s okay. Talk about that with a social worker that you’re exploring this with. Maybe there are some things that you would really like to help with.

[00:11:03] It’s just, I think a process of self exploration to see what is really a limit for me and what is not, and be able to have that conversation with the agency that’s doing foster care, but to say that all children are damaged that are in foster care. No. I think that that’s too broad of a thing to really work off of there’s, every child is different, just like every child who is in their biological family is different and has their own challenges and their own successes. They’re all children.  

[00:11:32] Emily Melious: I’m hearing you say how important it is to know yourself going into this process. And the clearer you are about what works for you, what doesn’t, that your family’s in agreement and has talked about this and really is on the same page. That’s most important going into this experience for it to be successful for everybody. Do I have that right?

[00:11:52] Hannah Provost: You have that exactly right. And then just being willing to keep that journey going, because you’re going to learn so many things about yourself as you go through the foster care process. So yes. Take that time during the class and as you’re considering it to learn as much as you can about yourself and your family. The class is set up to really dig into that, so you’ll be asked just really personal questions about your family dynamics, things and background and things like that. But then keep that open and use that as a jumping off point to continuing your journey of self exploration. Absolutely.

[00:12:27] Emily Melious: Myth number two. Once I take in a foster child, I’m on my own. I don’t have any help.

[00:12:35] Hannah Provost: Right. Not true. So whenever a child is considered in foster care, there’s a support system around them. It absolutely will vary in quality based on where you are in the country. What your county does for foster care, what agency you’re working with. But just like parenting where you have the school system behind you and you have community supports around you, you have the supports there and there are different degrees to which you can advocate for yourself to get the supports, but they’re there for sure. So one of the biggest questions is financial support. There is, and off a few states there’s financial support for foster parents that varies by state and by region. You’re not going to get rich off of being a foster parent, but it can take some of the sting out of how expensive parenting is in general. So the kids can, to some extent pay for themselves. It’s not going to make you rich. It’s not a job in that sense, but there is that financial support. There’s also all kinds of support in terms of parenting help, getting breaks for yourself.

[00:13:40] There’s respite care out there. There are support groups and some of them are virtual. So they’re available all over the country, no matter where you are. And there’s generally lots of other parents who you can lean on as you go through this. And so, I know that when I was considering this along with Brad, I just had so many questions that it’s like, I needed to talk to somebody who knew.

[00:14:06] And so there are so many foster parents out there who are really willing to have those deep dive conversations. And if you’re looking for one, then the locals social services department can usually link you up with one who can have that personal conversation with you. So there’s all kinds of support out there.

[00:14:25] Emily Melious: Good to know. I’m also glad that you just brought up the finances of it because myth number three is, fostering is too expensive and I’m worried about paying for medical care.

[00:14:36] Hannah Provost: Yes. So the way that fostering is set up, especially in New York state, is that there are monthly payments that come in as a child is placed with you. And so, like I said, the kids kind of do pay for themselves. There are often, I would say bigger medical expenses for children who are in care than children who aren’t, just because there may have been situations that weren’t dealt with properly to begin with.

[00:15:02] Sometimes, unfortunately, the severity of the care that the child needs is one of the reasons they’re placed into care. But at least in New York state, the insurance completely pays for all those medical expenses. The other concern that I hear sometimes from people is that they know that the legal process for adoption is expensive. Oftentimes, and again in New York state, the state pays for those adoptions, the legal fees. You may have to come up with the money upfront and get reimbursed or something like that, but there is help available. There’s all types of grants available for people who are not in an area that the state pays for it. And oftentimes now there’s employer benefits available for that as well. So if it’s just, I’m worried I can’t pay for it, digging into that a little bit usually is going to fix those concerns because we know that children are expensive. And so that’s one thing that state can do is help pay for the financial piece of it, because what they can’t do is be there in the middle of the night with a child if they’re having a nightmare. They can’t be there to show them off to school every day on the school bus. And so they need the parents to step up and do that.

[00:16:12] Emily Melious: And thankfully there are those resources and I didn’t even realize how many there are. So I’m definitely hearing finances should not be a barrier. Keep moving forward in the process, and there is help. Myth number four, you don’t have any choice of the types of children who get placed in your home.

[00:16:30] Hannah Provost: Right. So this is also not true. The way that that mutual selection process works is that you will be asked what are the limits that you’re needing to set in terms of who’s placed in your home. So that can be the number of children, that can be the gender of the children, the age. It also, the conversation is often around what kind of supports those children will need. So you can say that you are willing to take a child who has significant medical concerns, or that you’re not. That’s okay too. I know that for Brad and I, at the time that we were first taking in our kids, you know, I was still in my early twenties. We were just new to parenting. We said that we were willing to take children at some point could be independent.

[00:17:18] So we weren’t looking for a child at that point in time. That would be dependent on us and have to be living in our home their entire lifetimes. So there’s really all types of different conversations that you can have, but you are in charge of who gets placed in your home.

[00:17:36] Emily Melious: It goes right back to knowing yourself very well before you start this process. Myth number five, if I took in foster children, I would have to constantly look over my shoulder for the birth parents.

[00:17:51] Hannah Provost: Yeah. So this was one thing that we were actually, that was one of our biggest concerns. We live in a county that’s very small. You cannot go to the grocery store without running into 10 people you know. And, you know, there’s about 200 last names in our county and that’s about So we were concerned about that and we certainly have gotten to know our children’s birth families a little bit, which has been a nice thing. But the idea of always looking over our shoulder, it just isn’t the case. Whenever children are placed into care, there is consideration of if there needs to be any type of legal proceeding that would protect them from that. And so, you as a parent, you’re still the kings and queens of your castle.

[00:18:33] You don’t need to constantly be worried about it any more than you would be just being out in the world. You know, there are always going to be people who want to harass or intimidate or whatever, but it is actually very rare for foster parents to be on the receiving end of that. So there’s no guarantees just like you could have a coworker or someone start to harass you, but there’s not a heightened risk for being a foster parent.

[00:19:00] Emily Melious: Myth number six, I couldn’t adopt because I would constantly be worried that the children would be taken back. That one I would struggle with too. And you’ve mentioned that not everything’s in your control and you’re helping me to see that more of it is, but that would be hard.

[00:19:16] Hannah Provost: It is hard. It is hard. So, and this is a myth and it’s not a myth. So in a sense, yes, as a foster parent, you are loving on and parenting a child who is not yours at the end of the day, you don’t have all the legal rights that an adoptive or biological parent has. But you have to think that that child is out there in the world needing love either way, whether or not you open your home to them.

[00:19:44] And so it’s, in hindsight, it’s easier for me to say now that my children are all adopted, I don’t have any worries about them going anywhere. But at the time, the way that we always thought about it was that we are giving these children love and support and security while we can, and it might not be forever. Hopefully it is. We’re very lucky that that’s how it ended up going is that we got to keep them forever, but either way they need this, whether or not you are the one that opens your home to them. And so, it’s so hard to do, but you do go into it knowing this may not be forever. You know, at the end of the day that the state is the ones that are in charge of where these children are going to be tomorrow, but you can give them today.

[00:20:26] Emily Melious: Do you know of families who maintained a relationship with the foster kids, even after they’ve left their care?

[00:20:34] Hannah Provost: I actually know two families who had to relinquish the kids back to another family member, and then kept that relationship open. One of them for a short period of time, one of them was literally a week. One of them it was for years, they have that relationship open. And the kids ended up returning to the foster parents who were adopted. So, especially when you start off on the right foot with a parent and don’t treat them like the enemy, treat them like a parent who is going through the worst part of their lives, right? Offer them any support that you can within your own ability. And just treat them like a human being. I think that there is a lot of room for keeping those children in your life, even if after they’re returned because if you think about it, for whatever has happened in this family’s life, where the children have to go into foster care. The parent is in need of support because if they really had that support, they wouldn’t be going into a stranger’s home for foster care. So you’re in this unique position to, as much as you’re able to, offer support to this parent, even if it’s just smiling at them in a nice way or saying hello when you see them at court. Even if it’s just looking them in the eye when you see them at visits, treating them like a human being goes so far. Cause there’s stuff going on in their life if their kids are in care. They’re, you know, and they need that support and stability, just as much as the kids do. So it’s not out of the ordinary for that to happen. And like I said, I know a couple of families where the kids actually ended up returning, and the birth family saw it as a good thing because they already had built up that trust. But that is a biggie.

[00:22:16] Emily Melious: Yeah, that would be tough. Really tough. I love what you say though. Somebody needs to love on them, and the fear of losing out, that’s something that we can relate to in almost all relationships, right? There’s no guarantees in any kind of relationship. There’s always risk, but we can’t let that keep us from having those meaningful relationships because they’re total game changers.

[00:22:43] Yeah it’s a threat, but also like you talk about, just knowing going in what this looks like, and in some ways it’s maybe less risky because you know that this is a very likely outcome and you can frame yourself and your emotions for that. Speaking of emotions, as a parent, we talked about the trauma in the kids, but this has to be potentially traumatic for parents. You’re seeing kids who have gone through really, really difficult experiences. That has to drain you at times emotionally to say the least. You said sometimes you just need to say, you know, I need a pause. I need to just recover from that. How do you protect yourself? Maybe protect isn’t the right word, maybe it is. Or how do you take care of yourself knowing that this is a lot to handle? Not from taking on the parenting responsibility, but more so knowing what these kids have been through and knowing the realities of the life sometimes. That has to just hit you hard. And how do you stay standing?

[00:23:52] Hannah Provost: It does. So that’s such a great point. So one of the things that’s so useful is that class that you take at the beginning, because it goes through so many scenarios and, at least our class, had us act out how these cycles keep going so that you can see the type of decisions that the families have had to make leading up to this. And it really helps you build empathy for what has gone on. I’m not saying that people are blameless and how their children ended up in foster care. But what I am saying is that a lot of the judgements come from people who have never had to make the type of decisions that some of these parents have made.

[00:24:31] So doing that before you commit to foster care, I think is really helpful because it does steal you a little bit for what you’re going to experience. And then I guess just taking the time for yourself when you need it. Signing up babysitters early and often, I think is very helpful. And then finding people that you can talk to you cause it’s so hard, especially like I said, I live in a small county.

[00:24:57] You don’t want to go sharing your kid’s business everywhere and talking to everybody at the grocery store about it. But at the same time, you do need to process it yourself. And so finding those confidants that you can share kind of the play by play. What happened in court today? What happened with, you know, this and that and the other thing, is really helpful so that you can process it, not to gossip, not to make more drama out of it than it needs to be. But having people that you can process it with is helpful. And in most places there’s also, I talked about babysitting, but there’s also respite care built into that system so that you can get other certified foster parents to take the kids for a night or a weekend, or the week, whatever it is, so that you can take a break and decompress. It can be kind of all consuming, especially when you’re new to it and still making sure that you keep up with, you know, any hobbies that you have or relaxation methods, and don’t just put them aside because there’s a lot going on. That’s when you need it the most.

[00:25:59] Emily Melious: And those are strategies that are perfect for all parents, because no matter what our families look like, we’re probably overwhelmed at points. And to your point, those are the times that we feel like we can’t take the break. We can’t get the babysitter, we can’t break away, but you really have to remind yourself that that is the time you need it most.

[00:26:22] And I love what you talked about, which is just pre book it. We love to just preschedule the babysitter, because when it’s on the calendar it tends to happen, when it’s not on the calendar there’s lots of things that get in the way. So schedule out those babysitters and take that time when it comes around to just refresh and don’t let yourself get at the very end of the line before you just totally break down and absolutely have to take that break, because that’s hard on everybody and your kids sense it too.

[00:26:53] And you know, when you show up and are fully yourself then you have so much more to give to your kids. I actually just had another interview with another podcast guest this morning. And he is a brand new dad. He’s got a four week old little girl, and he was talking with a business associate and the other gentleman said, who’s the most important person in your life? And he said, well, my little girl. And he said, no, you’re wrong. And he was a little taken back by it. What are you saying? And the gentleman said, the most important person in your life is you. And he went on to say, because if you are not healthy, then you can’t be what you need to be for your daughter.

[00:27:36] And that’s going to stick me too. I love that because at first I thought when he was telling me this story, like where’s this going? I don’t agree with that. But so true. You know, just like on the airplanes where they say you got to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your kids, we really, really do need to be healthy and in a good place so that we can fully show up for those around us.

[00:28:00] Hannah Provost: Yeah, I heard it put another way recently that stuck with me. And it’s, you think of like filling up your cup. It’s your own job to get your cup full. It really is. And so whatever that is that gets your cup full, you need to be doing that so that you can be there for other people and then other people help it overflow. That’s all that you can expect other people to do. So whether it’s your spouse or your kids or your work or whatever it is, you have to get your own cupful first. You can’t be any good, just like you said, to anybody else unless you’ve gotten that taken care of.

[00:28:33] Emily Melious: I have learned so much Hannah, from this conversation. This was eye-opening, so helpful, I appreciate your candidness, your openness. And I can’t wait to meet the rest of your family because just meeting Ayanna was a joy. And I think you and Brad are incredible people, incredible parents, and your kids are so lucky to have you.

[00:28:55] Hannah Provost: Thank you so much. It’s been wonderful to come on. And I think that I gave you a couple of resources too if people have more questions about foster care, there are some wonderful resources out there.

[00:29:06] Emily Melious: Yes. So glad you mentioned that and heads up everybody, we’re going to include those resources in the episode insider for Hannah’s episode. So if you are not already subscribed to receive that, go to the website, mothersofmisfits.com, scroll down to the bottom, type in your information. It’s a five-second exercise, but then you’ll get all of those resources that Hannah’s talking about, but even cooler, you get insider information about all of our guests. Be sure not to miss out and do that today. Thanks again, Hannah. Sure appreciate having you.

[00:29:39] Hannah Provost: My pleasure. Thanks so much, Emily.

[00:29:42] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com.

Resources:

Speakers:

Emily Melious

Emily Melious

Talent Management Consultant | Career Coach | Podcast Host

HOST
Mothers of Misfits Episode 63 Foster Care

Hannah Provost

Mom | Foster Parent
GUEST

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