What Makes a Great Foster Parent

Super heroes. Angels. Saints. One of the things we hear most often as foster parents is “oh, I could never do that!” But they don’t hand you a cape or a magic wand when you get your fostering license, although that would be nice. We are all just normal people doing our best day-in and day-out. 

This #FosterFridayLive was hosted by Kaley Lindquist with Paula Reed, Director of Connie Maxwell Foster Care. We talked all about what makes a great foster parent- and it isn’t a perfect parent. Here’s a secret; we all make mistakes. We still get frustrated, forget things, and maybe even say a curse word occasionally. So here’s the good news. You can do this too. You have what it takes. Foster parenting is hard, but it doesn’t require a super power. Just normal people stepping up to the plate.

#FosterFridayLive with Paula Reed

Paula Reed is the Director of Foster Care at Connie Maxwell, a SC foster care licensing agency. You can check out Connie Maxwell Foster Care for information about becoming a foster family, respite foster family, or a resource family. They license in all counties in SC and have licensed families all over the state. Paula has a seen a lot of families, worked with a lot of families, and she understands what makes a great foster parent.

Connie Maxwell Children's Home building with sign out front. Small statue of children playing.
Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, Greenwood, SC

What Makes a Great Foster Parent?

Great foster families have room for a child in their hearts and in their homes. They are committed to parenting a special needs child. Good foster families know the importance of being part of a family. They are patient and have a good sense of humor. You need a good sense of humor for sure. Good foster parents are compassionate and open minded. They reach out to others. A good foster parent can accept the child in their care and recognize their losses and their need to heal. They are self-confident, but they aren’t afraid to ask for help when it’s needed. You will always need help.

On the Connie Maxwell Facebook page right now, we have a series on How to Help Your Local Foster Families Today. You should check it out. There’s all kinds of things we’ve been putting up. 

Connie Maxwell Facebook Page
Image: Connie Maxwell Foster Care Facebook Page

We need families who are able to keep our kids connected to their families. When they come into foster care they have lost their family, their whole world for better or worse. They have lost pets, toys, their school, neighborhood. Everything is gone so we need families that can help keep that connection for them. We need families that can help kids learn to manage their trauma. A big one- you need to be able to work with agencies and different community partners. And also be supportive of racial and cultural diversity. Some of those things may be obvious- a bed, a room, a seat at the table. But thinking about racial diversity, community partners, might not be as obvious.

We say this every week, there is a need for 1900 foster homes in South Carolina. We need good foster families; we need so many. And there are more options than Connie Maxwell and DSS; there is Miracle Hill, Thornwell, child placement agencies all over the state. And we don’t care where you get licensed, we just want you to get licensed. 

State of South Carolina map, outlines of counties

Check out licensing agencies in your area here.

What are some of the myths and misconceptions you hear about what it takes to be a foster parent?

I hear all the time, “I could never be a foster parent because I would get too attached.” And my response is “so?” These kids deserve to have someone be attached to them. Don’t they deserve to have that connection and have somebody love them? I mean these are kids who have experienced great trauma in their lives and the only way we are going to address that trauma and help them to heal is through relationships, through connection. So get attached! I don’t let anyone off the hook. If you can’t foster, you can’t. Not everyone is drawn to do the same thing. We aren’t all sent to do the same mission, but everyone can do something. And I am happy to help you find that something.

At Connie Maxwell, families that don’t foster have ways to get involved; they can support individual foster families. We work with Fostering the Family out of Rock Hill. You can donate gift cards. If you have a mechanic garage, offer to do low cost oil changes for foster families. If you have a furniture store, donate a bunk bed to a foster family. There is something that everybody can do. Great foster families are always looking to add more beds- add a crib here or a bunk bed there. There is a bed at Target that is a bunk bed with a trundle bed underneath; they even have a quadruple bunk bed. There is always a need for more beds.

Man sitting on couch playing board game with young boys
Image: Connie Maxwell

A lot of people don’t even know about foster children, about foster care. That this whole world even exists. They are just completely unaware. But I want families to know about these kids and how to help them stay in their communities. And I worry about new foster parents. Even though we tell them what to expect, they don’t have that experience to attach it to. We tell them, but they can’t fully understand until they get into it. I want them to know there are people and places they can go to get loved on. 

Connie Maxwell has some additional supports that they offer to their foster families. We will do anything to support our families. My husband is an electrician and I sent him to a foster home the other day to wire a smoke alarm. We are going to do anything we can to help these families. A lot of agencies have some of these supports, but if you aren’t with a private agency or you can’t find these support systems, or don’t know where to start, start with your local Foster Parent Association. They will often offer trainings, but more than that they offer support and connection to other foster families because sometimes when you’re new you don’t want to say, “hey, I’m in over my head!” or “hey! I actually don’t know how to do that.” Ask for help! Always ask for help.

You don’t get a cape when you get your fostering license, but what are some examples of some super foster families that you know?

Well, I think that foster parents are super heroes. Really, this is a hard job. If everyone could do it, we wouldn’t need almost 2000 foster homes in South Carolina. You just need to balance the needs of the foster child with the needs of your family, the needs of your own children. And I love to see foster homes embrace the biological families. That is so hard. Sometimes the biological families get a bad rep. I mean sometimes the child comes home crying from visitation or crying because visitation didn’t take place. You’re the one there with that child. You’re the one nurturing them and you’re upset for them. It’s hard to be objective when it comes to that biological family. But, you know what, they’re struggling just like the kids are. They need that love and support. The bio family is such a key component in all this.

Young woman reading with boy hugging her arm
Image: Connie Maxwell

For example, we have a family who babysits for her former foster child post-reunification and also the siblings because she has maintained contact with the family. She is very involved and they have worked out a wonderful arrangement for this child. 

In the recruiting, licensing, and supporting of foster families, is it hard to remember why you got started? What do you do when you get discouraged?

Not for me! I’ve been working in child services for almost 30 years- DSS, Continuum of Care, Guardian Ad Litem, and it is my calling. It’s what I know and it’s what I do well. I do get discouraged sometimes. We only have a handful of foster homes, but the number of placement requests that we get from DSS is just astronomical. I get so discouraged when I can’t place those children. It just makes me want to plan more recruitment events and find more families.

When I get discouraged, I think about the families that we have and how we can support them. I get so inspired by our families. They work so hard to care for the children. They really are huge advocates for them. I see on Facebook the photos of children that I placed years ago and now they are adopted and they’re thriving and that makes me feel great. 

Family eating a meal together. Mixed races.
Image: Connie Maxwell

Shout out to Mallory, a brand new family. They have had three really tough placements, but they have stuck it out. A little boy who was peeing in the oven. But Mallory stuck it out; she was great! And not only has she stuck it out, she drums up her own business. She finds her own placements. She is a great inspiration to me.

What is one piece of advice for people who are considering foster care?

People think about fostering for a really long time before they take that first step, and I say just take that first step. It is so worth it! We are here to support you. We’ll walk you hand in hand through the licensing process. Go to our website and click on the foster care link and your information will come straight to me.

You can contact Paula Reed, Director of Connie Maxwell Foster Care, directly at preed@conniemaxwell.com or (864) 942-1493.

If you want to take a next step, but want to know more about your options, check out Agencies Near Me to see what licensing agencies are available in your county for standard and therapeutic foster care. We are desperate for more homes- both standard and therapeutic. And for roles that support foster care. Desperate for more Guardian Ad Litems. So think about it and take one next step.

Really want to take a next step, but not ready to foster full-time? Read Lindsey’s 5 Simple Ways to Advocate for Children in Foster Care (Without Fostering).

Kaley has been a foster parent since 2017. Kaley, Bob, and their dog Rosie currently reside in Greenwood, 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 Greenwood Foster Parent Association.

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