Effect of Foster Care on Birth Children in the Home—Guest Post from Jayne Schooler

I’ve heard great things about Jayne Schooler for years, so it was a great pleasure to meet in person recently, piling a few hours of great conversation into an hour.  One thing we discussed is a frequent theme of this blog:  how loving orphans can change us as well as them.

Jayne shared some great thoughts on what she’s seen of how bringing foster children into a home can have a significant, lasting effect in the lives of biological children as well.  Of course, there can be difficulties, too—as with anything worth doing.  But ultimately, Jayne sees the potential for good as well-worth the challenges.  I asked Jayne if she’d share a bit of her experience and study for this blog, and she gladly obliged.  Read her excellent thoughts below:


What Effect Does Adoption or Foster Care Have on the Birth Children in the Home?

The answer might surprise you.

“I grew up in a foster home.”  That was the response of one workshop participant when asked to introduce herself and tell the group something about herself that one couldn’t tell by looking at her.  I was a bit stunned, because that young social worker was my daughter, a fact that I had not yet disclosed to the group.

My surprised response was, “could you tell us more about that.”

“My parents were foster parents most of my childhood and they adopted my brother,” she told the group.  “I did grow up in a foster home, and, by the way, the trainer is my mom.”

That event was a number of years ago and set me on an investigative search.  I know how our daughter, Kristy faired.  I wondered about other birth or permanent children and what impact did fostering or adoption has on their lives?

The Challenges

In looking at the challenges for birth children as their parents journey into foster care or adoption, there are six significant issues to which parents should pay attention.

1. Birth children may expect an unending “slumber party” and not have realistic expectations for the new child and their relationships.

2. A child’s birth order in the family may change.

3. Birth children are troubled by the grief and sadness, even anger they see their parents experience when the family struggles.

4. Birth children may have difficulty explaining to friends and schoolmates who this new child is and have difficulty warding off intrusive questions.

5. Birth children may be caught off-guard by the depth of their negative feelings and responses to the child

6. Birth children may feel they have become invisible as the family’s energies are focused on the newest addition.

The Great News!

What is exciting is to learn that the lives of birth children in foster and adopted homes were impacted in extremely positive ways as their parents navigated through the challenges discussed above.  What did that look like?

1. It is not uncommon for siblings to become ardent protectors and supporters of their brother or sister with special needs or to experience feelings of great joy in watching him or her achieve even the smallest gain in learning or development…”

2. Many birth children growing up in a foster/adoptive home seek altruism, humanitarian concerns and social service careers as young adults.  They desire to serve their generation.

3. Siblings may look for the positive abilities/strengths in others rather than focusing on limitations.

4. Over all, birth children may be more accepting of people’s differences i.e., cultural diversity.  Their level of empathy and understanding is higher.  They are able to understand and accept that not everyone is born with the same brain or body.

5. Birth children may be more sensitive to the feelings of others and have a heighten sense of justice i.e., regardless of what your abilities are, everyone deserves the same opportunities.  This philosophy seems to be a result of their parent’s teaching and attitudes.

Of course, some of these significant positive impacts may not be seen in younger birth children, but take root and grow as they mature into young adulthood.

Just recently I had the incredible opportunity to meet Jedd Medefind at the NCFA conference. He shared with me a very significant thought – “love for orphans transforms.”   And this love certainly has had a positive and major impact on the children, called as their parents, to care for children in need of a permanent, loving family.

For more information about this topic:

  • E. S. Mullin and L. Johnson, “The Role of Birth/Previously Adopted Children in Families Choosing to Adopt Children with Special Needs” Child Welfare Journal 78, no. 5 (September/October 1999).
  • The Whole Life Adoption Book
  • Wounded Children, Healing Homes: How Traumatized Children Impact the Adoptive and Foster Family