As a foster parent one of our most important jobs is to work with our foster child’s biological parent and work towards the goal of reunification. I learned a lot from trying to hold a relationship with Princess’s mother and co-parenting with her father even after we broke up. Here are some tips I have learned.
- Do not judge. This is the hardest one I think. Sometimes they have done things that to us are unforgiveable. Chances are they had a rough childhood as well or they could have a mental illness or a history of addiction. Don’t judge them since you just don’t know.
- Only speak kindly of them in front of the children. It’s important to remember that their children still love them. My favorite video during Pride was when the foster mom pointed out the her foster child that the child had their mothers eyes. That might have been the only nice thing she had to say but she found something positive to focus on.
- Communicate (if possible). This could be the form of letters, email, or even my phone. If you cannot communicate with the child’s parents maybe there is another family member you can stay in contact with.
- Keep them updated on everything. Let them know about what happened at doctors appointments (if they don’t attend), their child’s grades, their child’s behavior, their child’s development etc. I copy the developmental recommendations the doctor gives me at the healthy kid checks ups and send to both parents. Even tell them the small things like when they go up a size of clothes and/or shoes, what they did over their weekend, or when they have a new favorite toy/color/food/movie.
- Send pictures/art work. This is something simple but it means a lot to the parents. Parents love to see pictures of their kids and you can even write little captions on the back. Parents also like to have art work they can keep and show others. Even babies can make handprint and footprint art.
- Be a resource for the parent. Sometimes bio parents haven’t been taught or shown proper parent skills. Be an example for them and let them know that if they need advice you are there and won’t judge.
- Have the parent be a resource for you. Ask them information about the child (especially in the beginning): their likes and dislikes, what products to use on their hair and skin, health concerns and allergies, etc. This shows the parent that you recognize that they know their kids.
- Include them in decisions. Ask them about activities to sign their kids up for, what to do for their birthday, how to cut their hair. This shows you appreciate their input (and they are getting a say in how their kids are being raised) even if it’s something small.
- Observe a visit (if possible). I think this is the best way to get to know the bio parent and show them that you respect them as a parent. It also shows the kids that you are on the same page and supporting each other:
- Remember the goal of fostering is reunification. This is so hard for me sometimes especially when something has happened that makes me question if reunification is best. But then I have to remember that it is not my job to decide whether they are a fit parent. It is my job to do what I can to support the child and parents.
Please stop saying things like “I can’t be a foster parent because it would be too hard to let them go” or “I can’t be a foster parent because I would get too attached”. There are many legit reasons not foster but caring too much isn’t one of them. I truly believe you have the right intentions. You are offending foster children everywhere by saying foster children are not worthy of your love. You also just made the foster parent you just said that to feel like you think they are heartless. Foster children need people to get attached. The number one job of a foster parent is to love and care for them. Yes, saying good bye is heartbreaking. However, they need to feel happiness and a home just like any other child. Fostering is a journey that is not meant for everyone. Below is a brief list of 10 things that I feel would be acceptable to come after the phrase, “I can’t be a foster parent because…”
- I feel called to do something instead (mission work, travel the world, church ministry, etc).
- I don’t want kids.
- I don’t want anymore kids right now.
- My beloved dog/cat doesn’t do well with kids.
- I don’t have time.
- My kids are all grown and I am enjoying not having kids in the house.
- I couldn’t handle all of the doctors appointments, caseworker visits, therapy appointments, etc.
- This isn’t the right time for me right now but I plan to in the future.
- I just don’t want to (that’s a perfectly fine excuse).
I would like to include ten things that are not on my list. (All of the below things are not reasons not to foster).
- I am not married.
- I don’t own a house.
- I work full time.
- I have young kids.
- I have older kids.
- I don’t have any kids.
- I have pets
- I don’t want to adopt.
- I can only afford my self right now (ask a DCFS worker about financial what support is provided and what costs the state is responsible for)
- I am not sure how to become a foster parent (Look it up! Google is your best friend)
There are many many reasons not to foster and all of them are valid. But if the only reason you can think of is because you are afraid of getting hurt or loving a child who isn’t yours maybe you should consider fostering.
I am lucky. I have a truly wonderful support system. Fostering takes a whole community so here is a list of things that you can do to support a foster parent. Not all these things are possible for everyone but
- Listen to them. Sometimes as a foster parent we don’t feel like we have a “right” to complain since we chose this. Let the foster parent in your life know it’s okay to vent to you.
- Watch the kids. In some states this might mean that you have to background check but let them know you are willing to begin the process.
- Come over and help out. Maybe you don’t want to babysit, so offer to go over to their house and be an extra hand. The week after I received a placement of two kids (ages 22 months and 8 at the time) was my foster sons 10th birthday and I promised him we could go to six flags. I had friends offer to come with so that he had an adults to ride rides with while I stayed with the almost two year old.
- Bring food. Those first couple weeks of having a new placement are stressful. The less a foster parent has to worry about those first weeks the more they can focus on the kids.
- Offer to be the person they call to go run out and pick things up. A foster parent may only have an hour it is always great to have people available to go to the store and pick up diapers or clothes so they can wait for the children.
- Donate your children’s old clothes/baby gear. I have a basement full of different sizes of clothes and toys. It is great to be able to go downstairs and grab things I need. It takes a little bit of the stress away.
- Do laundry/clean the house. During a really stressful week my mom came over and did all my laundry. It was never something I would ask for but it allowed me to focus on the kids who needed me.
- Offer carpool. I spend a lot of time in the car driving to different appointments. If you could take my child to swim lessons this week so I can stay home and wash my dishes, I would be forever grateful.
- Invite them to go places with you. I went from a single women to a parent in the blink of an eye. I appreciated when coworkers or acquaintances invited me to do kid related activities with them.
- Love the kids. Seriously though! I am over joyed by how my family and friends have treated my foster children as part of the family. They give them gifts, and write them letters, and include them in everything we do. It’s the little things that countS
Meeting with a licensing worker for the first time is very intimidating. Have a list of questions ready and take notes.
- What do you need to do to become a foster parent? This is different for every state and even every county. This usually includes getting your house ready, getting a letter from your doctor, getting a background check, and taking a pride class. Make sure you make a list of everything you need to do to keep track.
- Are you qualified to be a foster parent? Though most everyone can be a foster parent there are some things that could prevent you from becoming a foster parent like having a felony or not being medically cleared to take care of children.
- How many children can you foster in your home? This is usually dependent of the size of the bedrooms and how many beds you can have. I would wait till the licensing worker measures the rooms before you go ahead and purchase beds and cribs.
- What age and gender of children can you have? This is dependent on the set up of your house and whether or not you have biological children who will share a room with them.
- What do you need to have set up before you are licensed? Most states require all of the beds and cribs to be set up before you get licensed.
- What do you need to change about your home? You might need to lock up medication, baby proof, lock up your guns, change your water temperature, or put a fence around your pool, etc
- What is my role as a foster parent? Do you have to transport a visit? What are you required to document? Make sure your licensing worker fully covers everything you are required to do.
- What are the guidelines? Make sure you understand all of the rules about discipline, confidentiality, supervision of foster children, as well as all other guidelines your state has. It is important to have a strong understanding of the rules before your first placement.
- What are the next steps? Make sure you have a good understanding of how a child will be placed in your care.
- Are there any children in need now? Sometimes licensing workers know of children that are in need of a home right away and they can place a child with you as soon as you are licensed:
I live in Illinois but every county/state is different. Below are my experiences.
- Decide this is the journey you want to take. Talk to other people and do as much research as you can. You can also call your local DCFS to see if there are any support groups or classes they offer.
- Research foster agencies. Do you want to work with DCFS directly or a private agency? I would call the local agencies and ask them questions. See what the differences are and decide what works best for you. Some agencies work only with older kids or only kids free for adoption. I decided to work with dcfs since they transport kids to parent visits and therapy. Since I am a full time single parent that was a necessity for me. The best best fit for you truly depends on your needs and your purpose for fostering.
- Contact the foster agency and set up your first visit. This first visit is always nerve racking but it is important to remember that the licensing worker just wants to meet you and give you more information on fostering. I would make a good impression by having your house clean and presentable. I would also have a list of questions ready.
- Decide how many kids/what ages you want to foster. This will be important because for the different age ranges their are different requirements. For example in Illinois children under 7 they have to sleep on the same floor as an you.
- Find out the requirements for your agency. How many kids can you have per room? What temperature does your water heater have to be set at? Can you have bunk beds? Can babies sleep in your room? What do you need to do with medication? How securely do you need to lock up your guns? It is probably best to ask these questions to your licensing worker but you can also research these questions online.
- Begin readying your house for the next inspection. You will need to make sure you have beds/cribs for the number/ages of the children you have on your license. You will also need to make sure medicine is correctly stored, there is a fence around your pool, your water heater is set to the correct temperature, among other things.
- Start telling people you are fostering. There are many ways you can do this. However, it doesn’t have to be a big announcement. Let your close friends and family know that you are starting this journey. They will probably have a lot of questions but they will also probably want to know how they can support you.
- Take your pride classes. Pride classes are very informative. Take lots of notes. Ask lots of questions. And make friends. The people you meet in pride class can be a great support system S you go on this journey.
- Get licensed. Your licensing worker will probably have to do one last walk through after your pride classes and fill out more paperwork. It might take a while but eventually you will get the license in the mail.
- Wait. Once you are licensed what you have to do is wait by the phone for that call. While you wait though I would search garage sales and resale shops for clothing, toys and other supplies that you might need for your age range. One thing I have found helpful is having different size bikes/scooters so that we can go on a lot of walks and bike rides that first week.