Preparing for a Child in Foster Care
You want to make a difference in a child’s life, and in the process of deciding to become a foster parent, you have weighed the benefits and potential challenges of this experience. The decision to become a family who fosters a child is a big, life changing choice. In preparation, you have successfully completed your foster parent application, the family/home assessment, necessary background checks, and foster parent training to become a licensed foster parent in Montana. You are ready to have a child placed in your home. Waiting could take months or a few short days; a child protection specialist could reach out to you at any time. When you receive a call, you may feel a sense of urgency to decide quickly, and in many cases, once you say “Yes!” you may have only a few hours before the child arrives.
Preparing for a child in foster care can be exciting and a little stressful as well. This document provides guidance, tips, and suggestions to prepare your mind, your heart, your space, and important others in your life for this exciting time.
Preparing Your Mind
Waiting for a child in foster care to join your family requires a mindset that helps you to remain flexible, see opportunities, meet challenges, be resilient, adjust easily, and stay focused in the present moment. There are ways to cultivate these attributes while you are waiting.
- Educate yourself about child development, foster parenting, and common topics like attachment, trauma, grief, and loss. Learning is key to feeling competent and ready to foster.
- Do your best to learn all you can about the child coming into your home but also realize that you won’t know everything.1 In fact, you may learn very little about the child who will be joining your family. Prepare yourself to be okay with not knowing.
- Make progress on your personal “to-do” list. If possible, take care of appointments, meetings, or things that require your personal attention now so that you can be fully focused on welcoming a child into your home when the time arrives. There is peace of mind that comes from making progress on your personal “to-do” list.
- Build time into your schedule that isn’t committed. Having uncommitted time in your day can free your mind to think creatively and see things from a new perspective.
- Reach out for assistance and advice from your child protection specialist. They can provide excellent support as you prepare for a child in foster care to join your family.
- Stay focused on the here and now while you wait to have a child join your family. Keeping yourself focused on the present can grow a mindset that is flexible and open to opportunities.
- Speak up about your own needs and limitations. A child in foster care may require special assistance and care for their physical or mental health needs, which may require several appointments each week. As you prepare yourself, think about your own needs and limitations (i.e., your work schedule, other commitments, transportation, child care, etc.) and be vocal in telling your child protection specialist.2
Consider reading books about foster care.Check out this list of books: :https://adoptionbooks.net/8-books-every-foster-parent-needs-read/
Preparing Your Heart
As a foster parent, you are being asked to invest yourself fully in a relationship with a child even though it is likely and expected that the child will be with you for a temporary amount of time.
The foster care system is built on the premise that children in need of foster care should be reunited with their family of origin.
Investing your heart and effort into this relationship is necessary for the child to learn, grow, and reach their fullest potential, but it can be difficult knowing that your time with them is limited and that they will likely be returning to their family of origin. Maintaining perspective is key to being able to fully invest in this new relationship. Perspective can make all the difference for you and for the child who is about to join your family.
Start a journal to process your thoughts and feelings while you are waiting for a child in foster care to join your family. Writing in a journal can be helpful once your child arrives too.
Ask yourself, “What opportunities can I provide for this child while they are with me? How can I best support this child in the time that I have with them?”
- Do your best with the time that you have.3
- Take time for yourself. It is important to take care of yourself, so you can care for others. Find time everyday to do something you enjoy. You could use the time to take a walk outside, read, watch your favorite TV show, take a bath, meditate, go to the gym, or whatever helps you feel reenergized and connected. Caring for yourself can help you maintain perspective and be your absolute best.
- Reach out to your support network.3 Nurture your current relationships but also reach out to other foster parents in your community or online. Surrounding yourself with others who are in a similar situation can help you feel connected. They can be a sounding board for ideas and can reduce feeling isolated or alone when things are difficult.
Ways to build up your support system include:3
- Talk with your family, friends, and other groups (i.e. church group, book club, etc.) about your plans to have a child in foster care join your family. Educate them on the process you are going through on your journey as a foster parent.
- Cultivate relationships with the people you meet in the foster parent training education classes you attend. Get their phone numbers and email addresses to stay connected. Suggest a lunch date or coffee date to continue to develop a relationship. Keep in mind, they may be your respite providers in the future.
- Join an online support group or foster parent network.
Preparing Your Environment
Consider your home environment and where the child’s space is going to be located. Keep in mind that your home will be their home too, for now, so make it as comfortable and inviting as possible. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself, “In what ways can I make this child’s life more comfortable?”
Ideas to create a comfortable and welcoming environment:
- Make a space that the child can consider their own. Will the child have a specific room that will be their own? If not, make a specific section in a room that they can call their own, or a shelf where they can place important items.
- Consider having age-appropriate books to read.4
- Ask yourself, “In what ways can I welcome this child into our home?”
- You may consider purchasing a few gift items that the child can keep and take with them such as a blanket, stuffed animal, books, bag, or pillow.
- You and your family could create a personalized welcome book with the child’s name, house rules, your family information/ pictures, and something fun the child can learn about their new foster family.4
Reach out to your child protection specialist and ask if they know of other foster families who may have items available that they are no longer using.
People in your life need preparation for the arrival of a child in foster care as much as you do. Spend time preparing others for this big transition. Focus on the people in your home (spouse, co-partner, children) first, and then bring in people with whom you have relationships and commitments (employers, colleagues, volunteer positions, etc.).
You and your co-parent have made the decision to become foster parents together. You have had important conversations about the impact of becoming foster parents on your relationship with each other and your family. While you wait to have a child join your family, it is important to check in with one another again.
- Use intentional communication to have important conversations and revisit any issues or topics needed. See more information on intentional communication.
- Make sure you continue to be aligned on your decision to have a child join your family. You could say,
- “Are we still on the same page to move forward with having a child in foster care join our family?”
- “Are there any concerns that have come up for you?”
- “Has anything changed since we made the decision to become foster parents that needs our attention?”
Remember, you are a team and communicating often will be valuable now and when a child joins your family.
Other Children in Your Home
Children already living in your home will need communication and education before a foster child joins your family. While you have already included them when you decided to become a foster parent, continuing to prepare them by having ongoing conversations will make the transition for your children easier. Remember, your family’s normal routines will change, and the fostering experience will be an adjustment for everyone.
- Revisit conversations about having a child in foster care join your family. You could say, “Remember when we talked about having a child in foster care join our family? That could happen any day. Do you have any concerns about that? What questions do you have? How do you feel about our decision?”
- Ask for your children’s input and let them make contributions. You could say, “What ideas do you have about how we can make the child feel comfortable in our home?”
- Talk about what to expect when the child arrives and how they can support the new child as they adjust to your home. Encourage your children to allow the new child time and space to adjust to their new environment.5 You could say something like, “I know you will be excited to meet them and get to know them, but it is important not to ask too many questions all at once. We want to give them some time to settle in. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to ask questions and get to know each other.”
- Talk about confidentiality.5 Depending on the age of your children, it is important to teach them about what confidentiality is and talk about why it is important. Explain that telling others about the child’s history can be hurtful or embarrassing.
- Anticipate and discuss some of the behaviors the new child might display such as tantrums, refusing to eat, hoarding, or refusing to talk.1 Talk about why the child might behave in these ways and how they can support the child. You could say, “The child might be acting this way because they are feeling really scared or sad and they aren’t sure how to express themselves. We can help them by being role models and showing them what it means to be a family.”
- Talk about body awareness, appropriate touch, and inappropriate touch and actions.5 This is an important conversation to have on a regular basis. This conversation does not need to be in the context of having a child in foster care join your family but is an important conversation to have with every child on an ongoing basis.
- Encourage honest and open communication with your children. You could say, “This is going to be new for all of us, and at times it might be really hard. You can always talk to me and I will listen.” Reassure your children that you are there for them.
- Consider planning regular times where you check in, one on one with your children.
- Help your children to prepare their hearts as well. Like you, your children will likely become emotionally connected to the child who is joining your family. Tell your children that the goal of foster care is to have the child eventually go back home. To process your children’s feelings about the child leaving, you could say, “What do you think it will feel like when they leave our home?” Talk through your feelings, and then also have your child imagine what they will be feeling. Exploring multiple feelings can build your children’s social and emotional skills.
Establish your home as a safe place full of acceptance, love, fairness, and understanding.
Consider setting up resources like counseling to assist the family when needed. Having this resource readily available can be beneficial both as the family prepares for this big transition and throughout the entire process.
Employers and Others to Which You Have a Commitment
If you are employed, volunteer, or have other commitments for which you are responsible, it is important to communicate early and often. Talk about your foster care journey, where you are in the process, and create a plan for when your child in foster care arrives.
- Will you need to take a day off or leave work early?
- Will you need to reduce your volunteer hours or get someone to cover for you?
Talk through these issues and coordinate in advance to reduce stress.
Talk with your child protection specialist about identifying child care early so you can resume work quickly once a child is placed with you.
Consider talking with your employer about flex-scheduling or other options that may be available (a modified work schedule, working from home, etc.) as you transition into your role as a foster parent.
You don’t have to be a stay-at-home parent to accept a child in need of foster care into your home. Many foster parents work full time.
Preparing yourself and others to have a child in foster care join your family can help you feel confident and ready to say “Yes!” when the child protection specialist calls to place a child in your care. Guidance and tips are provided to prepare yourself to have a
- mindset that helps you to remain flexible, see opportunities, and meet challenges;
- a heart that is fully open to invest yourself in a relationship with a child; and
- an environment that is welcoming and comfortable.
Having a foster child join your family is an exciting experience but one that also requires preparing important others in your life like those in your home (spouse, co-partner, children) and people with whom you have relationships and commitments (employers, colleagues, volunteer positions, etc.). Guidance and tips to prepare important people for this transition are included above.