You have finally decided to make the jump into foster parenting. Foster parenting is a tough calling and will take you through the complex beast that is child welfare, but it is also one that will teach you many life lessons. Here are tips to help you prepare.
1. Read, listen, and ask. Read as much as you can about fostering: Read it all—the good, the bad, and all of it in the middle. Foster parenting blogs are one exceptional way to get first-hand accounts of the daily lives of foster parents. Listen to the professionals and foster parents when they give you advice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! There is a tremendous amount of information, so seek out the answers to your questions.
2. Remind yourself that not everyone is going to understand and accept this journey that you are on. This one can be a hard pill to swallow. While you will find support from people, there are others who will never understand why you would put yourself and your family through the potential risks that loving a child, and possibly letting go, will bring. It is important to educate others about your reasoning for foster parenting (because your reasons are vital), but also do not lose heart when your reasons fall of deaf ears. After all, this is your mission for life, not anyone else’s.
3. If you are a person of faith, pray. While faith is not a requirement for foster parenting, it can bring great comfort. Whether you are a praying person, someone who meditates, or a person who seeks wisdom through the counsel of others, do not hesitate to go to these outlets. You are gearing up to bring children with painful histories into your home. You need your own source of emotional support, and prayer, meditation, and counsel can help.
4. Learn about local, regional, and national resources to help you and the children you bring into your home. Often, foster parents end up being their own little social services networks. It is important to be aware of community, state, and national resources available for foster children and children with special needs. Even if you do not have to use these resources, it’s always nice to know you have them on hand.
5. Connect with other foster parents. This one is so important. Only those who have walked the walk and talked the talk can fully understand what life is like as a foster parent. A new foster parent can understand what you are immediately experiencing, while a seasoned foster parent can give you great insight into what has worked, or not worked, for them. Both sets of foster families are essential to the community of foster parents. Also, connecting with others can bring opportunities for respite!
6. Build your own support network. Similar to number five, it is important to build your own support network of people who are invested in seeing that your foster parenting journey is successful. Ask others to consider becoming approved as babysitters or respite providers. Seek out the best professionals to be your “go-to” people when in a crisis. Connect with caseworkers who can help you navigate your way through the system. Support is essential!
7. Speak to your supervisor or place of employment about your role as a foster parent, and how it could affect your work schedule. Foster parenting requires a lot of time. You will be asked to attend meetings, court hearings, counseling appointments, and other therapeutic services. You will also need to schedule times for the members of the team to visit your home. All of these things can interrupt your work schedule, so it is important to open up your line of communication with your employer so that you can figure out how to successfully fulfill you work obligations while also fulfilling your responsibilities as a foster parent.
8. Find approved childcare that accepts foster children, and begin speaking to them (if needed). If you are taking in children young enough to qualify for childcare or after-school care and you work, start visiting day cares and other childcare settings so that you are prepared when you get that call for placement. If you are unsure if a childcare provider accepts foster children, then don’t be afraid to ask. If they say “no,” go ahead and ask them if they would be willing to connect with social services so that they can get approved to provide care to your foster children. You might be surprised at how many would be willing to do this if you just asked!
9. Take the training seriously. Be a sponge. Soak it all up, and then get some more. Knowledge is power, and the more you know about how trauma affects brain development, coping skills, and emotional stability, the better off you will be in understanding where your foster child is coming from, what obstacles the child is facing, and what you can do to provide the home environment and interventions needed to facilitate healthy coping skills and healing. One website that contains a wealth of knowledge is www.empoweredtoconnect.org.
10. Remember that learning comes from experiences. Understand that you will not be fully prepared to foster a child until one is in your home. Don’t be hard on yourself. Often, families feel like they are “thrown into the lion’s den” when their first foster child arrives. In some ways, they are. While the pre-service training helps, there is no way to fully prepare for when that first child arrives. You will learn as you go along, and you will make mistakes. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Foster parenting is an experience unlike any other, and it is one that requires steadfastness, resilience, and love. Never forget for one minute that what you are doing matters immensely to the little lives that find their ways into your heart.