Are you a new foster parent? And are you anxiously awaiting your first placement? I remember that mix of excitement, fear of the unknown, and nervous energy well.
First, congratulations on becoming a foster parent! There’s such a need and I’m so glad you’ve decided to begin the process.
While you wait, check out these tips for first time foster parents. I hope you’ll find these tips for new foster parents helpful as you await your first placement.
1. Have Your Support Network in Place
It took us ages to get background checks run on friends and family members due to a local backlog. See if you can submit any necessary information now. (We needed full names, addresses, and social security numbers.)
Look into whether there are local foster parent support groups near you. A friend connected me to one that’s been a lifeline during tough times over the past few years. And there are a lot of excellent Facebook groups. A few of my favorites are Foster the Family Foster Parent Support and Culturally Fluent Families.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Your friends and family want to support you through this journey, but they often don’t know what you need. Accept any offers to provide meals. And speak up when you need something. Friends are often happy to grab diapers, etc. when they’re out running errands. And it’s better for the little ones in your care to keep their world small, quiet and calm during those first few hours and days.
3. Routines Are Your Friend
These kids are traumatized and don’t know what to expect next. Narrate your day. Let them know the schedule and what is planned. Picture charts are a useful tool for toddlers and little ones.
4. Know Which Family Rules are Non-Negotiable
Share these with the children joining your family and work with them to add any rules they feel are important. You don’t want to overwhelm the kids, but you do need to be clear about your expectations. It doesn’t matter how basic you think something is – the children may never have had that rule before.
5. Expect That Meal Times, Bath Times, and Bedtimes will be Tough
Try to anticipate challenges in advance. How can you make their space cozy and inviting? Do have night lights and noise machines on hand if needed? Feeding issues are par for the course. Having healthy snacks on hand and visible will go a long way towards building trust and allaying fears.
6. Get Organized Early
Make a binder for each child. Store important paperwork from the social worker. You’ll be asked about background info a lot, so you’ll want to have it accessible. And you’ll need to keep medical encounter forms organized. Add some blank pages to jot down questions you’d like to ask the social worker at the next visit, or that come up during medical appointments.
7. Take Some Time to Nest
In the last trimester of a pregnancy, it’s total normal to feel an urge to prepare for baby. It can help to prepare for the arrival of a foster child in the same way. Clear out clutter and make some easy freezer meals to have on hand. Pick up children’s toothbrushes and toothpaste, tub toys, a couple stuffed animals, and snuggly blankets.
There’s no need to rush out and buy everything up front, but it helped me feel like I was doing something during the waiting period to pick up a few items. And the time between the call and placement of your first little one can be chaotic – I was so glad we had some basics on hand.
8. Let the Children Have Some Control
Their world has just been rocked. Try to find out their favorite snacks, personal care products, etc. Let them pick a toothbrush and stuffed animal to sleep with. Give them simple choices at meal time (i.e. pizza or mac & cheese?).
9. Make Time for Self Care
Helping kids process trauma is hard, really hard. You need to take care of yourself so that you can be at your best for them. Sometimes that means finding a therapist you can talk with and sometimes it’s squeezing in time for coffee with friends. But whatever you choose, make sure you make the time. Check out this article on 35 Self Care Ideas for Times of Stress for inspiration.
10. Let the Child Know You’re Willing to Talk
Don’t pressure them, but letting them know that you’re there to listen if they want to talk can go a long way. Ask questions like “Is there anything I can get for you?”, “How are you feeling?” and “What do you like to do for fun?” It’s important they feel seen and heard.
11. Foster Parenting Will be Easier and Harder Than You Think
You will fall in love with many of the children in your care. As with parenting biological children, there will be easy days and hard days. You’ll be changed by the experience – there’s no way to un-see or unlearn the things you will come across.
The system will frustrate you, but you will also be awed by the dedication of some of the social workers you cross paths with. Foster parenting will inevitably be bitter sweet, but it will be also be one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of your life.
Thinking through the big questions and having routines in place will help you when the chaos of adjusting to your first foster placement hits. With time, your family will settle into a new routine and a new normal. Welcome to the world of foster parenting and best of luck with your first foster placement!
Interested in more tips for first time foster parents?
Are you a first-time foster parent? What are your biggest concerns? And if you’re an experienced foster parent, what tips would you share with new foster families?