So you’ve decided to become a foster parent, now what?
For most people, including myself, the decision to become a foster parent was a process. I wanted to have the right car, right home, right timing in my life to open my door to a child. If we are honest, there is never going to be a perfect time to take this leap, but sometimes there is a natural time to start the process.
Soon-to-be foster mom, and maybe soon-to-be foster dad, your heart will take over the mind in this preparation process. You will suddenly think you need the best of everything, top of the line baby bottles and all the accessories to go with it. You may stand in the local paint shop, swooning over colors and room layouts to make sure that each little detail of the spot you are preparing in your home is perfect!
Stop. Wait. Breathe. Back up.
You’ve made the decision to become a foster parent, your first step is to lay the foundation of what that decision entails with your support system. This is the key factor that I forgot and many of my fellow foster friends did not prepare for.
You may say, “Well it’s my decision. My support circle of family and friends are going to support me. They always have.”
Take it from this girl, a single foster mom who expected those in my world would be as excited about foster care as I was, you are going to need more support that you ever imagined. And most of the people you expected to fall into the helping role of “being there” are not going to fill the roles as you hoped, and you will be disappointed.
Are you surprised? I can almost be assured, as you read this, you do not believe me! It’s okay, but understand this… foster care is not something our culture celebrates and our society does not know how to function around it. Many people are afraid of extending their hand into a system that seems so dysfunctional. Unless you take the opportunity to educate your support circle, don’t expect them jump exceptionally high. It’s widely known that people don’t usually act, unless they are asked. People interviewed, especially in fundraising and volunteer roles, say they would give more or do more, if they were simply asked. That means, you, perspective foster parents, have some work to do to prepare those around to with the layout of what you will need to make your journey as a foster parent more successful.
What should you do? Start by writing down a list of people in your life you think will be part of your support system. Write out their name and their expected talent of how they will help you. These talents can range from possible babysitters, overnight caregivers if you need a vacation, the people who can pick your child up from school or daycare in an emergency, attend a court hearing with you, cook you dinner (yes, I said cook you dinner), wash your car, mow your lawn, transport kids to visits, be a mentor to their bio parent, be a reference for your home during the early re-evaluation, things that you have time to do now but may need help with later.
Take that list of family, friends and talents and have an open and honest conversation. Invite people over for dinner, go over to their house or specifically set aside time to talk to them about how your life is going to change with caring for a foster child. Tell them about why you want to be foster parents. Educate them about why children come into care and about the reunification process of children going home. Then talk about the list of needs you will have when a child comes into your home. Talk about what that need will look like after the newness wears off and three years later you are still fostering and people think you’re nuts. If you have chosen to work with a private foster care agency, get them involved. Ask about having the trainer talk to a group of your family and friends about the importance of support, the foster care process and children in care.
Through these conversations, you should take mental notes and compare the list you’re created to the notes of your conversations. You’ll be surprised, but don’t be discouraged. Go back to those who told you how they would be able to help and set up a plan, go back to those that may have shied away from wanting to step up, as you hoped, and see if they can serve in easier tasks. And release yourself from that disappointment of those that do not want to be as involved as you expected them to. There will be someone and that’s okay.
When you lay the foundation for what this road will look like, you are skillfully and realistically setting your home up for success and saving yourself a lot of frustration in the midst of your service to children.
You’ve made the decision to become a foster parent. You are not the one man band of saving children and making all things new, happy and perfect. You are a piece of the village that is choosing to care for a child in need.
It takes a village to raise a child- embrace your village soon-to-be foster parent, embrace it.
Judith works as a trainer and recruiter for Sunbeam Family Services. She is one of several bloggers who are sharing their experiences with MetroFamily. Learn more about her and the other bloggers here.