So, you’ve emerged from weeks’ worth of classes and endured having every corner of your life scrutinized for your home study. You’ve got your license in hand and you are a foster parent! Welcome. I always tell people that foster care is the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done.
You have a million questions . . . ones less theoretical and more practical than the ones covered in your foster care training. Ones like: What do I need to buy? Do I have to have everything ready before I get my first placement call?
The answer to the second question is decidedly no. Foster care regulations and policies vary by agency, so be sure to check with foster parents in your agency to get more specific guidance. Wherever you are, though, foster care is an unpredictable business. You never know when you will get a call and what the details of your placements will entail. But here’s a little advice about what to buy now and what to leave on the shelf (from a foster mama of five years who says, “Here’s the kind of placement that I’d prefer, but if you have an emergency, you can call me.”)
What to buy (or borrow) before your first call:
Beds. Enough for the maximum number of children who may be placed with you (and maybe one more—I have a fold-up “guest bed” that I can use in a pinch). You’ll need sheets and pillows and blankets. They don’t need to be new or fancy . . . kids don’t care about that, at least not on their first night in care. If you are expecting infant placements, you will want a crib. Even if you are not expecting infant placements, you may want to have a portable crib on hand just in case (you can get them pretty inexpensively). As I mentioned, foster care is an unpredictable business.
Toiletries. Enough for each child to have their own bar of soap, hairbrush, bottle of shampoo, toothbrush, tube of toothpaste. The basics.
Comfort items. I think it’s nice to have a few small stuffed animals and fuzzy blankets on hand. New ones with tags (I think it’s important for our kids to not always feel like they are getting “leftovers.”) Your kids might need them, or not. Either way, it’s nice to give them the option of snuggling with something that they can keep forever during this scary transition time.
What to worry about later:
Room décor. Unless you are only open to infant placements, I think it’s best to wait on this one. Get to know your kids a bit and then go shopping together (or look at things together on the computer and buy them online). If you can, buy things like comforters and fun pillowcases that your kids will be able to take with them if they leave your home. If your kid is completely into Doc McStuffins (or whatever) and you’re not feeling the permanent wallpaper, you can find vinyl wall clings in almost any theme. Buy a bunch and let the kids put them everywhere.
Clothes. I know some foster parents keep a variety of clothes on hand for any possible placement call. I can’t manage this. I live in a condo, so physical space is at a premium. Also, the idea of trying to plan for every possible outcome takes up too much emotional space for me. So I don’t keep clothes on hand. I keep my mom on speed dial as she has promised to run to the store at any hour of the day or night if I get an emergency placement call. Also, our foster parent association has a “closet” where foster parents can borrow clothes (all sizes and styles) as needed. You might check to see if your agency has something similar. And there’s always the possibility that your child will come with a fair amount of their own clothing. It doesn’t always happen, but this has happened a few times for me.
Toys and baby gear. Again, you don’t know your children yet, so it’s pretty hard to predict what they will like. I’ve found that even babies can be quite particular . . . they may have very real preferences about which bottles and swings “feel” right. Most of these things are easy enough to borrow or cheap enough to buy easily. And if you are going to make a significant financial investment for just the right bike or stroller, isn’t it wise to wait until you are sure it will work for both you and your kids?
So, there you have it: Get the basics, save the rest for later. Welcome to the beautiful, messy world of foster care! I have no idea what this journey has in store for you. But I know it will be hard. And I know it will be worth it.