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Aug 11, 2017

by Erin Alderman, Licensing and Placement Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Kalamazoo

“I don’t know how much I should bother my foster care workers”

     “I don’t want to annoy them.”

          “I don’t want to be ‘that’ foster parent.”

               “I don’t want them to think I’m weak or that I can’t handle this.”

                    “Waitshould I be able to handle this?”

I regularly hear from new foster parents who are asking these questions. If you’re asking them too, know that this is normal. A lot of people have a hard time asking for help; maybe they’ve never had to ask for parenting help before. They may not be used to reaching out for support. Some are afraid to look like they don’t know what they’re doing, or they’re afraid they’re not doing a good job.

They worry something’s wrong with them.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

As you start the foster care journey, I want to remind you that your foster care and licensing specialists are here to help.

  1. Expect to need extra support. New parents with new biological children often need extra support. This is also true for foster parents when each new child comes into your home, especially if a child has additional needs. 
  1. Never, ever, be afraid to ask for help. It’s important to keep your foster care specialist up-to-date on the child’s needs and get their support. Every social worker I know will tell you they’d rather have too much information about what you’re experiencing at home than not enough. We don’t want to find out later there’s a problem where we could have helped a lot earlier. We can’t help if we don’t know. 
  1. Taking your call is our job. We’re here to help meet a child’s need and to help you meet a child’s need. We do this every day. We understand that you are new to this, especially if this is your first go-round. We can help you determine what is age-appropriate behavior and what behavior is the result of abuse and neglect. 
  1. Lean on your team. I know it can feel like you’re alone because you have the day-to-day parenting responsibilities like feeding the child and putting the child to bed. But no one expects you to go it alone. You have a team of professionals who can help support you and the child and help meet your needs. Your team might include foster care workers, foster care supervisors, licensing specialists, licensing supervisors, doctors, therapists, and other service providers. You will likely know the most about the child you’re working with because you’re with them every day, but professionals will know how to connect you to resources to meet your needs. It’s OK and expected that you won’t know it all. 
  1. Don’t forget your licensing specialist. Of all the team members, your licensing specialist is assigned to you as the foster parent. If you have general questions, need resources or advice, or if you’re not sure if you should contact the child’s foster care specialist, contact your licensing specialist first. I have helped parents get support when they’re feeling overwhelmed. I have helped foster parents find counseling and support groups, reminded them to use substitute caregivers, and conntected them to other foster families. 
  1. Consider additional training. While required foster parent training covers general topics like creating a safe home for children, it doesn’t go very deep into parenting a child with trauma history. I often recommend that foster parents take a trauma-informed parenting class. This class has eight modules and is co-taught by a foster care professional and a foster parent. Additional training may also be available for a specific need, or you may benefit from a training refresher now that you’re living the experience. 

As you get more foster parenting experience, you’ll feel more comfortable. But when you’re new—or anytime a new child is in your home—we anticipate that you’ll be contacting your foster care or licensing specialist a lot at the beginning. 

There’s a big learning curve to foster care. It takes time and patience to learn the foster care system and manage paperwork you’ve never completed before. Beyond that, your family dynamic will be changing to accommodate a child who will likely have some additional needs. It’s a big adjustment. Know going in that you’ll need to reach out for help and support, and that’s ok. We expect that you will, and we’re here to help when you do.


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