When I first began fostering, I didn’t understand why other foster parents introduced themselves using their names and the number of kids who have lived with their families. It seemed like some strange protocol I missed learning about during training. Were they bragging? Are we comparing? Is my number big enough?
Finally, I get it. No, they aren’t bragging. They are simply welcoming you into a world where support is key. They are saying, “I’ve been there, done that, so you can ask me anything.” They are saying, “Hey, we’re all in this together. Do you have any questions for me?” And they are saying, “I’ve faced some difficult challenges, but I’m still here helping kids because they need me. And they need you. How was your day?”
I’m not sure what the magic number is, but once you’ve cared for more than a few foster children, you lose any doubt that each child and each situation is unique. All kids have different needs, different skills and different challenges. The longer other parents have been fostering, the more experience they have and, therefore, the better support they can offer you. Take advantage of their knowledge! Like me, you may discover that other foster parents are the best support system around.
Here are some other support systems I can’t imagine fostering without:
–My local Foster and Adoptive Parent Association. I love the comradery and easy chit-chat that takes place at these monthly meetings. Oh yeah, and the training hours. And the family events. And the helpful information they provide via email and newsletters. If you aren’t yet a member of the SC Foster Parent Association, be sure to check it out and plan to attend a meeting in your local area.
Social media. I have learned so much about fostering by being a member of several Facebook groups. By reading posts and comments, you can get great insight into the world of fostering. It helps you see the big picture, as well as the day-to-day tasks and challenges and joyful moments. If you aren’t yet a member of the private SHAREfostering page hosted by Care2Foster, I highly recommend you send a request. You’ll be glad you did.
Foster mom friends. Sometimes all it takes to make a new friend is one common link: fostering. I’ve met some incredibly strong women who I admire deeply for their dedication to helping children. These are the friends I seek support from on a bad day. These are the friends I call while hiding in the bathroom from my kids. These are also the friends I immediately text after saying “yes” to a new placement. The common bond we share is strong: it’s a tangled web of joys and fears and excitement and reality. And a fierce and unwavering hope for our children’s futures.
Community and church groups. Need supplies quickly? Just reach out to your church or other local organization such as a foster closet, and you can have more than you need within hours, sometimes even delivered to your doorstep. I love the hugs and welcoming greetings I receive every time I visit a foster closet for supplies. These volunteers (some are foster parents and some aren’t) are so deeply dedicated to helping us on our journeys. I’ve borrowed cribs, bouncy seats, baby carriers and high chairs. I’ve gotten clothes, shoes, diapers and wipes. I’ve gotten blankets, toys and stuffed animals. But the most important item I am sure to receive for each child I’ve cared for: a bag for their belongings. I bag to replace the black trash bag they came with. Forget the equipment and the clothes: a bag with an ID tag that has his or her name on it is the most valuable item a foster child can receive.
Agency support. Our family is licensed directly through SC DSS, and we have a Family Support Coordinator assigned to us. This person’s job, among other things, is to answer our questions and offer support so that we stay happy and licensed. If you choose to become licensed through another agency, they can offer an additional layer of support.
So when I introduce myself to other foster parents, is my number big enough? Is yours? The answer is a resounding YES. Because even if your number never reaches higher than one, that’s one child whose life you changed. One child who discovered, possibly for the first time, that his future could be different from his past. One child who felt love and safety and whose trajectory you altered.