Sisters Nora*, 18, and Sammie*, 16, speak candidly with Foster Calgary about their experiences as biological children in a foster family.
FC: Your family has been fostering for seven years now. Tell us about your experiences growing up as foster siblings: what were the challenges you faced and what has been an obstacle to overcome?
Nora: One of the biggest challenges was the change in the amount of time Mom and Dad could spend with us. Our first placements were twin babies and they needed a lot more care than an 11-year-old. Sometimes I did resent the babies for taking time away from us, but I think that’s natural even when a new birth child comes into the home. You figure out your new role in the family. Each child that we took care of quickly became my new brother or sister. Even though many of them are back with their birth families today, I still refer to them as my siblings.
Sammie: I felt like I took on more responsibilities when we started fostering. But even more challenging was realizing there were going to be kids I’d connect with, and others that I wouldn’t connect with as much – or at all – which can make things difficult.My biggest obstacle to overcome is saying goodbye to the foster kids when they leave our home. Even if they are only in our home for a few months, it hurts to see them leave.
Nora: I agree with Sammie. It feels like a part of your family is leaving and you’ll never see them again. I still miss the kids that were our very first placement. It doesn’t get easier, but you do find ways to cope with it. My family will often have a “break period” where we won’t take new children for a short time after a child leaves. We regroup as a family, do some fun activities, and then revisit whether we still want to continue fostering. This simple process helped me grieve but also give me a chance to be a part of our family’s big decisions. Knowing that my parents cared about the wellbeing of my sister and me, helped me say “yes” to continue to foster.
FC: What are your most cherished memories as a foster sibling?
Sammie: I think just seeing the kids grow up is great! A close second would be playing Thomas the Tank Engine with my foster brothers. The trains were my favourite toys to play with when I was younger and seeing how much fun they have played with them makes me happy.”
Nora: Because I am so much older than a lot of the children our family care for, it is amazing to hear them say my name for the first time. My name can be hard to pronounce, so I go by a nickname I called myself when I was little. The way the kids say it with so much adoration makes me smile!”
FC: What did your parents do well in terms of managing the impact of fostering on you? What could they have done differently?
Sammie: Mom and Dad always put time aside to spend with just us, whether that’s playing games once all the younger kids are in bed or arranging babysitting so that we can all go to the movies.
Nora: Our parents did so much help to manage the impact on us. Because the kids need a lot of care, Mom and Dad plan a bit of time almost every month called “Teen Time”. It is either a day or evening where once the younger kids are in bed, we do something as a core family. It’s a time where Mom and Dad give us their undivided attention. They also never took in kids that were older than us. This was helpful because it felt more natural when a new child came to our home.
FC: If you had one piece of advice to a parent with their own children who is considering fostering, what would you say?
Sammie: I’d tell them to make time for your kids! It can be hard for them when you first start fostering, especially if they aren’t used to having other kids in the house. Also, make sure that they still have time to get together with friends.
Nora: Being a foster parent with biological kids is a family job. If your kids don’t feel included it won’t work. That being said, foster children take a lot more time and need a lot of care, so make sure that you still set aside time to do age-appropriate activities with your core kids- the relationship you have with them will help your fostering journey so much! By keeping them involved with decision making helps them feel important and grown-up because you are listening to them.
FC: How has being a foster sibling impacted your life?
Nora: Being a foster sister has opened my eyes to a world I never even knew existed! When I was younger- and even now, there are talks given at schools that tell kids, “Don’t do drugs, don’t drink alcohol”. Being a foster sister, I have seen the repercussions of doing drugs and alcohol and how it affects people through many generations – even babies who have barely had a chance to begin their life. Seeing the hurt that drugs and alcohol can cause first-and-secondhand has made me even more resolved to not experiment with those things. I’ve also had the opportunity to better understand and appreciate the different Indigenous cultures here in Alberta, due to the diverse children that have come into our home. I even joined the Indigenous Club when I was in high school to learn more about it on my own! I have learned a lot of skills that not many my age learn, besides being a pro at changing diapers! It’s been more than just learning about childcare. I have learned how to help kids with special needs and trauma of various degrees and from watching my parents, I have observed how to bond with children who have a hard time bonding with adults. There are so many things that being a foster sister has taught me that I can’t list them all!
Sammie: It’s true. The things you learn about drug and alcohol use makes you see them in a completely different light. Seeing firsthand what those substances can do to kids is awful; nobody should ever have to go through that. Being a foster sibling makes you view the world differently. I have become more empathetic and understanding. I am aware of how my actions impact the younger kids in our home, in our family. Before our family started fostering, I didn’t realize other kids weren’t as fortunate as Nora and I.
FC: What piece of advice would you give a child whose parent(s) are considering fostering?
Sammie: Help your parents as much as you can and show love to the foster kids. They can come from terrible situations, but if they know that they have someone to look up to, or even be friends with, it will help them feel safe and cared for. You might be one of the people in their life that will help them grow up into amazing people.
Nora: Get excited! This is a great opportunity for you guys to see the world from a different angle! You have an opportunity to gain a larger family and learn things that most kids haven’t even heard about! Support your parents and help them out when they need it. You are a very important part of making sure your parents can help the kids that come to live with you. Your job is so important, you give these kids a kind of love your parents can’t – the love of a sibling!
Do you have a story you’d like to share about fostering, either your story as a parent or poster child? We’d love to hear about it? Reach out to us at [email protected]
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.