It was only a year ago that Nate and I started the process for becoming foster parents. Less than three months later we received our first placement. And much like welcoming a new baby for the first time, becoming foster parents rocked our world.
Our “normal” lives suddenly involved so many new dynamics I felt like I was in a constant state of being off balance. Court dates. Social workers. Home visits. Interactions with birth parents. ISPs. Multiple government buildings. It was overwhelming to say the least. Not to mention there was a tiny new life we were responsible for. Our family of four became a family of five in the blink of an eye. I had about 36 weeks to prepare for my first two babies. We got a 36 hour notice for The New Chick.
If not for dozens of friends and supportive family, I’m not sure we would have navigated those early weeks unscathed. Looking back, there were some specific things others did that made the adjustment much easier.
Here are some ways to offer support to new and prospective foster parents:
1) Offer to help get their home ready. Part of the liscensing process is having a home inspection. Most states require prospective foster parents to install safety latches, fire extinguishers, stair rails, cabinet locks and all manner of safety equipment. Not to mention that most new foster families are rearranging rooms and furniture to accommodate new children. Offering to help with these projects would be a huge help. Make it a group project by involving your Bible study pals or Sunday School class. Might as well make it fun!
2) Spend time with biological children. The day we welcomed our first placement, a dear family friend came over to help care for Titus and Anna. While we were busy with the new baby, this sweet lady focused solely on the big kids. What could have been a very difficult evening for them turned out to be positive because they had the undivided attention of a beloved friend. Since then, there have been numerous times that church friends and family offered to spend time with Titus and Anna. Having that connection with trusted adults has helped eased this transition for them. Nate and I think the world of those people who are an unchanging constant for our kids in the face of this unpredictable life! Offer to take the biological kids to the park or another outing so they get some time focused on just them. It will be a blessing to them and their parents!
3) Share your used baby gear, age appropriate toys, and clothing. Ya’ll. I seriously had one thing the weekend we found out we were getting The New Chick. A crib. That’s IT. No car seat, no baby clothes, no bottles no NOTHING. But some amazing gal pals totally saved the day by bringing every necessity and a ton of other stuff. Another friend went and bought diapers, wipes, and baby detergent. I don’t know what we would have done without them! Most foster families don’t have much notice and can’t possibly be prepared for every age and gender scenario. Used items and school supplies are much appreciated. Or, buy a gift card to clothing stores for older foster kids so they can get new clothes. They’ll be tickled and the foster family will too!
4) Get fingerprinted so you can babysit. An ongoing need for ALL foster families is babysitters. One of the most loving things you can do is find out what is needed to be “cleared” to keep foster children and do it! There are few things that refresh Nate and I more than a few hours away together. Or even (gasp!) a night. We deeply appreciate those who have been cleared to watch our kids and offer to do so! More than that, I can sleep at night knowing that if I have to go in the hospital, someone I know and trust will be keeping the kids rather than sending them to another foster family they may or may not know.
5) Be understanding. Becoming a new foster family is overwhelming and demanding. For a while, I pulled back from church commitments and away from relationships so I could focus on taking care of a newborn and helping our bio kids adjust. It took time for us to figure out our “new normal”. Be understanding of the demands placed on foster families and give them space to navigate their new lifestyle. Lower your expectations for what they can manage. If they are on nursery rotations at church, offer to fill in for them. Communicate that you’re available if they need you. You’ll bless them just by letting them know you’re behind them!
Foster care is hard. But you can make a huge difference in how hard by the offering support!
*Fellow foster families, what other ways to support would you add to this list? How have others ministered to you?
Beth is Mama Bird to the four chicks in her nest; two bio and two foster, and Wife Supreme to one good-looking pastor. She’s quick to say that nothing in life has ever refined or challenged her more than fostering, and is passionate about sharing what she is learning with others. She loves writing at www.justbethlawrence.com.