15 Things You Should Know Before Fostering
When becoming foster parents there is what you picture. Then, there is the reality of foster parents. We polled our followers and came up with this list of the top things foster parents wish they knew before fostering.
1. Love Fully
A piece of your heart will go with them (bittersweet experience). You need to be stronger than you think you are and humble enough to understand that you are not perfect. You are not the bio parents. Have faith and accept love. -Erenia M.
2. It’s Not a Job, It’s a Mission
Love them and treat them as your own, as if they’re going to be with you forever and are a part of your family. Attach to them, they need healthy attachments so they learn to seek healthy attachments later in life. You are making a difference that you may never see and you need to be ok with that. Letting go is heartbreaking, but necessary at times. Have a good support system to get you through the losses. Only foster if you are called to do so. It’s not a job, it’s a mission field. – Diana H.
3. Children Deserve Autonomy
Please don’t force your beliefs onto the children if they are old enough to have their own beliefs. Work with what they already believe. -Cassie L.
They’re terrified to be loved, feel loved. It triggers vulnerability. I wish every foster parent knew how complex that dynamic can be for a long while. -McKenzie J.
5. Reflect on the Reality
One thing I’ve said to foster parents when I went to a class back in the day when they were complaining about the defiance and attitude from a teen: Imagine that their trauma is like a huge heavy backpack that is constantly weighing on them everywhere they go. They are in constant pain overwhelmed and distracted by the huge load on their shoulders. They can’t see or think past it. Then they go from one house to another and each placement adds more weight to carry until they just can’t bare it anymore. They are tired stressed and unloved. Imagine going around in the world as a child knowing that you are unloved. That kind of trauma never goes away. -Mareline R.
6. Straight from a Former Foster Youth
I am a former foster child. My suggestions or advice would be. Don’t think I am like everyone else. I am not just what those forms say, I am not what those social workers say they only know me from quick visits not from the day to day basis. Mostly, I have been through more abuse than what I got taken away for. I am scared! But I also need space, at times I might need a hug but I don’t know what a cuddle even is.
Please be patient with me I am struggling to understand feelings and they are scary. It’s ok to be strict with me. Teach me basic skills like sewing, crochet, art, cooking, etc. Not only will this help me when I emancipate but it might also become my coping mechanism and by you teaching me these things I will forever carry you in my heart (whether I admit it or not). -Maria A.
7. Consistency and Chill
Do not expect reciprocity. They are not going to engage with you in a neurotypical way, so allow them to thaw at their own pace. Or not. Have a few simple rules, be willing to explain them over and over in various ways. If the child reads, provide a card with your name and phone number on it. It may take a while for them to remember that info.
Don’t have special treats or breakfast cereal for bio/adopted kids, and separate food for foster children. Appalled? Good. Now carry that thought over to everything. Take them on vacation with your family if the state signs off on it. Pay for music/dance/summer camp just like your always-kids. Have the same rules, but tailor consequences taking into account any triggers of previous trauma. -Kim S.
8. Be an Advocate/Have Compassion for Bio Parents
Don’t assume that social services will advocate what’s best for the child. Foster parents have more rights than the child and social services goal is to reunify. Advocate for the child. Try to build a relationship with the bio parents by trying to find compassion for them because more than likely they need just as much help as the child.
A lot of times the bio parents don’t know how to be parents and social services don’t teach them as they should. In my area, they don’t even teach the basics anymore of bathing, diapering, nutrition, etc and in my experience, some bio parents don’t even know how to do the basics but would if they were taught. If you form a bond with the bio parents and your foster child is sent home you are more likely to be able to stay in that child’s life. Our foster daughter left our house and is being adopted by another family but I built a good relationship with her bio parents so we still talk to this day and it’s been a year. -Tab R.
9. It’s Not a Competition
The mum of our very first placements, 15 years ago, said to me that it never needs to be a competition between us. She said the more people that love my children the better it is for them. -Fiona S.
10. Hard Truth
That despite how bad their home life may have been almost every child just wants to go home even though they are happy and safe they are when living with you . Sometimes that is very hard to fathom but is the reality. -Nancy M.
11. Keep a Paper Trail
Document everything and organize it all in a folder system. I have one for each kid. Labels doctors, agency contacts, parent contact, schooling, court, etc. If you do this and make it chronological it makes it easy to find things later. Also always be willing to ask questions, seek advice, and be open to a relationship of some sort with the bio parents. The goal is reunification, in my experience if you can have an open relationship you will teach the parents as well as the kiddos. -Melanie Z.
12. Create a Support System
You don’t sleep for the first 30 days. Make sure to get a trusted pediatrician and pediatric dentist. Attend foster parent support groups and talk to your foster parent mentor. Get everything in writing. Never be afraid to advocate for the child’s best interest. -Krystie V.
13. Better Together
Siblings belong together! If you take one, take them all (sibling groups). -Jennifer S.
14. Build a Network
That networking with other foster parents during training and maintaining those friendships WILL SAVE YOUR SANITY! There are so MANY resources like together we rise and others that social workers don’t know about…network. There are so many things you need to talk about with people that understand trauma-informed care…network. You will need a night off…. network. And you will make the most amazing friends that you will come to count on…. so NETWORK and find your tribe. -Amy P.
15. Agents of Healing
It will break your heart but you’re not doing it for yours, but for the hearts that are already broken. You are signing up to be agents of healing for a family. You have a strong support community around you-lean on them! -Megan M.
In conclusion, we want to thank everyone who submitted a response and is opening to helping new foster parents. Sharing information and experiences with other foster parents is so important. Especially when it comes to being an advocate for the foster community, we need more transparency and support.
We hope that future and current foster parents benefit from these tips. For those in the process of fostering to adopt, we offer free adoption day photography through our Framing Forever program here.