For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of having a great career I was passionate about. I envisioned myself in a sleek pencil skirt in a fancy office overlooking a big city. I imagined that every day I would go to work with a creative team of brilliant people that made big decisions that would change the world for the better. I worked hard in college and went on to graduate school to achieve those dreams. I bought into the hustle and I loved it.
I worked hard doing work I loved and developing my professional skills for years. I felt completely engaged in the work, but not completely fulfilled. Life changed as I got married and settled down in a small town with my husband and our dog, Rosie. We bought a house with a yard that happened to have a playset that couldn’t be removed. As we explored ways to connect with our community and give back, we started to consider foster care.
Fast forward to today- we’ve been fostering for over a year and half and it’s an amazing addition to our lives. The playset we once thought about removing is now utilized every afternoon by children laughing wholeheartedly.
At first, I wasn’t sure we could foster since we both worked full-time and we didn’t necessarily have super flexible schedules. We both had a 35 minute commute, we sometimes worked late nights or on weekends, I had to be on call a few weekends a year. But as we looked into it, we realized that a lot of foster families had two working parents. When we dove and began fostering, we had to find our own work-life balance. While there is no one right answer for all families, these are some of the things we’ve learned.
Considerations for Working Couples or Individuals Thinking About Foster Care
Daycare: SC foster parents that work more than 30 hours per week are eligible for ABC vouchers which will pay for childcare at approved facilities. Finding childcare is not always easy. Depending on where you live, there may not be many ABC options or it may be challenging to get your foster child registered quickly. Many foster parents will call daycares to secure a spot before accepting a placement.
Doctors appointments: A new placement will require a number of appointments within the first few weeks. Many children that come into foster care need to make up missed immunizations or need dental work, referrals to specialists or interventionists. Kids in foster care get medicaid so finding a pediatrician that will accept their insurance is important. Finding a pediatrician that understands the unique needs of foster children and will try to work with you to get them seen quickly is helpful.
Transportation: Taking a lot of time off work for appointments isn’t always an option. You can request your case worker take the children in care to their medical appointments with advance notice. In some counties there are also resources like Healthy Learners that provide to appointments from a child’s school.
Transportation to Visits: Children will have weekly or monthly visits with biological parents. Every county is different, but some will ask you to provide transportation to the DSS office for these visits. Our county DSS office has people whose job is to transport children to and from visits at DSS. Most agencies will have some kind of transportation available for working parents, so ask for it! Find out more about this from your agency and your county before getting started.
Babysitters: Having a network of people who will be able to watch your kids if you have to work late or just need a date night is key! Under reasonable and prudent parenting you can have anyone you trust watch your foster children just as you would your biological children. Some private licensing agencies still require background checks for regular babysitters for insurance purposes. Building relationships with other foster parents or your local Foster Parent Association can also be a lifesaver for last minute emergencies.
Sick Days and Suspension: We have experienced both children being sick (daycare viruses are a pain) and children being suspended for a short time from school. This means you need to stay home with your children while they cannot be at school or daycare. You probably already know how you accrue sick or vacation days, and most employers will allow you to use those days for foster children. Look into your FMLA policies with Human Resources.
Challenges of Being a Working Foster Parent
It’s not easy keeping tiny humans alive and thriving. Add in a full-time career, the unique challenges children in foster care face, and the added responsibilities and appointments foster care requires, and you’ve certainly got a full plate. A supportive employer can certainly make a huge difference. I will never forget the pain I felt when a superior at work told me, not once but three times, that I “should have never accepted that placement.” She didn’t understand that even though I was experiencing some challenges in the beginning of a new placement, I already felt completely connected to the children in my home. I felt protective of them and hurt that someone would be so bold as to tell me that I should just “get rid of them.”
Here are some of the challenges that full-time working foster parents express:
Kay- “The challenge of single foster parenting and working is having no one else who can take off for appointments, meetings, etc. It’s all you. Also if you need something from the store and the kids are asleep, you are screwed.”
Jackie- “Juggling schedules”
Laura- “I think the biggest challenge is time away from work. All the appointments, meetings, new to daycare illnesses add up to lots of missed time.”
Cheryl- “The biggest challenges have been scheduling appointments… Therapy appointments for OT, Speech and PT. Plus monthly home visits from case workers.”
Kaley- “Getting dinner on the table quickly and easily after a long day at work. Meal planning has saved us now with busy schedules.”
Benefits of Being a Working Foster Parent
But despite the challenges, I believe that I am a better parent because I work full-time. I love working! I love using my strengths and skills and my education to make a difference. I am so in awe of stay-at-home parents, but I don’t think that I’m cut out for it myself. I’ve adjusted some of my work schedule over the last year and a half to better accommodate the 2-4 foster children in our home at any given time, but I can’t imagine not working. I am able to give my children so much more of my full self when I pick them up in the evenings from daycare. I am able to actually enjoy my weekends focusing 100% on the children and our family.
Here is what others say about their favorite parts of being a working foster parent:
Kay- “My favorite part is I like working. It allows me to use that part of my brain and skills at work, and then go home and use a different skill set. I also know I really enjoy my time with them at night and weekends vs managing them all day, every day.”
Melissa- “The benefit of working is a lot of stuff is on my schedule. I haven’t had any issues with my case workers scheduling things.”
Jaime- “This is not meant to sound mean or harsh, but being a working foster parent means I can put my foster little(s) in daycare and have a mental break from the challenges that come with fostering toddlers.”
Kaley- “My kids get to come to work with us and see us in our element using our strengths and skills. I love seeing them be proud of me and my husband. My staff gets to love on my kids and acts as an extended family.”
My Recommendations for Thriving as a Working Foster Parent
Amazon Prime– Amazon Prime has become my ultimate best friend. It has saved me many times. If a lice vacuum will show up on my doorstep in two-days, I can breathe easy. If I can buy Paw Patrol party supplies with one click and get it with free shipping, that’s one thing off my mental to-do list. And you can set up Subscribe and Save to have items delivered automatically every month or at predetermined intervals. Every month, toilet paper and paper towels and diapers and wipes magically appear at my doorstep. If you go to smile.amazon.com you can set up a charity to receive a percentage from each of your purchases at no cost to you.
Grocery Delivery/ Grocery Pick-Up- Anything that you can do to save a little time is worth it in my book. It took me a long time to buy in because I’m a do-it-yourself kind of girl, but once I tried it I was sold instantly. Instacart is a great service! You can order your groceries from your local grocery store at the store prices and someone will deliver it right to your door. You can grocery shop from an app on your couch while the kids are napping and have it delivered after they’ve gone to bed for the night. Or order from your desk at work and pickup on your way home from Target Drive Up or Store Pick-Up for free at Walmart.
Multi-Task When You Can- Your time is valuable! Fold laundry while watching your favorite show at the end of the day, have intentional one-on-one conversations with your kids or your partner while you load the dishwasher, try to combine all your appointments into one day. I try to schedule home visits with case workers on the same day as doctor appointments so I can do both and not have to take more time out of the office. Be up front about your needs with your case workers or when scheduling any appointments; most of the time people will do their best to accommodate you when possible.
Diaper Backpacks as the Ultimate Resource Center- We take younger kids. We sometimes have up to three kids in diapers. I love my diaper backpack! I made the mistake at the beginning of our first placement (three siblings under three years old) of not bringing a diaper bag on a quick outing and I will never make that mistake again. My diaper bag is now my ultimate resource center. I not only have diapers and wipes and bottles and formula, but I have found a special spot for my keys, phone, charger cables, laptop, etc. It transitions from diaper bag to travel bag to the ultimate on-the-go bag at conferences. It is also a homemade first-aid kit, make-up bag, and save all.
Date Night– It is so easy as a full-time working couple to focus on work all day and the kids all night, using all your spare time to clean the house and pack lunches and catch up on your never-ending to-do list. Being intentional about taking a night out every once in awhile, calling a babysitter and not feeling guilty about it, can be incredibly refreshing for your relationship. Better yet, take a long weekend away just the two of you. That’s why respite exists. Foster care is a lot easier when you’re doing it together at your full capacity. I’ve tried, and I know now that you truly can’t pour from an empty cup.
My biggest tip for full-time working couples or singles who want to foster would be to ask your agency directly, “How is fostering possible for working parents?” They will tell you how they’ve seen others thrive and what support they can offer you. But at the end of the day, if I can do this so can you! #FosterFamiliesNeeded
Kaley has been a foster parent since 2017. Kaley, her husband, and their dog Rosie currently reside in a small town in Upstate SC. As Director of SC Operations for Care2Foster, Kaley focuses on recruiting and supporting families as they take their next steps learning more about foster care. She is passionate about supporting foster families with authenticity, vulnerability, and hope. She is also President of her county Foster Parent Association.