1. The flexibility of your schedule
Foster care is nothing but an intrusion into your normal daily life. Obviously it's full of beautiful moments, huge stories of redemption, and incredible transformation, but the nitty gritty reality of foster care requires flexibility and patience.
In just the first 24 hours of being placed with a child, you should have at least two visits from professionals (licensing related and social work related), and a doctor's appointment. I'm assuming that's the mild end of things. Hearings, visitations, and follow up appointments come shortly after that first day.
When we were placed with our little man, it was a Tuesday. Nick and I had prepared our bosses for what was to come but in reality had no clue of what we might be demanding. In the remainder of that short, first week, we had two doctor's visits, a home visit from our licensing agency, and a visit from a child social worker. The second week included parent visits, a hearing for the case, another follow up doctor's appointment, and numerous phone calls from all parts of the foster care system to make sure our little guy was being taken care of. We were juggling board meetings, contract negotiations, and work events while also parenting our biological son.
Flexibility is key.
2. Your support system
In foster care training, the teacher will tell you to start figuring out who will comprise your 'wrap around team.' This 'team' of sorts is the group of people you will call on for help with your biological kids (or pets), emotional support (#allthetime), or dinner drop offs. Depending on the age of the children you'll be accepting, these same folks might help you wrangle all the supplies you might need at the drop of a hat to take care of this kiddo. Think: backpack and notebooks for school, tennis shoes, diapers, bottles, etc.
If you're considering foster care, take this suggestion seriously from your licensing agency and get your people in line.
Know who you can count on.
3. Your assumptions about biological families
If there's anything better for your heart in this entire process of foster care, it might just be: taking a deep breath and remembering that the people who hurt and/or neglected the child you're caring for are human beings too.
I am, in no way giving excuses for abuse and neglect. Neither is acceptable. However, it's a lot more manageable to co-parent and work with biological families if I remember that at one point they were kids. At one point, these parents were likely mistreated or not taught was is appropriate and safe.
Setting aside assumptions about biological families gives you the space the show empathy, be a team player, and better understand the story of your kiddo's life.
4. Your intentions
Knowing and deeply understanding your intentions to become a foster parent is a really important step in deciding if foster care is right for you and your family because it really is that challenging.
Loving a child, in many ways, will probably come easier than you imagined. But being a child's parent through foster care, when that child still sees and interacts with their biological parent (who put them in this situation in the first place) is immensely difficult. It's like being divorced without the history and control over who you married. In foster care, you do the hard work of parenting a child that isn't yours.
Know why you chose foster care so you can lean on your understanding when your heart is torn.
5. Have a plan
Having a plan in foster care may sound like a naive consideration at best. After all, the majority of things that will happen to the child in your care and to you and your family in the process is entirely out of your control.
However, having a plan, either literal or mental, will be key to overcoming the persistent challenges that will come your way. For instance, when you get a call from a state caseworker with a sibling group needing a home outside of the limitations you and your significant other agreed upon, how do you respond? Or, what do you do when the biological dad's new girlfriend starts calling you about parent visit scheduling? What do you say when the pediatrician asks to speak to the child's mom and both you and the biological mom are at the appointment?
Having a plan on managing the ups and downs of foster care can save you hours of grief and stress.
Work with your partner or close friends to draft out various plans for common challenges in foster care and be confident in your boundaries.
Nick and I wouldn't trade this season in life for anything. We wake up each day truly honored to hold such a unique role in our little man's life and the life of his biological family's.
At the end of the day, this top five list is really just a call for future foster parents to be intentional and confident. This top five is not exclusive, nor is it the rule book of foster care. I couldn't even pretend to think I know it all-- I'm only a year into this gig. Just know that this journey is possible. You can THRIVE with the right tools in place.
Don't hesitate to comment below, find me on Instagram (@pragmatic.maggie), or email me with questions or thoughts on the matter.