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Mar 02, 2018

by Katie Stone, Foster Care Case Manager, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Flint

Foster parenting is an important job. It’s often rewarding, but seldom easy. With unknowns to navigate, fears to soothe, services to manage, and needs to address, it’s common for foster parents to become overwhelmed.

We’ve heard the pre-flight speech directing us (in case of emergency) to secure our own oxygen mask before helping other passengers—including children! We’ve also heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Both apply to foster parenting.

If you are starting to feel burned out, try the tips below to manage your stress.

Stay Organized

Children in foster care may have emotional, behavioral, and/or medical needs that could require weekly (or multiple weekly) appointments. Most children also have weekly visits with their parent(s). Getting the child where he or she needs to be can challenging, especially if you are caring for multiple children. Try to maintain a visible, up-to-date calendar so you and the child(ren) can anticipate your weekly schedule.

Get Connected

  • With yourself: In many states, even if your fostering family includes an at-home parent, you can use your state stipend for day care (hours per month of eligibility vary by state). The children will be safely cared for while you run errands, deep clean, or take advantage of some alone time to unwind. Your local Bethany office can provide details about how day care is covered in your state.
  • With your spouse: Foster parenting can be demanding on a marriage. Create space for ongoing, child-free “date nights” to reconnect as a couple. Even if it’s a walk around the block or going out for dinner, prioritizing time together is the goal.
  • With your family: Transportation is a common need for foster families. Perhaps a trusted family member would be willing to drive a child to a therapy appointment or pick up biological children from school so you can accompany the child in care to a parent visit. Friends and family members can be cleared to provide transportation or child care. No special training is required, they just need to complete a background check. Your Bethany office can help with this.
  • With your network: Other foster families are a valuable source of encouragement and support. I have seen foster parents take turns watching each other’s children so the parents can take a break, even if it’s just a few hours. Ask your local Bethany office about support groups near you.
  • With community resources: In some communities, churches or children’s services organizations will host a periodic “night out,” providing child care so foster parents can take a break. Ask at your Bethany office for information on what resources are locally available.

Don’t Feel Guilty

I worked with a foster parent who was providing care for three children, two of whom required multiple services. She also had a baby at home. She wanted to give the children everything they needed, but she was soon overwhelmed.

I encouraged her to consider using her stipend on day care services once a week to give herself a break. But she said the idea made her feel guilty. While she was sensitive to the children’s needs, she was overlooking her need to slow down and take a breath.

Self-care is not selfish. It’s essential. If foster parents are chronically stressed, it can circle back and affect the children. Children in care have already been around a lot of stress, trauma, and chaos. Children may respond to the stress they’re sensing by acting out, causing you more stress, and perpetuating a cycle.  

When you manage your stress, you create a calm, stable environment for your whole family, including the children in your care. In the long run, you can help more children when you avoid burnout and take care of yourself first.

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