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Aug 16, 2016

As you consider foster parenting, or anticipate your first placement, you may be envisioning what the experience will be like. You may be thinking ahead to what steps you can take now to prepare. Foster care social workers agree: high on your list should be planning ahead for what kind of support you’ll need and well as why, when, and from whom you’ll need it.  

Laura Ranck, LSW, is a foster care adoption social worker and supervisor in Philadelphia at Bethany Christian Services of Greater Delaware Valley. She shares the following six tips to help you get started.

  1. Identify what it means to have your oxygen mask on first. Like airline flight instructions, if your oxygen mask isn’t on, you can’t effectively help the foster kids in your care. Identify what recharging, self-care strategies work well for you (exercise, time alone, a hobby, time with a friend, etc.). Identify barriers to your strategy, and make a plan that allows your self-care to be a routine part of your days and weeks. 
  1. Discern who can do what. Quite often, friends and family members won’t be able to provide understanding and emotional support for the unique challenges and stresses of being a foster parent. Recognize instead what they can do and lean into it—meals, help with laundry, child care, etc. Chances are, those closest to you will be glad to know specific ways they can help.   
  1. Build a second village. One of the most common sentiments I have heard from foster and adoptive parents is that others “don’t get it.” Look for advice and emotional support from those who are walking a similar path—foster parents, adoptive parents, or parents of children with special needs. Ask your social worker for recommended support groups, or find other foster or adoptive families through your church or area churches. 
  1. Create a child care plan. Discuss regulations for child care with your social worker and ensure that you have a sustainable plan to take a break…and regularly take them before you realize they are needed! Confirm a plan with at least two babysitters or respite providers who are approved to provide care, ideally friends or family members who are a routine part of your family’s life.   
  1. Plan extra time and support for the challenging parts of the week. Build in additional down time and flexibility before and after birthparent visits, therapy sessions, doctor appointments, and any changes in your normal routine. Reduce the demands on yourself, your children, and your family around these times. Identify what is calming and provides emotional regulation for all of you, and work it into the routine at these times. When children are emotionally distressed, the “lower brain” is in charge and the child cannot engage in higher order brain functions like reasoning, learning, or planning. Calming activities that engage the senses such as gross motor movement (waking, exercises), a cold drink, or play will help the child become regulated. 
  1. Confirm the best way to communicate with your social worker. You will likely have times when you need a quick answer from your social worker, who may be on the road and juggling support for many families and children. Ask your social worker what form of communication is most effective for them—a phone call, text, or email. Also if you specify the question, or share the level of urgency in your communication, this will help your social worker serve you and your foster child most effectively. Confirm with your social worker whom you should reach out to for urgent needs if they are not immediately available. 

Caring for children from hard places is important work, and none of us can do this alone. Building and relying on your network will likely strengthen your existing relationships and also give you confidence that others are standing in your corner when needs arise.