One of the keys to being a successful foster parent is to understand the many perspectives of the people involved: the child’s birth parents, social workers, and most importantly, the foster child himself or herself.
Michael French – foster dad, birth parent counselor, and writer of the blog Dads Unite – has glimpsed all of these sides of the foster care experience.
Over the last four years, French and his family have fostered around 30 girls, some in the short-term and others in the long-term. In those four years, foster care has become a part of his daily life, impacted his career, and even brought a new addition into his forever family. His dedication to helping families over the last four years is a perfect example of the positive effect that foster care can have on so many people.
Becoming a Foster Parent
French says that foster care was initially a dream of his wife, but he had no idea of the effect it would have on his personal and professional life. As he went through the training process and heard firsthand accounts of other foster care parents’ experiences, he quickly realized he wanted to offer that same kind of care to children in the system.
The family’s first placement was a girl, who stayed with them for five months. In the time French spent with her, he discovered the emotional attachment that can develop so quickly between foster families and children in their care.
“Training doesn’t prepare you for it,” he said. “It’s just something you have to work through.”
Even though it’s difficult to say goodbye, that didn’t stop French and his wife from pursuing foster care even more passionately. Today, they have one girl in long-term care and another whom they have adopted, named Jeanetta. It was Jeanetta, in fact, who played a role in French starting his blog in 2014.
“She entered an essay contest called ‘What My Father Means to Me,’” he says. “They had almost 1,000 kids throughout the metro submit an entry. I was in shock – I’d never heard of the competition – and I started tearing up, because this girl, who’s had such a traumatic life, wrote about me.”
Jeanetta’s entry made it into the top five, making French the first foster parent to reach that level. Although Jeanetta’s essay did not win, that was the last thing on French’s mind.
“I didn’t get number one, but it didn’t matter to me because this young woman,” French said. “I made an impact on her. And she made an impact on me. And I didn’t want that event to be just an event. I wanted it to spur me on to something different.”
That “something different” turned out to be his blog, Dads Unite. Along with sharing his experiences with the foster care system, he also hopes to create a community of support for fathers – particularly because of the result fatherlessness has on children in the foster care system.
Counseling Birth Parents
Currently, French is finishing his graduate school education so that he can enter the field of counseling. He is working in outpatient services, counseling the biological parents of children in foster care. He feels especially strongly about working with fathers, who often do not have a lot of support.
When French was in training to be a foster parent, he recalls feeling angry at the biological parents of the children in the system. But now working with them, he has seen the struggles they deal with and the lack of support they often have. Many of them also fall victim to uninformed judgments from others as well as self-imposed judgments.
One of French’s clients in particular struggles with his faith in his ability to provide a good example for his daughter.
“When he sees his daughter acting out, he says, ‘I’m a loser,’” French said. “And I try to tell him, ‘Would a loser be coming to counseling? Would a loser be taking parenting classes? Would a loser be doing everything they can to turn their life around? That’s not a loser.’”
The work French has done with biological parents has made him passionate about supporting fathers, and he works to make a difference by supporting those parents – and more importantly, the children who find themselves in foster care.
Advocating for Foster Children
French’s work is an effort to provide the kind of stable, caring home environment that children in foster care need. Many of these children have been through traumatic experiences, and foster parents can play a crucial role in finding safety and security – both before and after they age out of the system. The need for families is constant, due to what French calls “foster parent burnout.”
Although there is sometimes high turnover for foster parents, children in foster care are always in need of homes – especially those who are about to age out of the system.
Individuals who are about to leave the foster care system can benefit hugely from the support of a loving family. There are several programs to help people who age out, French says, but without a stable home environment, those programs are much less effective. French’s own daughter Jeanetta was adopted at the age of 19, serving as a reminder that it’s never too late to provide a forever family to someone who needs one.
French encourages loving families of all kinds to make a difference in the lives of these children.
“If there are families out there that can provide a good example, maybe they need to consider being a foster family and see the impact they could have on a life,” he said.
And as Michael found out personally, not only did foster care positively affect his family’s foster children’s lives, but it greatly impacted their own lives as well.
Visit Dads Unite to learn more about Michael French, his graduate school studies, and his experiences as a parent.