Being a foster parent can be incredibly beautiful and rewarding. It can also be incredibly hard in every sense of the word—physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually. Spoiler alert: you can’t do it alone. The good news? You don’t need to try to be a lone ranger foster parent. There are plenty of places where you can turn when you need support. Here are four great places to start:
As you begin your foster care journey, it is crucially important that you gather up friends and family who will support you unconditionally. This doesn’t mean that everyone has to agree with your life choices. It does mean that you need to scout out (at least) a few folks who will give you whole-hearted support.
One of the things that surprised me as I began my journey into foster care is how reluctant I was to share the hard parts—even with the people closest to me. I didn’t want to negatively impact their view of foster care, of me, or worst of all, of the children in my care. And so I isolated myself and let the journey push me almost to crisis level.
It took a long time, a lot of mess and (honestly) a therapist to help me get past this reluctance and into a place of honesty with my tribe. And we are all better for it. Five years into the journey, I can list more than a handful of people that I can call, day or night, if I need help. A side note: Lots of foster parents tell me that they have lost friendships or close relationships with family members as a result of their choices. I am fortunate enough to say that this did not happen to me. However, sometimes you may have to be willing to let relationships go if they are not helpful and healthy. This is a reality that can’t be swept under the rug.
Other foster parents.
These guys (and girls) are great. Seriously, seriously great. They are the folks who truly “get” the wild roller coaster that is foster care. And they are some of the most big-hearted, thick-skinned, generous people that you will ever meet. Meet them. In pre-service training, at agency workshops, sitting around in the lobby of the visitation center, online (if you must). Listen to their stories. Soak up their advice. And please, please ask them for help.
The foster parent association in my county is amazing. They provide meals for families with new placements, clothes and baby equipment for loan, monthly support groups, emergency childcare, recommendations for everything from doctors to soccer leagues and (always, always) a safe space with a listening ear. I’ve always been an introvert, so it actually kind of surprised me how quickly and well I got to know and care about my fellow foster parents. I simply cannot overstate what a great resource these real-life relationships can be.
You are not the first one to walk this road. There is no shame in asking for support from the people who make this their job. Social workers (yours and your child’s), CASAs, teachers, faith leaders, and therapists can all be great resources. Call them, e-mail them, sit down and have a chat. Books, articles, podcasts and other published resources can fit in here as well. My agency actually has a lending library of resources for foster parents to borrow. The public library can be a great resource as well if you don’t want to purchase these items.
A few (carefully selected) online “communities.”
I put this one last because, for me, it has been the least helpful place to find support. Online message boards, social media groups, and forums can be a place to “connect” with others whose stories are similar to yours (especially if you live in an area where other foster parents and professional resources are difficult to access). I belong to a few of them myself. But (in my humble opinion), it is always better to seek support from a real, actual person than from some “community” behind a screen. It’s always better to be honest (while maintaining the confidentiality of your child and her family) with someone who can look into your eyes and bring you chocolate than with someone who can post an unhelpful comment and then disappear forever. If these online resources feel helpful and supportive for you, by all means, go ahead and use them. Just remember that there are real people in your life who care about you too.
Foster parents, what would you add? Where have you found help and support along your journey?