You’ve just received the email you’ve been waiting for — a foster child in your area is in need of a home. Are you in?
In addition to the excitement you’re feeling, you’re probably also nervous and anxious. It’s tough to know when you’re really “ready” to be a foster parent; it’s one of those things you can’t ever know until you try.
So, what can you do now to prepare yourself for this little one about to come into your home?
We’ve got a few tips for you:
1. Ask LOTS of questions.
When your caseworker presents a possible placement to your family, you will likely get the basics: trauma history, reasons for foster home move, biological parents’ situation. But there will be a lot more to know if you want to create a safe and welcoming home for this child.
Busy caseworkers do their best, but sometimes details slip their minds in the many calls they make to current and prospective foster parents. Make their job easier by having an extensive list of questions ready to go when you call your caseworker for more information.
Here are just a few questions to help you get to better know your foster child — and to better prepare yourself for what to expect:
- What is the age and gender of the child(ren)?
- What is the child’s legal status and permanency plan?
- Will this be a long-term or short-term placement?
- Have any kinship options been attempted?
- What county is the child from?
- What is the visitation schedule with the biological parents? Who is responsible for transportation for these visits?
- What can you tell me about the circumstances of the child’s removal?
- Does the child display any behaviors that might affect my safety/the safety of other children in my home?
- How long has the child been in care? How many placements have they had in that time, and why are you looking for a new placement now?
- Does the child have siblings, either in foster care or in the custody of the biological parents?
- What can you share about the child’s family background? Are there any safety concerns I should be aware of?
- What future medical appointments does the child have?
- What over-the-counter and prescription medication is the child taking?
- Does the child have any allergies?
- What can you share about the child’s health and medical history?
- Does the child have any mental health diagnosis or needs?
- Did the child have any prenatal substance exposure?
- Is the child in school or daycare? Does the child have an individualized education program (IEP)?
- Is the child potty-trained? If not, what’s the progress so far? What size diapers do they wear?
- What kind of food does the child like and dislike? (For infants: What kind of formula is the child drinking?)
- What other likes/dislikes does the child have?
- What is the child’s current screen-time schedule?
- What detergent do they use in the current foster home? (To provide familiar-smelling linens)
- What is the child bringing with them to my house?
Finally, don’t forget to ask one important question: “Can we reach out to the current foster home as a resource during the adjustment period?” A former foster home will often have more information and insight into a child than what a caseworker has on file.
2. Develop a childcare plan, if necessary.
If you (and your spouse, if applicable) work full-time, you’ll need to create a childcare plan for your work hours. Most childcare providers may not be able to provide the kind of specialized care and understanding a child with trauma needs. Start your research early, and ask your caseworker for any recommendations, especially if the child is already attending daycare in the area.
Keep the child’s personal situation in mind, too. For example, many preschools will not accept children who are still in diapers. If your foster child is struggling with potty-training, you’ll need to locate a provider who will work with the child’s needs and support the training process.
If you haven’t already, reach out to your HR department about their new-parent policies — and whether they apply to foster care. Will your office provide any paid time off for bonding when you receive a new placement?
3. Childproof, if needed.
If you’ve opened your house to older toddlers (ages 3 and up), childproofing your house may not have even crossed your mind. But, it’s important to remember that many foster children are developmentally delayed, due to trauma experienced before and during foster placements. They may not have been taught safety rules around the house, so always take the steps to lock up all dangerous items (alcohol, medication, weapons, kitchen knives, etc.)
If you’ve prepared your house for a younger child, your baby-proofing system may no longer work for the child coming into your home now. Ask the child’s caseworker about any particular concerns, and do some research to determine the most age-appropriate proofing for your situation.
4. Be prepared for behaviors to present differently.
Trauma is a difficult beast, and it manifests differently in each child — and differently as a child grows up. Your caseworker will prepare you for certain trauma-related behaviors, but the child may act completely different upon placement in your home.
Any move is hard on a child, let alone a move without the stability of biological parents. Be prepared for an adjustment period, and try not to panic if a child expresses behaviors you weren’t warned about.
Remember that it’s your job as a foster parent to help a child overcome this trauma. Seeing these behaviors will help you identify the best way to treat them. When in doubt, always reach out to your caseworker for support.
5. Remember to take a deep breath — you’re going to be great.
The first foster placement is nerve-wracking in many ways. It’s normal to feel stressed and worried at this point. Rest assured that you’ll have plenty of teachable moments in the days, weeks and months ahead. Making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad foster parent, as long as you learn from them and adjust your behavior to what’s best for the child in your home.
Rules and boundaries are important during this early stage, but also give yourself and the child grace as you get to know each other. This child may have moved from home to home throughout their life; it will take some time to learn your house rules and expectations. Don’t take any outbursts or disobedience personally; instead, recognize the ways you can make this adjustment easier for your foster child.
At the end of the day, what’s important is loving this foster child. Let this child know they are safe in your home, and give them the support and care they need to thrive. Good luck!