So you’ve decided to open your home and heart to a child in need? Congratulations! You’ve made a wonderful decision.
You’re probably excited and filled with trepidation about the journey you’re embarking on. You might have a thousand questions running through your mind or wondering if there are ways you can make things a little easier.
Although you have a steep learning curve ahead of you, it’s something you can easily overcome by preparing yourself for what’s to come, gathering great advice, and applying them to your particular situation.
That’s where we come in. We’re sharing a couple top tips every first-time foster parent could use to make the experience as smooth as possible for themselves and the children in their care.
- Training is extremely valuable
- Build a support system and rely on it
- Make the child feel as welcome as possible
- Don’t get too attached to your expectations
- Be okay with saying no
- Learn how to deal with trauma
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
- Take care of the basics
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions
- Take time for self-care
Being a first-time foster parent can be tough, but with the right planning, preparation, and mindset you can muddle through and emerge from the other side a better caregiver and person.
1. Training is extremely valuable
Endeavor to attend as many training programs as you can. A lot of foster agencies offer various programs throughout the year to help soon-to-be and active foster parents deal with the challenges that come with the job and lay the foundations for a positive foster care experience.
You’ll learn about all kinds of things like how to care for children with special needs, handle court proceedings, take care of your foster family, effectively discipline your foster kids, interact with biological parents or relatives, and build lasting relationships with the children under your roof.
These programs will also allow you to connect with other foster parents who you can share experiences with and also learn from. Since they’re going through the same thing that you are, they’ll make for great friends and support.
2. Build a support system and rely on it
Your foster care journey will be a lot less isolating and overwhelming if you have a support system to help you through it. Don’t try to do it all on your own. It’s human to need help, you just have to be willing to reach out and ask for help, and accept it when offered.
Have a supportive network of friends, family members, and fellow foster parents in place who can offer guidance and reassurance or answer any questions you might have.
Most people don’t understand what it’s like to open your home to new children and serve as a stand-in parent, to try to nurse their pain and trauma that you didn’t inflict, and help them recover from a past that you know very little about.
We’re not going to tell you that fostering will be a smooth and beautiful ride. There’ll be times when it gets hard and ugly, and having people to rely on in those times will save your life and help you keep pushing forward.
Seek out resources that will help and support you. Search for local foster parent support groups around you or online. Lean on those who care for you and understand the journey you’re on. It’s always good to have people around who can listen to your concerns and swoop in to offer assistance when needed.
3. Make the child feel as welcome as possible
The children who come into your home are hurting. They’ve been separated from the only home they’ve ever known or dragged around too many foster homes and are sick and tired of it all.
They’re suddenly living in an unfamiliar place with strangers, so it’s going to take a while for them to adjust to their new surroundings. Don’t expect them to fall into your embrace right away simply because you’re coming to them with open arms.
Don’t pressure them to talk, share details about their past, or bond with you. They’ll do so when they feel ready and comfortable.
Your job in the meantime is to help them get to that point by making sure your home feels safe for them, They need to feel like a part of the family, not an intruder. Help them understand that your home is theirs and that they can live freely.
Ask how they’re feeling, what they need, and what you can do to make the transition easier for them. Get to know their likes and dislikes. Let them know you’re there for them, that they can always come to you with anything.
4. Don’t get too attached to your expectations
The only thing certain in foster care is uncertainty. No matter how hard you try you can’t plan for everything. You won’t know how things are going to go until you’re in it. You can’t predict how your foster kids are going to respond to the situation.
A lot of the time, you might feel as though you have no control. Most of the big decisions involving the child will be made behind your back and you’re just going to have to make your peace with it even when you don’t agree.
You may have certain expectations of the children in your care, that they’ll fail to meet. You need to remember that the key to being a great foster parent is flexibility. Make room for all kinds of possibilities.
The uncertainty of it all can be incredibly difficult to live with, but you’ll have to do your best to handle it in a good manner.
5. Be okay with saying no
Even though you want to take in all the children in the world who need a home, it’s important that you don’t sign up for more than you can handle. If a social worker is trying to get you to take on more than you’re comfortable with, don’t feel guilty about turning down their request.
The last thing you want is to end up being too physically and mentally drained that you’re unable to properly care for all the children under your care. If you can only handle one or two children at a time, that’s okay. Know your limitations and own them.
6. Learn how to deal with trauma
The mere act of being torn away from their parents and taken to live somewhere else can be traumatizing for a child, not to mention other hardships or difficulties that they’ve hard to put up with before that happened and afterward.
It can be a lot to process. The child’s past experiences can negatively impact their behavior, causing them to express their emotions or frustrations in inappropriate ways like throwing tantrums, violent outbursts, and acts of rebellion.
Trauma can lead them to become depressed, mentally unstable, or affect them in a myriad of unhealthy ways. As a first-time foster parent, you need to educate yourself on trauma and how it changes the brain, so you can respond to the needs of your foster child and provide the best possible care for them as they attempt to recover from what they’ve been through.
7. Don’t sweat the small stuff
You can expect regular visits and meetings with the child’s caseworker, therapist, and other members of the child’s care team. You’ll have to make time for all sorts of necessary appointments, many of which will be at the wrong hours when you have too much going on.
All the adults and appointments that you have to keep up with can even be more exhausting than your foster children. You might be worried that they’ll judge you harshly if your home isn’t completely clean and tidy when they come around.
Depending on the ages of the children you’re fostering, your house is going to look like a mess most of the time. There’s no need to be embarrassed about that and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad parent.
If the living room is covered in toys and books when the social worker shows, that’s totally fine. You can’t tidy up after your kids 24 hours of the day. Don’t get worked up over minute details. Praise yourself for doing your best.
8. Take care of the basics
Before your first placement arrives, you should have some necessities in place. Have some pajamas and regular clothes on hand in various sizes. Pick up toothbrushes, clean towels, soaps, toothpaste, toys, blankets, tissues, books, and different kinds of snacks and frozen meals.
Don’t give in to the urge to buy everything you think you’ll need ahead of time or you might end up wasting money on a lot of unnecessary items. Stick to the basics for now. When the child comes, you can go shopping for more clothes, their preferred personal hygiene items, favorite foods, and whatever else they need.
It’s always a good idea to let the child pick out a couple of items for themselves. This way they feel like they have some control over what goes on in their lives.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Remember the saying “the one who asks questions never loses his way?” It’s true. Asking questions will save you a lot of mistakes and headaches. If you don’t understand something or what to do in a particular question, just ask.
Communicate with your foster child, their caseworker, counselors, and any other person that can help shed light on the issue you’re struggling with.
When in doubt, ask questions. Even if the question seems stupid or obvious to you, ask it anyway. There are very few situations that are brand new, Someone else has experienced whatever it is you’re dealing with and probably worked out a solution, but you won’t know unless you bring it up.
At the Knotts Family Agency, we offer round-the-clock assistance to our caregivers so you can always reach out to us with your questions and concerns at any time of the day and we’ll be there to provide all the answers you need.
10. Take time for self-care
Being any kind of parent is hard work. It’s important that you make time for yourself so that you can recharge and get back in the right state of mind to take care of your little family. Prioritize self-care—whatever it means to you.
It could be handing over your foster child to a babysitter while you go out for drinks with friends, date night with your partner, or treat yourself to a spa day. It could be seeing a therapist every week or so and dumping out your emotions on them or going to a hotel and enjoying a full day of undisturbed sleep. Just make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
Welcome to the world of foster parenting. It won’t always be everything you want or dream of, but it’ll always be worth it.
You’re going to get frustrated sometimes or come dangerously close to losing hope, but you’ll also be able to build precious relationships with the kids who come to live with you no matter how long they stick around for.
Providing a safe and nurturing home to a child in need is one of the best gifts you could ever give. When it gets tough, remember why you decided to foster in the same place and take solace in the fact that there’ll be plenty of good days too.