I talk to potential foster parents often who are just about to finish their training hours and dive into their home study. I’m often asked about one thing that I think every foster parent should know, and this is it: You need to make friends with other foster parents. This community should be an essential part of your support network, both physically and emotionally.
There are a lot of different ways to find other foster parents with whom you can connect. Your local agency may host support groups or know where you can find them. You can search for online communities of people via Facebook or similar venues (and sometimes even find families in a special niche, perhaps by your marital status or the age range you foster). If all else fails, you can ask your family’s social worker (the person who does your home study and renews your license) to connect you with another foster family to be your mentor.
Here are some benefits to doing life with other foster parents:
Sound, experienced advice
Parenting a child who has been exposed to trauma can be very different from parenting a child who has not been exposed to trauma. Promoting safe attachment, learning to identify triggers, deciphering the communication behind the behavior, and even finding appropriate means of correction and discipline are much more difficult in a child who has been abused or neglected, especially when you have just met them and might know little of their history. You need people you can call who know the difference, who have some of the same training and experience you have had, who simply get it.
A place to vent
And speaking of people who simply get it, you need someone in your life you can call when you’re at the end of your rope, who won’t feel like it’s their job to talk you out of foster care. As a foster parent, we choose to embrace and love children who may not be ours for long. We sign up for that heartache, and it’s something that not everyone will understand. Even something we choose to do can be hard, and sometimes you just need a safe place to vent. And between the grief at knowing what our children experience and the frustration of a broken system, there can be a lot of things to vent about.
Connection for yourself and your children
Most kids want to be normal, to not stand out in a negative way from their peers. But for kids in foster care, the complexities that make up daily life (missing school for court hearings, only seeing your mom twice a week at a supervised family visit, living with other children they aren’t related to) can be constant reminders of their situation. When we get together with other foster families, though, this is the norm, rather than what makes them different. And for my adopted kids, it reinforces the idea that families are built in lots of different ways.
There are a lot of issues at a local, state, and national level that affect foster parents and kids in foster care. Collectively, our voices are louder. Partnering with other foster parents and support groups increases our ability to affect change for our kids and our families.
Fellow foster parents, what would you add? What benefits have you experienced by making friends with other foster parents? What are some ways we can support each other?