Whether you’re new to being a foster parent or considering fostering, there is a lot to think about. You’ve likely researched and talked to other parents who have experience with foster parenting, and you’ve probably reached out to local professionals for the information that you need to open your home to children who need one. (Tip: If you haven’t done those things, now’s the time!)
While all of this is great, I also talked to foster parents (many of whom have adopted the children that they fostered and some who have had the experience of children returning to their parents) for real advice to get ready to welcome a child (or children) into your home.
Steps to Getting Your Home Ready to Be a Foster Parent
This may seem overwhelming to you. You have a lot on your plate when you make the decision to be a foster parent or adopt. There’s a lot of paperwork, phone calls, lists, etc. But, it is critical that you ensure that your home is ready for a child to come and live with you—no matter their age, you’ll likely have to make a few adjustments that go farther than putting in outlet protectors!
The Home Study
Like parents who adopt, most foster families have to complete a home study as well. This can be daunting for many families who go through the process, but you’ll be given a list of guidelines and social workers aren’t coming to your house to criticize, but to check for basic accommodation needs to show that you can support a child. Believe me, they want you to be able to house a child as much as you want a child in your home.
If you’re concerned about getting ready for the home study, this article may help!
When I started sharing more about adoption, I started getting questions about the home study process. It is still the topic that I get asked about the most when talking about adoption and foster care. You can read about my own experience here.
Again, be sure to get sage advice from the agency and social worker, and find out your state and city’s specific guidelines when it comes to your home inspection and home study.
Get Your House in Order
If you have been living in a kid-free zone, it’s time to get realistic about your space. (I never knew how many breakables I had in my midst until friends with kids came over!)
You may also have these breakables out or other things within reach that children shouldn’t have access to, etc. (Honestly, if you don’t have kids, you may not know what trouble looms in your house. Find a trusted parent friend and have them get real with you about what items are just asking to be broken and what might pose a threat to a smaller child.)
Jenny Tilley, who was a foster mother (but has more recently been promoted to mom through the adoption of her daughter) notes that depending on the age of the child you’re going to have placed in your home, there are other precautions you should take as well. “You might need to safety proof,” she says. “Regardless of the age of the child, buy a small lockbox to store your prescription medications, etc.,” she notes.
Also, consider locking up any item that may pose a threat to a child’s safety. This includes cleaning supplies that you may just have haphazardly under your cupboard, etc.
Looking for a checklist of all of the things you should be looking out for? Though this list may be more extensive than your local agency requires, it handles literally everything that could put a child at risk that you’ll need to consider and might not have given much thought to before.
Being a Foster Parent: What You REALLY Need to Know
Being a foster parent can be very rewarding and you can most definitely make a significant impact in the life of a child, but you have to understand that what you see on TV isn’t the reality that you might be facing. When I talk to foster parents, there are a lot of emotions involved, both theirs and those of the children that they’re caring for. There are realities that you may need to be prepared to handle and you need to have an open mind. Though you may be extremely excited and hopeful the day a child is placed in your care, his or her emotions are going to be quite different depending on what situation he or she is leaving behind.
“You might be fostering to grow your family, but often, you will be taking in a child on the worst day of his or her life,” Jenny notes. “Research trauma and how it affects children at each stage of their development, and expect things to be rough. You’re not ‘saving’ this child—you’re giving children a safe, reliable environment as they navigate terrible circumstances.”
The reality is that when you get a foster placement, you’re likely taking in a child that is coming from an unsafe or unstable environment, and you’ll need to be equipped to deal with that reality.
“Ask questions about the child’s placement history, medical history, required appointments and visits, and what will be required of you in terms of transportation BEFORE the child is place[d] in your home,” Jenny recommends.
Understanding what’s required of you as a foster parent and knowing each child’s specific needs will make you better equipped to provide a safe home for that child.
Find the Support and Resources that You need
Foster parents (and parents in general!) agree that having a support system is critical. Jenny explains that having a support system prior to agreeing to become a foster parent is important.
Though you may have a strong friend group, that could change if they’re not parents or if they can’t understand some of the unique nuances you’re facing as a foster parent. Your family may not be as supportive as you had hoped either. Additionally, you may need support from people you hadn’t considered previously.
“Make sure your employer supports your decision because you may be missing work more than an average parent for appointments, visits with birth parents, or meetings with social workers,” she says.
Jenny further notes that it is critical to check your employer’s parental leave policies if you plan to take time off at placement. Remember that some companies may only allow you to take unpaid time with the Family and Medical Leave Act for a foster placement or adoption. Though many businesses are changing these policies, you need to have a conversation with your boss.
You won’t be the only person that needs a strong support system—the child in your life will as well. Depending on the age of the child that you take in, they may have had a lot of instability and unrest and having regular interactions with both adults and children that have their best interest in mind is critical to his or her development.
“Make sure you have close people in your life who will see the child regularly,” says Jenny. One reason she notes that this is important is because you will need time to yourself, but it may not be as easy to establish childcare and babysitters depending on your child’s needs, but people that he or she sees regularly and has a relationship with would be good candidates to help you out.
Connect with Other Foster Parents
You may have met others through training, know people from church or work, or you may have to contact your agency or social worker to meet other people who are fostering, but however you do it, it’s crucial to have people in your life who have or are going through what you are.
Many foster parents I’ve talked to meet regularly in groups to talk about issues and get feedback. In fact, many times, these groups are run by agencies and social workers who can further connect you with resources that you may need including therapists, doctors, specialists, or even other families who you can talk to.
Remember, no two children are the same and situations won’t be the same, but finding people who may have an understanding is important for not just the children you’re bringing into your home, but your own mental health as well.
I talked to a foster mom who adopted her son and has stayed in contact with many of the people she met in her first foster training group—they became more than friends; they consider each other family.
Be Realistic and Be Ready to Learn
I was talking to a former foster mother last week and when I asked her what she really wished she had known before becoming a foster parent, it was that she wished she had been told to set realistic expectations and to be ready to learn constantly.
Cheri Canada chose to foster to adopt after already raising four children. “I went into fostering thinking since I’d raised children, we would be fine with all of that experience,” she says. “God really humbled me.”
Cheri notes that despite reading countless books to prepare herself, she now realizes that nothing can truly prepare you because no child fits a mold. “While there may be some of the same issues that are affecting children, each one is unique with their own set of experiences and no one book could ever encompass the possibilities.”
Each child is different. They may have lived a life before meeting you that you may never fully comprehend and you will need to be prepared to learn more about them to support their needs, understand what they may be going through, and be able to work effectively with their social worker and biological family to ensure that they’re getting the care that’s best for them. This might not always be what’s easiest for you and you have to be ready to be selfless for the sake of a child you may not have known that long.
Though each child is different, this is also a really cool opportunity to get to learn more and another reason why having a support group or other foster parents that you can talk to is important.
Cheri loves to talk to other families that are fostering—not just to offer support and listen if that’s what they need, but to learn about the unique situation that they are in.
Be Prepared….to Not Really Be Prepared At All
Yes, you need to be prepared. Your home needs to meet certain standards, you have to be willing to follow a plan that best supports the child you’re caring for, but reality check: you also need to be prepared to realize that you might not be prepared at all.
In any parenting situation, this is a truth. And you don’t know what you don’t know until you don’t know it.
What you can do is to set up a support system, find a group of others who have fostered, have a list of resources in your community, and know who to call or turn to if a situation arises that you don’t feel equipped to handle. If you have those things at the ready, you can figure out anything that may come your way.
I think foster parents are some of the bravest and most inspiring people I know. They selflessly love children that may not be staying with them permanently and work hard to provide a stable and caring home for children no matter the duration they have them.
Know that you’re not alone and that there are people who are ready and willing to help you. You’ve got this.
If you know people in your life who are foster parents, here are 8 ways that you can support them!