Foster Care It’s Not a Grocery Store: You Can’t Pick & Choose

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Last Updated on June 4, 2024 by Sarah McCubbin

With foster care it’s not a grocery store. You can’t pick and choose who you get. Every child is special and every child has needs and has been through trauma…every child. Foster care is full of unknowns and every family chooses to foster for different reasons. But rest assured, what you do matters!

When the Phone Rings For Foster Care

The phone rang. A quick glance at the caller ID said Children’s Services was calling. Not thinking it was one of  THOSE calls…where they ask you to step in on behalf of a child…I answered.

The worker on the other end told me a story of a boy who needed to be moved out of a home where his siblings would continue staying. Age 4. Trouble listening. Wets the bed. Poor speech. In Therapy and Counseling.  I asked a few questions trying to root out if this was a situation we could handle. And then the call was over.

But in a house like ours, there are lots of ears. So the conversation wasn’t really over. There were lots of questions. “What’s his name?” ” Is he black or white?” “No, not a boy! Can’t we GET a girl?”  There were more questions but during the course of the conversation, I was hearing my kids say – “Why can’t we pick what we want about the next kid who might live here?” My response: “Foster Care is not a Grocery Store – You can’t pick.”

foster care it's not a grocery store

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I Thought You Could Pick What Kind of Child You Would Accept In Foster Care

Don’t get me wrong, we filled out an enormous checklist for our license. It asked what kind of child our family would be willing to consider. It factored in age, gender, race, physical or learning disabilities, and history of abuse or abusing. You name it, the survey covered it.

Here is the Foster Care Child Checklist we filled out for Ohio.

But when the phone rings and a child needs a home for a while, there aren’t choices. In that moment, you can’t pick like you do at the store with 10 brands of pasta sauce or fifty kinds of cereal. Each case must be accepted or passed over as is–and that is hard.

Like the conversation with the worker, my mind easily dwells on the worst “what ifs.” Can I handle this if we do this? Will I be able to sleep at night? My immediate concerns are usually for the safety or well-being of my own kids and my own stress level. Initially, I have trouble seeing the potential redemption. It is easy to get weighed down, become frozen with fear and do nothing.

But our family has been down this path before and Redemption is the most beautiful part of the equation. God can take the broken pieces of a troubled life and put them back together in a way that is surprising and truly beautiful. 

foster care it's not a grocery store

Did We Say Yes?

Well that little boy did come to stay with us. He was one of 7 siblings and the only one separated from his siblings. Over the next few months, 2 siblings would go to live with their dad. And eventually, his mother was able to regain custody of her children. He was SO EXCITED to go home.

When They Go Home It’s Not Always Forever

When he went home in July, he had stayed with us for several months. However, after just a few short weeks, we got another phone call from Children’s Services. His mother has surrendered all 5 of her children to Children’s Services. She decided she just could do it anymore.

He returned to our home completely heartbroken. There is nothing like a parent choosing ease over raising their own child. He was devastated. He stayed with us for several weeks. Thankfully a grandmother was able to get custody of all 5 siblings.

We ran into him at a Halloween party a couple of years later with his siblings. They were still together with their Grandma. I was so thankful to see him doing so well.

You see…this little boy didn’t stay with us forever. It was just a few months. But our part mattered. It mattered that he had a safe place to stay while life was sorted out.

Every Day, Choices We Make Matter.

I love this story because we were able to see enough of the story play out to realize that what we did in foster care mattered for this little boy. We were not perfect but our house was a safe place to land when life was unstable.

It reminds me that when we stand in the gap for people and become the safe place to land, we are truly following the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus put it another way, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

I would love to hear your favorite story of standing in the gap for others. Or maybe someone stood in the gap for you and gave you hope when you had none.

Sarah McCubbin, founder of Ten Minute Momentum, is dedicated to helping parents confidently parent their kids by teaching life skills, social skills and leadership skills. As a child she was the kid that never quite fit in and is on a mission to help others understand the building blocks we all need to be successful adults. She lives in Ohio with her husband Mike, and 9 kids ranging in age from 5 to 21 where they use homeschool, private school and public schools for their kids education!

More Thoughts on Foster Care

My husband and I were foster parents for 8 years. While it is not the main thing I write about, it really was a significant part of our life. Here are a few other posts on foster care if you want to read more.