Did you know that there are approximately 443,000 kids in foster care in the US?
The sad thing is, many of these children will be bounced from one foster care placement to the next, never knowing when their lives are going to be uprooted again.
And, while some children stay in the foster care system for just a couple of years or less, many will languish in the system for years.
Clearly, it's not easy to be a child in foster care. Therefore, if you're a foster parent, it's very important that you do everything you can to make sure that offer each child you come in contact with the most loving and positive environment possible.
But, there's no doubt that being a foster parent can also be incredibly tough. How do you make sure you handle it well?
Check out this guide to learn the top tips for being a foster parent.
1. Know What You're Capable Of
First things first, you need to know what you're capable of. Many children in foster care have either mental or physical disabilities. This may mean that they need to attend multiple doctors' appointments per week or go to therapy.
If you don't think you're up for this big of a commitment or challenge, make sure to communicate this to Child Protective Services.
Don't worry, as they're not going to hold this against you. If you don't you're equipped to handle a very difficult situation, then you're only making things worse for the child.
So, know your limits and be sure to communicate them clearly.
2. Let Go
If you're someone who likes to be in control and have everything planned out, then you're going to need to learn to change your tune if you want to be a successful foster parent.
First of all, you can't get too attached to your plans as a foster parent. While it's okay to have long-term goals about long-term placements, adopting, respite care, etc, it's also important to keep an open mind.
With foster care, things rarely turn out the way you planned, so be ready for things to change.
Also, remember that you don't have control over the child's case or their future in your home. Between the biological parents, the state, and the caseworker, there's a lot at play in terms of what will happen with your foster child. Instead of stressing about this, focus on providing the best care you can for the child.
3. Go to Court Dates
Whether or not you'll be allowed into the courtroom will depend on the state you live in.
But, if your state does allow you to go, you should do your best to be there for each court date.
Even if all you're allowed to do is sit outside on a bench, you'd be surprised about how much you can learn about the case by doing this. (You can also learn more here about the foster care system as a whole.)
Another benefit of going to court is that it'll allow you to set the record straight on the spot. The sad truth is, most people who work on a child's foster care case are working on multiple families, and it's not uncommon for them to mix up the details.
By showing up to court, you'll be able to help clarify certain things.
4. Seek Support
There's no doubt that being a foster parent is a thankless job.
Some days you'll be happy and full of energy. Other days you'll be exhausted and sad.
To be a successful foster parent, it's important that you have someone to lean on in times of need.
In addition to leaning on friends and family members for support, you should also get in contact with your agency to ask about support groups. There are also message boards and Facebook groups that you can join.
Also, if you're fostering with a spouse or partner, it may also be a good idea to see a couple's counselor. Adding a child to your family, even temporarily, can completely change the dynamic of your household. To make sure both you and your spouse handle the transition smoothly and work well as parents, it can help to see a therapist.
5. Jot Down Memories
Even though your foster child may not be with you for a long time, it's important that you do what you can to jot down the memories they make while they're with you.
Take photos and videos, write funny stories, and do whatever you can to document the child's time with you.
Hopefully, they'll one day be able to look back on all of this one day.
6. Communication is Key
In order to be a great foster parent, you need to be a great communicator.
And, we're not just referring to the communication between you and your child. As a foster parent, you'll be communicating with therapists, school teachers, social workers, court officials, and maybe even the birth family.
In order to be an effective communicator with all of these different people, you need to make sure that you listen and that you come into conversations with an open mind.
While things may not always go your way, your job is to do the best you can to maintain a healthy relationship with the other individuals in the child's life.
7. It's Okay to Take a Break
When you sign up to be a foster parent, just know that you don't need to be one 365 days of the year.
There are times during the year when you're going to feel especially stress and overworked. So, if you get the call to bring another child in and you feel like you can't handle it in the current moment, know that it's okay to say no.
There will always be other calls.
Being a Foster Parent: Wrap Up
By following these tips for being a foster parent, you'll be much more successful in your role.
Just remember, being a foster parent is not easy, but it can be very rewarding, so it's important to take everything in stride and remind yourself that you're doing the best you can.
And, be sure to check back in with our blog for more parenting tips and tricks.