Foster parents make an immeasurable difference in the lives of the children in their care. Whether a foster youth’s biological parents are working to reunify with them, or the youth is waiting to be matched with loving adoptive parents, foster parents can provide safety, stability, and comfort during an uncertain time.
In this guest blog, Tanya Young, Marketing Manager at One Hope United, shares some of the key knowledge and insights she gained after becoming a foster parent, as well as several tips for others who are new to fostering or are simply interested in learning more about the process.
At the end of 2020, my husband and I decided to take the steps to becoming foster parents, and we officially became licensed foster parents in Illinois the following year.
We had our first interview in our home, and being new to this side of foster care, we asked what felt like a million questions. Between my personal experience as a former child in foster care and our initial interview, hours of virtual training, and a lengthy home study, I felt completely prepared for this next chapter in my life as a new foster mom. Much like they say when a couple is about to have a baby, you will never really be ready to be a parent. Being a foster parent is no exception to the rule. You can read all the books, complete all the trainings, and still things will pop up that you’d never even considered. And that’s okay. What’s most important is your willingness to grow with the challenges and reach out for help when you feel in over your head.
Here are 10 things I wish I knew before becoming a foster parent.
- Sometimes space is better than a hug. Every situation is different, but it’s important to consider what your child needs as well as what you need. If your child is screaming at the top of their lungs, offer a method to calm down – deep breaths are a go-to for me – so they can speak, and you can listen. A hug might help, but sometimes your child just needs the space to calm down on their own. Before leaving, let them know that you’ll be back to check on them in five minutes or when they’re calm. Take the time away to check in with yourself and make sure you’re self-regulating during this stressful situation.
- Stay consistent. Just like you’re learning about your foster child, they’re learning about you. Staying consistent with expectations and consequences for negative behaviors makes it easier for everyone. I’ve found that if kids in our care know how we’ll react to negative behaviors, those behaviors get easier to deal with. There are times when we’ve needed to switch up our parenting techniques, but as long as it’s not causing the behavior to get drastically worse, we try to give it a couple of weeks before switching it up.
- Communication with biological parents is so helpful, but only do what you’re comfortable with. Initially, for safety reasons, courts may not allow communication between the biological parents and foster parents, but often, communication is allowed and encouraged. If you’re comfortable talking directly with biological parents, the caseworker will establish that communication. Some of my foster parent friends use Facebook Messenger or Google Voice if they’d like to be able to call the biological parent to coordinate visits, but don’t feel comfortable giving out their personal number.
- Everything doesn’t come out of pocket. Fostering is a financial commitment because the reality is there will be things that come up, like trips to the zoo and birthday parties, that the monthly reimbursement doesn’t cover. However, monthly reimbursement does cover basic needs like food and sometimes a reasonable allowance. Each month you’ll probably spend more than what’s reimbursed, but some states will also reimburse costs for daycare, transportation, therapy, and even some extra-curricular activities. Ask your licensing agent or caseworker what resources are available to you.
- Training never stops. After you become licensed, each state has different requirements for yearly additional foster parent training credit hours. This can take many forms like additional PRIDE trainings, reading approved parenting books, or attending training events. There may be forms that have to be filled out so ask your licensing agent about what’s accepted.
- If you meet your foster child’s biological parents, it will be awkward. Regardless of the situation, keep compassion at the forefront of your mind. Foster care can be difficult for everyone involved and additional judgement just makes that worse.
- You do not have to do this alone. Family and friends are a great support system, but as a foster parent you also have a built-in support system with your agency. If repeated behaviors are getting overwhelming for your household, reach out to your caseworker. Depending on what’s happening, the caseworker may offer respite care, therapy, or in-home support like Intensive Placement Stabilization (IPS).
- Yes, you can go out of state with your foster child. Each state is different, but most recognize there’s a variety of reasons you’d need to travel out of state with a child in your care. For instance, my husband and I live close to the Wisconsin border, so we’re only required to text our caseworker when we’re in that area, but if we’re going to any other state we need to coordinate the trip ahead of time. There could be some additional limitations to this depending on the state, agency, and the case itself, so always check with your caseworker first.
- Your foster child will accumulate a lot of stuff. It’s bound to happen if a child is placed with you for more than a couple of months. Just remember, in foster care, reunification is the main goal. Some agencies will provide foster children with additional suitcases or duffle bags when a reunification date is set. Moving boxes can also be an economical choice when preparing for the big day.
- Document and report. A bumped head at the park, a fall off the bed, an unusual rash? All worth documenting. Take pictures of any associated injuries (no matter how small) and give a brief explanation of what happened to your caseworker. If you’re communicating with the biological parents, you may want to share this with them as well to avoid any surprises at upcoming visits. Put yourself in the biological parent’s shoes… if your child came home with a big bump on the side of their head, you would want to know what happened.