So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and start foster parenting? Great! What do you need to have on hand before you get your first placement? Different people will have different lists, but I have a tiny condo with limited storage space (and a dining room turned bedroom to fit more kids!). Here are my suggestions.
A twin bed with gender neutral bedding should work for most placements. You will likely want to have an extra pair or two of sheets that you can switch out if needed quickly (for things like lice and bathroom accidents). Check your agency’s policy about the types of beds that are acceptable, as many prohibit kids in care from sleeping in bunk beds or trundle beds. If you are open to infant placements, I suggest having a portable crib (and a few crib sheets) on hand. You may get a call about an emergency placement at any time, and the child will likely be exhausted. Having a bed ready is a must.
It’s good to have the basics on hand: a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, brush, and new bottle of shampoo, a fresh bar of soap along with a clean washcloth and towel. If you’re open to teen placements, get a stick of deodorant and a package of feminine hygiene products. Family routines differ about which of these items may be shared, but with kids in care, I recommend always having a set of hygiene items that they can call their own. A quick note—with emergency placements, trust and feeling safe should trump hygiene. If a child is nervous about taking a shower in your house on the first night, give them some space.
I think it’s important to have a few new (or like-new) comfort items in the closet somewhere—a cozy blanket, a few stuffed animals or dolls. Children may or may not reach for one of these, but if they do, make sure that they know it belongs to them and can go with them if they move on from your home. Having something to cuddle can sometimes help make a scary experience (like being removed from the only home you have known) a little easier.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s about all that you need to have on hand at the beginning of your foster care journey.
Notice what is not on the list: clothes, food, toys. Foster care is, by its very nature, unpredictable. I do know some foster parents who keep clothes of various sizes in their homes while they are waiting for placements. As I mentioned, I don’t have much storage space, and the idea of being prepared for every possible placement stresses me out too much. I’ve easily been able to pick up the clothing items that were needed within a few days after a child was placed with me (with the added benefits that there are sometimes agency funds available to help with this and the child can help pick out items that they prefer—and will more likely actually wear).
Likewise, I always have some kind of food around that will get us through a day or two. Our foster care association also helps provide meals for families with new placements (definitely check to see if something like this is available!). School-aged kids in care will qualify for free lunches (and often free breakfasts too). Kids who are not in school yet may qualify for government benefits to help with formula, baby food, and other foods—be sure to check with your agency about this. And there are always take-out pizza and chicken nuggets in a pinch.
If you feel the need for a toy shopping spree, it’s usually more fun to bring the child along to help pick out their favorites anyway.
There are two more things that are absolutely essential as you begin your journey into foster parenting: patience and flexibility. Things will not go the way you are expecting. And that’s OK. Make up a bed, stock your bathroom with a few hygiene items, stash a comfort item in the closet and open your heart to the greatest adventure of your life.