The phone rings and immediately you recognize the number. The social worker on the other line says, “Hello, I’m calling to see if you would be interested in accepting placement of . . . ” Your heart starts pounding. You run through a brief list of questions, even though you have forgotten the ones you needed to ask. You check with your spouse (if married), and then, with nervous anticipation, say “Yes.” After you hang up, you look around the room, realizing that in a few short hours, children that you have never met will be moving in. Scared and excited are two words that could describe your feelings right now.
This scenario plays over time and again in the lives of foster parents. While there are placements that occur after pre-placement visits and with plenty of preparation time, often there are calls for placement that occur at any given time and without notice. Although it is impossible to be completely prepared for your first foster placement, here are seven things that can help.
1. Research your childcare resources ahead of time (if you require childcare). Visit with local childcare centers, talk with other foster parents, and ask social workers about places or people that accept foster children. Your licensing worker can help with this as well. Some foster parents contact daycares, tell them that they are newly licensed, the age range that they are accepting, and then ask how quickly they can accept a new child into their center. Try your best to have a back-up plan!
2. If you currently have a pediatrician and pediatric dentist for your family, ask him or her if the clinic is accepting new patients. Let them know that you are licensed as a foster parent and the children in your home will be on state pay for medical expenses. If you do not have a pediatrician or pediatric dentist, talk with others about what doctors or dentists they use and/or recommend.
3. Speak to your supervisor or human resources contact at your employment regarding the availability of options for taking time off. When children come into protective services, they will be confused and scared. If you are able to take time off upon initial placement, this will allow time for you and the child to settle in.
4. Have a bed, dresser, and closet space set up according to your state’s licensing regulations, but consider leaving the room somewhat undecorated so that the child can pick out items that he or she likes. This will help the child feel some control over the situation, and that he or she belongs, and can be a great way to spend time getting to know the child.
5. Before the placement occurs, ask the social worker if you can have copies of the required documents (placement papers, social security card, medical card, etc) so that you can start the process of getting school, medical, and other resources established. Start a binder or folder of forms and useful information that you will need while foster parenting.
6. Know what your limits, expectations, and house rules are. Once a child moves in, you will need to provide structure and consistency. Stick to that, but also seek to be flexible. Flexibility is important, especially as the child is adjusting to a new home and surroundings.
7. Realize that you will never be fully prepared for your first placement! Often, families just have to dive right into foster parenting. For families who do not have children, foster parenting is literally a form of “instant parenting.” It is important to understand that you will make mistakes and learn as you go along.
Accepting your first foster placement is both exciting and a bit scary. You are bringing a child into your home who has gone through trauma and separation from family members. Although you may not be fully prepared, the seven things mentioned in this article can help to ease the transition for both you and the child.