You decided that it’s way to expensive to adopt, you’re dealing with fertility issues or you were always interested in foster care, so you took all the classes, filled out all the paperwork and are ready for your kid. Now what? Hopefully these five steps will help you to be a successful foster parent.
1. Have realistic expectations. Whatever expectations you have right now, I’m sorry, but they’re not real. You are not saving anyone. You are not giving a child the home that they’ve always wanted. You (and social services) have disrupted their lives and your idea of normal is not their idea of normal. No matter how many workshops you went to, how many children you’ve worked with at your job or with family; it’s not the same when they’re in your house 24-7. I’m a special education teacher who deals with a whole gamut of behaviors at school. It was a different story when the child was in my home and I couldn’t escape them.
2. Be prepared to deal with negative behaviors. You went through the classes and you’ve heard the horror stories, but nothing prepares you for having these behaviors in your home, your sanctuary, which was once free of chaos. It will be hard, especially since you didn’t have them from day one, but don’t take things personally. Always ask yourself what they want to accomplish by exhibiting the behavior? Do they want attention from you, whether negative or positive? Do they want to see how far they can push you before you’ll break and send them back? You may find that you need to teach the child very basic skills they have never learned before. Talk about the behavior with them and give them appropriate consequences. We had a 12 year old who we had to teach how to bathe himself, not play with his pee and poop, wash and take care of his hair, brush his teeth, use deodorant, etc.
3. Be consistent. Do the same routine every single day. Foster children need to know what their expectations are, so put a list of rules up on the refrigerator. Use pictures if the child is too young to understand. Predictability helps the child cope with a new situation. They know that you will always get them up and give them breakfast at 7am. You will always pick them up at daycare at 5pm. They will have a bath before bed at 8pm, etc. Give praise whenever you catch them doing something good! My two year old always called himself a bad boy and would call my husband and I bad girls (yes, him too!). If they’re always told they’re bad, they might not know what it means to be good. Now he knows that he’s my good boy.
4. Have support. It’s important that everyone in your household is on board to help you with the child. I knew that my husband was going to have surgery when we accepted our latest foster child, so it was a big decision to make. While my husband was physically in our home, he couldn’t help out much and it was a very difficult 6 weeks chasing after a toddler in his terrible twos! You also need to have family or another foster parent who can give you a date night. It’s important to have “me” time and get away, even if it’s for only a few hours. Go get a bite to eat in a real restaurant and see a movie that isn’t a cartoon! You need to have someone to talk to as well. Talk to an understanding friend, other foster parents, follow a bunch of blogs or seek out a support group or counselor.
5. Now crumple up this list! I know you’re saying, WHAT?! But do it. If you didn’t print this list out, take a nice crisp piece of paper and take your frustrations out on it. Crumple it up, stomp on it, twist it, and then try to smooth it out. THAT my friend, is what foster care is. It’s not without its faults. We cannot make it be that clean, crisp piece of paper, but we can help smooth out the rough patches and make them more manageable. We have to accept that there is not a simple “how to” guide. Every child is unique and different and each county and state has different rules and regulations to follow. You cannot find all the answers in a book or a manual somewhere. You decided to be a foster parent because you’re a loving, caring person who decided to open up your home to a child. You’re not perfect and you’re going to make mistakes. Just learn from them. Use the morals and values that you have and go on your good instincts. That is my best advice to you!