Top tips for new foster parents
My first tip for new foster parents is for Christian foster parents. Foster Parenting is spiritual warfare. You cannot do this well without God. Pray ask Him for help. Trust me you will need it.
IMPLEMENT A SUPPORT SYSTEM
The biggest thing you will need next to God is a support system. You need to find other more experienced foster parents who understand the system. It doesn’t matter how close to your mom or your best friend you are, they will not get it. Foster parenting is so multi faceted.
When outsides looking in give their opinions and try to offer support it can actually be somewhat harmful. They may not have the compassion, understanding or knowledge to support you well. Join an online foster parent support group. Get to know other foster parents through your training and build relationships with them.
Ask your agency if they offer support groups or if they can connect you with someone who has been fostering for a while that wold be willing to be a sounding board for you.
THINGS CHANGE ALL THE TIME
The only certain thing in foster care is that everything is uncertain. What you expect as a foster parent to traumatized children, to what the bio family expects with having their kids in care, to what the social workers expect, to what the actual law says, to how the judge interprets that law….IT IS ALL DIFFERENT.
Case plans may be going one direction and the judge doesn’t agree or a family member comes out of no where. Or a bio parent who was doing well suddenly relapses or strays from the plan laid out for them. Things change every day. They call it a roller coaster for a reason. Left, right, ups and downs. Drops and highs. Things ALWAYS change.
don’t get attached to expectations
This goes hand in hand with the last tip but also don’t have expectations of a child’s behavior. Trauma is a crazy thing and affects children severely. You may expect typical 5 year old behavior and get 2 year old behavior. You might think your love has the ability to change everything and years later you still have a child saying they don’t want to live with you and just want to be with their abusive parents.
Also don’t expect visitations to go like you would think they should. No shows and late visits and showing up high or in a manic state are all very real possibilities. Some bio parents view the foster parents as the enemy. More on this in a bit.
real life is different then training
Wow. This is probably the tip with the most weight in this list. They talk about trauma in you foster parent training but it is nothing like what you might experience. They will give you strategies and tips to parent these kids and deal with bio families and handle the court system. BUT. Nothing can truly prepare you for the journey you are about to embark on.
You may also find yourself being a lot more compassionate then you thought or being a lot more angry with bio parents decisions then you thought. This is all par for the course and just take everything day by day.
Prepare for access visits/bio family visitation
So I touched on this a little bit already but visitation is a huge priority even when things happen that are not in the best interest of the child. Bio family visitation is always viewed in the best interest of the child.
Sadly things happen that the social workers will allow in order to gain proof against the parenting ability that they can use in court. Parents are high at the visit? The social worker just monitors more closely. Parents haven’t show up over and over? Give them more visits to prove they won’t.
This all varies on the worker and the agency and the law they are abiding under btu I have spoken to make foster parents all over the United States and Canada and some of the things I hear shock me and I have seen a lot first hand as well.
On another note you as a foster parent have the beautiful privilege of coming alongside these hurting families. Visitation is a great opportunity for you to get to know them, share with them whats been going on with their kids and show them that you are on their side and are working as a team to try to get their kids back in their care.
I always get very nervous before meeting bio parents and not all interactions are safe or positive but most are. And I have never met a bio parent who didn’t love their child. Sometimes obstacles are just too hard. Be prepared to give them grace no matter what the child’s history is.
In saying that I do believe that some people are just too far gone or have too much evil in them to ever safely parent. Protect the kids and speak about to the social worker if your foster children have negative experiences at their visits.
bio family is always priority
This tip is really for those who want to adopt out of foster care (like myself). Reuniting these families is ALWAYS the priority if you cannot support this another avenue of adoption is probably a better idea for you. It takes a long time for the kids cases to go through the court system.
As a foster parent you have to jump through hoops to get approved but bio families often just have to do the bare minimum to have their child returned. This can be frustrating because you grow to love their child like your own and it is hard to imagine them having a “safe enough” life when you see concerns.
Always speak up to your social workers, CASA, guardian ad litem or anyone else who has the ability to possibly change an unsafe outcome. Kids slip through the cracks all the time. BE AN ADVOCATE but do it for the kids best interest not for your selfish reasons of wanting to adopt.
document every thing
Everything. Everything. Everything. We were told in training that it’s not a matter of if you get accused but when. Becoming a foster parent exposes you to this very real reality. Bio families will often say anything to get their kids back in their care. As a way of trying to control a situation they have little control over they can try and throw you under the bus. Kids will also often say things about their foster parents to try ad be returned home.
Safeguard yourselves. Especially when it comes to kids that have been sexually abused. Find out the rules and requirements and follow them to a t. Document every bruise or bump. Document anything said about you, your family or your foster child’s bio family. Document behaviors after visits. Document sickness, medicines and doctor visits. I have a foster care binder that you have access to in my free content library that will help you with this.
THE GOODBYES WILL AND SHOULD BREAK YOUR HEART
You will hear all the time “I couldn’t do what you do, I’de get too attached.” This gets old real fast as a foster parent. You need to get attached that is exactly what these kids need. As an emotionally stable adult you will be able to say goodbye, grieve and move on with your life, in order for these precious kids to have some stability, love and the ability to change the trajectory of their future.
Some kids it will be harder with and some kids it will be easier with but your heart will break and thats how you know you are a good foster parent. Don’t let the fear of your heart breaking deter you from helping kids who so desperately need love.
IT’S EASIER AND HARDER THAN YOU THINK
It is easier than you think to fall in love with these kids and their families. Most foster parents have no idea what its like to grow up the way these kids do and the way their parents did. Your eyes are opened to a whole new world of things. Addiction, mental health, sexual and physical child abuse, neglect, starvation. I found myself to be way more compassionate then I thought and it only takes a few days to fall head over heals in love with these precious kids.
It’s also harder then you think. The constant stream of social worker visits, planning your life in between court dates. Limitations to travel or move or even get a consistent baby sitter. Foster care certainly has its challenges and some days you will want to give up.
BUT. Hear me now. Foster parenting has been the best thing I have ever done with my life. I do not regret it for a minute. It has given my life so much purpose and fulfilment and when you see these kids have breakthroughs it fills your heart with so much joy. It is so very rewarding. I am proud to be a foster parent. To be making a difference for the kids in my community and in the next generation. I feel I am exactly where God wants me.
SELF CARE SOUL CARE
This is so very important. Do things just for you, for your marriage and for your core family. Exercise, eat well, pray, meditate, go on date nights. Know when to take a break or if you need to stop. Don’t feel guilty about it. You cannot care for kids from hard places well if your cup is empty. You cannot help every child. Some behaviors are outside the realm of your ability. Caring for some kids can have a serious and permanent negative effect on you and your family. Don’t give up easily but be aware of when things just can’t work.
CONSIDER GETTING A THERAPIST
Especially if you came to foster care because of infertility, kinship or you have some triggers from your past. I has a pretty normal childhood, a solid marriage, a strong support system and undying love of my biological children and I have suffered with mild depression on more then one occasion throughout my 4 years of fostering. Compassion fatigue and secondary trauma or very real. I wish I had taken the time to talk to a therapist and not tried to handle the hard all on my own.
I hope you find these tips helpful. We got on the foster care roller coaster 4 years ago and we wouldn’t change a minute of it. There has been lots of tears and lots of joy. Lots of hard but so much good. Run the race. Do more then just care for yourself. the reward is great. I hope you enjoyed these tips for new foster parents! If you are an experienced foster parent hopefully you got something from it too! Have a happy day!