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Feb 02, 2018

by Sheina Martinez Foster Care Recruiter/Licensing Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Greater Delaware Valley

Over the last four years, my husband and I have fostered eight children ranging in age from 10 months to 7 years. With each placement, we expect there will be some growing pains—both for the child coming into our home and for our biological kids (currently ages 10 and 13).

When we became a foster family, our kids were 6 and 9, but we still involved them in that decision. We talked to them about foster care in a way they could understand—we were providing a place for a child to stay while their parents figured things out—and we asked them if they were open to helping by having another child come into our family for a while. 

They saw foster care as exciting—Yay! A new brother or sister!—but they soon realized there’s more to it than that. Our life as a family flips upside down with each new placement, so we follow these guidelines to make sure our kids are not overwhelmed:

 

1. Check in often.

How is this going?

Are you OK?

What is working?

What isn’t working?

What would make things easier?

We ask these questions very soon after placement. We keep asking throughout the placement and, especially, after the placement ends. They tell us what is going well and what is getting on their nerves, and they often have helpful ideas to share. For example, our kids suggested that bedtime would work easier if they could stay up a few minutes later, and they were right.

These check-ins help ensure our kids are staying healthy, doing well, and feeling loved. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are finding balance, and they know they’re being heard.

2. Plan “dates.”

You know date nights with your spouse create opportunities to connect; intentional one-on-one connection with your kids is also important. We take advantage of visitation times. When our foster child has a two-hour parent visit, we’ll take our kids for ice cream or go to the park. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or cost money; the purpose is planned time together with your children.

3. Be honest.

We talk to our kids in general terms about what is happening with each foster child’s case. They know (generally) why the child is coming into care, when court dates will be, and how court may or may not go: “She may be leaving soon to stay with her grandmother,” or “His mom is going through a hard time, so he needs to stay here a little longer.” Basic information helps your kids anticipate what could happen and feel like they are part of family decisions.

4. Find commonalities.

When children are placed in your home, it’s easy at first to see how they’re different from your kids—different hobbies, different upbringing, possibly a different race or ethnicity. But you’ll soon discover things they have in common, things that can help bring them together. Maybe they all like brownies and would enjoy making them together.

5. Take small breaks.

We have a large extended family, and we’ll let our kids spend the night with their cousins to get a mini break when they need it. I know not everyone has the luxury of local family or friends you can trust with your kids; but if you do, go for it. When your kids can “get away,” they get to experience being the “guest” at someone else’s house where maybe they get to choose the evening activity, pick what to eat for dessert, or just enjoy a day where they don’t have to do chores.

6. Take bigger breaks.

We take a two- or three-month break between each foster placement. This gives our family a chance to recuperate on many levels. It’s good for our kids, it’s good for our marriage, and it gives us time to catch up on what needs attention around the house (painting, repairs, laundry, etc.). During these breaks, we find ourselves talking about the kids, things we miss (and sometimes don’t), and what we learned.

Yes, there’s a great need for foster families, and it would be so easy to immediately jump into the next placement... and the next. But taking time to process and regroup as a family is important. Each placement gets easier as we process the foster care experience with our kids and build up our strength. Doing so allows us to help more children slowly rather than burning out quickly.


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