You’ve signed all the papers and completed all of the background checks. Your home study is done or almost done, and it’s starting to seem real: You might actually be getting the call for your first foster care placement! This might be when the nesting sets in (in my experience, it’s not limited to pregnant women!). But what stuff do you really need to have on hand, especially if you’re open to taking kids of all different ages? How do you find the balance between being prepared and going broke buying a bunch of stuff you might not really need?
I polled some of my foster parent friends, and below is a list of things they suggested. Note that I don’t actually recommend going out and buying all of these things, especially new. That would be expensive! But if someone offers you the things on this list (maybe you have friends and family who are cleaning out stuff they no longer need) and you have space to store them, don’t turn them down! Or, take note of which of your friends or family might have access to these items that you could borrow short-term (for example, everyone I know with a baby has a Pack ‘n Play).
Bed – Your foster child will need a place to sleep of course. In many cases, you won’t get your home study approved without this anyway. A twin bed is enough unless you are open to taking children under 3—in which you might want a Pack ‘n Play. Just be sure you know how to set it up! Different counties and adoption agencies have different rules about bunk beds or trundle beds, so make sure you check on that before you spend any money on it.
Dresser – You will need a place to store a child’s clothing. Some agencies may require this to be a dresser while others might be more flexible. Please don’t plan to use bags or plastic storage bins; these are temporary options and will not help a child feel like he or she is welcome in your home.
Car seats/booster seats – This can be another expensive item, so I don’t necessarily recommend purchasing them until you were sure you’ll need them. But if you have friends or family who are no longer using theirs and want to pass them on, say yes! Just make sure you check the expiration date. Even if you won’t have a car seat on hand, read up about the different types of seats (rear facing, front facing, convertible, high-back booster, etc) and the height and weight requirements for each. If you don’t already know how to install them properly in your car, ask friends with kids to show you. This is one less thing you’ll have to learn when you bring your foster child home.
Diapers and wipes – I keep a few diapers on hand in each size, mostly ones that I have left over when previous foster children have moved on or when my son moved up to the next size. You don’t need a lot, just enough to get through until you can get to the store (or even better, get them delivered). A package of wipes is also helpful, but remember that they might dry out if not used within a certain period of time. You might also want to have a few pairs of pull-ups, especially for nighttime use. Lots of kids still wet the bed at night, and this is even more likely for kids who have experienced trauma.
Toiletries – Keep basic toiletries like a toothbrush, kid-friendly toothpaste, a comb, tear-free shampoo, and body wash on hand. These items are small, inexpensive, and useful for kids of many different ages.
Nightlight – Lots of kids are afraid of the dark, especially in a new place! But keeping the overhead light on can make it too difficult to sleep. A nightlight provides some comfort, especially as they get used to a new place.
Notebook for writing out questions and recording notes on conversations, plus a place to store paperwork – The first few days or weeks of a new placement are hectic, especially if this is your first one! There will be lots of conversations with social workers and lawyers and teachers and therapists and doctors, so having a place to record all of that is extremely helpful. It will also give you a place to list questions or observations. Don’t trust your brain to remember all of the things at first—write them down! You’ll also start receiving paperwork regarding the child (though probably not as much as you might think or want). Having a designated place to place papers will help you stay organized. I use an expanding file folder, but you could also use a document box, a manila folder, or a 3-ring binder, whatever works for you. The most important place is having a designated spot.
Books or toys (especially stuffed animals) – Books and toys are probably the most difficult items to purchase ahead of time since they are so specific to the age and interests of the child. However, in my experience, they are also the easiest to gather especially if you have any friends or families with kids around the same age. Unless your age range is very specific, I would suggest limiting your purchases to a few books (reading together is a great way to bond) and stuffed animals (these work for girls of every age and lots of boys, too).
Hopefully, this list of items will be a good starting place for preparing for a new foster care placement. It is not exhaustive, and I’m not sure it is possible to always avoid a first-night Target or Walmart run (I’ve had 14 placements and only avoided it once!). There will undoubtedly be things you need to handle last-minute but that’s okay. It’s just a part of the adventure!
If you’re a foster parent, what would you add to this list? Anything on here that you don’t think is necessary or anything that I should have added?