One thing I've learned during my short walk with my Lord is to be prepared for anything! My life belongs to Christ and I will follow where He leads. Right now, that means being a foster mom (among other things). Dan and I prepared as much as we could, but your first placement is a lot like being a newlywed. You're excited, expectations are WAY too high and you fumble your way through it. Thankfully, I have some amazing friends who've been through it before and were able to give me insight and wisdom. We've been fostering for a month now, and although I would never claim to be an expert, I've learned a lot.
Here are my Top 10 Tips for Foster Parents (just tuck it away...you never know where God may lead you!):
1. Do NOT talk about the bio parents or their case in front of the children. This one is really hard for Dan and I because we rarely have time together when the children are not around. Still, it's super important to have those big talks when little ears cannot hear you.
2. Weekly visits mean weekly dates! Most likely, your foster children will have weekly visits with family. Clear your schedule during that time, find a babysitter for your bio kids (if you have any) and take some time for yourselves. It's important to continually process together what you are experiencing and struggling with as foster parents. As well, you're just going to need a break!!
3. Provide transportation to visits every now and then. So far, I've only done this once, but I plan to do it again soon. It's a great way to help out your case worker (who usually does all of the transportation) and get some face time with bio family. As well, I think it's good for the foster kids to see there is a connection between their bio mommy and foster mommy, that they live in the same world and have a relationship (however awkward or broken that may be).
4. Go to every meeting and court date. Our girls are from another county, so the meetings and such are held an hour outside of St. Louis. It's worth it though! As a foster parent, you have a unique point of view-completely responsible for the children and yet you have no control over the parent's status. I have learned so much from being part of the process and it's helped me give better care to the girls. As well, I've been blessed to connect with their mother, to encourage her and and reassure her. No one else can do that like a foster parent!!
5. Take pictures! Most foster children arrive with nothing in their hands. If you are able, try to snag a few pictures of your foster kids with mom, dad, grandma, siblings, etc. and keep those photos around the house. It's good for them to see mom or dad every day even if they aren't able to see mom or dad every day.
6. Reassure your bio kids that they are not going anywhere. They need to understand the differences between themselves and your foster children. Use age appropriate language to explain why you have foster kids and keep them updated on the case as much as you can. No matter what, they need to know that they are permanent but that foster kids are temporary (until made permanent if the case should turn out that way).
8. Never leave the house alone. Unless you are going on a date or you have a special hour scheduled to yourself, always take a child with you when you leave the house. Need to go to the bank and hit the grocery store? Grab milkshakes on the way and call it a date. It's a great way to connect and have alone time with one of the kids.
9. Keep a journal and update your worker. At first, I kept a journal so I could figure out a feeding/sleeping schedule for baby girl. It quickly turned into a place where I made notes of progress and questions for our case worker. If you are unable to attend a meeting, you can send along the notes so everyone can be updated on the kids' progress or problems. This information is taken into account when decisions are made, so it's super important. As well, if the kids move in with family, it's helpful to pass notes along.
10. Talk about it!! People are interested in fostering. They are confused and amazed by it. People need to know what fostering is really like and you can be a huge window into a world they've never known. There are many people we've met who have said "wow, we thought about fostering but didn't think we could do it. but look at you! you're doing it!". It's an amazing ministry so spread the word!!!