Building Trust with a Foster Youth

“Remember, you don’t have to be perfect.” It’s what I tell myself when I fall short on a run, and it is what I have to tell most prospective foster parents when they worry they lack what it takes to parent a child in need. Unfortunately, it is that expectation of perfection that keeps so many loving people from opening their homes to the hundreds and thousands of children in the foster care system.

I’m here to assure anyone considering this loving journey that you don’t need to be flawless, but you do need to be honest. For context, consider the experiences of a typical foster youth before meeting you. Their life is one of instability and uncertainty. Most have grown up in abusive environments with adults they cannot trust to take care of them. Then, many go on to live from temporary placement to temporary placement without a reliable caretaker. You as a foster parent have the opportunity to build lasting trust by making commitments and promises that you know you can keep. I offer this advice to you from a place of personal experience.

When I first began working in foster care, I took on a mentorship role with a foster youth, named Charles. Like myself, Charles was a runner, and that interest helped us form an instant bond. I committed that we would go running every Friday at 4 pm, and I looked forward to our run every week.

One Friday, my work schedule was turned upside down. I was unable to make my commitment, and unable to inform Charles that our weekly run would not happen. Charles was crushed that I wasn’t there, and rebuilding that trust was a painful lesson that I will never forget. From this difficult experience, I learned that it was better to make promises I knew I could keep. From that point forward, I revised my promise to Charles, and told him that I would check in with him every Thursday and let him know if our run was still on. It was a vow I kept, and because of that, our relationship was repaired.

I share this with you to remind you to be kind to yourself in the process, and to know that making small, doable promises is a sustainable way to build lasting trust.