I remember starting the foster care licensing process and not really knowing anything about what to expect. Every time the case worker was coming over I’d go into full on obsessive cleaning mode. I scrubbed every nook and cranny of our home just in case she was going to find a bit of dust and judge us unqualified. I laugh now remembering how anxious I was, but also recognize this is not uncommon for many soon-to-be-foster-parents. She would come to our momentarily spotless home and we would pepper her with questions about the fire inspection and cribs and car seats and whatever else was on own minds. Bless her; she was so patient with us. She took notes on our age range preferences, our concerns, and our hopes.
There are so many emotions that accompany the foster care licensing process- excitement, anxiety, hope, uncertainty. You’re getting ready to welcome children into your home and you’ve begun setting up a bedroom, but you may be unsure of what you really need. Maybe with your biological children, your family and friends threw you a baby shower. Maybe you don’t have any biological children, and you just aren’t sure what you need and what you don’t. In foster care you can never be sure who is coming next- babies, toddlers, teens. Will it be one child, two, three, or more? It can feel a little overwhelming once you realize all the things you don’t know how to anticipate.
One thing that I did was create an Amazon Baby Registry– mostly for myself to keep track of things that I thought I might want, but also to share with family and friends. And the items on my registry weren’t just for babies. I put items for our whole age range- from babies through school-age children. One of my favorite things about this registry was that once I purchased (or friends purchased) $100 worth of items from the registry, I received a box of free sample baby items. Once there was $1,000 worth of items purchased from the registry, I received $100 worth of free diapers and wipes. After we had all the basics that we needed (we didn’t buy everything from the registry- much was donated from other foster parents), I added items to the registry for our daily needs. All the snacks, diapers, wipes, toilet paper, etc. that kept our quickly-much-larger family going came with two-day free shipping from Amazon.
There are many ways to get all the things you will need as a new foster home. You can throw a Home Study or Foster Care Shower to celebrate the beauty of your new journey. You can ask for help from your local foster parents, families, and friends. You’ll learn along the way what you really need and what you can do without, what you need for the moment and what you’ll need later on. But here are the basics that I think will help you get started on the right foot:
Foster homes have to meet certain licensing requirements regardless of their licensing agency. You will have a Fire and Health Safety Inspection with a State Fire Marshal. They will tell you what you may need- including a fire extinguisher (one for every floor of the house), smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, outlet plugs, and baby proofing equipment.
2. First Aid Kit
You never know when you’re going to need some bandaids. Having a first aid kit in each car and each floor of the home comes in handy when you’re on the go with a bunch of kiddos.
3. Children’s Medicine and Locking Medicine Box
Kids get sick – especially when starting school or daycare for the first time. Foster families are tasked with keeping medication out of reach of children and a locked medicine box is one way families can meet this requirement. You may not need to have children’s medicine on hand in advance, but having a thermometer comes in handy.
4. Document Organizers
You learn quickly that there is a lot of paperwork in foster care. There are so many things to keep track of with each child that comes and goes. You may want to invest in starting a Foster care binder or file box. Some families maintain a family calendar or memo boards to keep track of appointments, meetings, and visitation
5. School Supplies
Whether kids are going to daycare or school or even just transporting to visits, they will need to have something to carry their stuff in. For families expecting a baby, you may need a diaper bag. For school-aged kids, families may want to have a variety of backpacks, notebooks, pens and pencils, art supplies so that you don’t have to do a late night Walmart run when you get a new placement.
6. Picture Frames
Documenting life for kids in foster care is important. This is a way that they can stay connected to their birth family and also feel like they belong in their new home. You may want to think about how you will celebrate children through hanging photos, sharing their artwork, and documenting their time in your home. It’s not necessary to purchase in advance, but I think it’s fun to have photo albums or photo frames to make kids feel like they will have some ownership over their space.
7. Children’s Books
Reading as a family is an amazing way to bond and take some pressure off awkward conversations your first few nights as a new-to-each-other family. Reading stories can also be a way to talk about tough subjects – like foster care. We’ve got a great list of books for foster parents and kids in foster care over on Pinterest.
You want to have the basics ready before a new placement shows up and you never know when that will be. Having a variety of sheets, pillows, and blankets comes in handy for a middle of the night placement who is weary from their long and traumatic day. It is so important that each kid feels like they have some ownership of their own space- a special blanket or pillowcase, stuffed animals. Something that is their own for however long they are there and then they can bring it with them to their new home. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it for older children, it never hurts to have Waterproof mattress and pillow covers already on the bed.
9. Lots of Snacks
When you learn that you’ve been licensed and you’re anticipating your first placement call, go ahead and have easy snacks stocked up in your pantry. Kids eat A LOT! Of course snacks differ with the age of the kids expected in the home. But having lots of snacks, especially in the first hectic week of a new placement, is key! Having friends lined up to make or deliver a meal is even better!
10. Cleaning Supplies
My first week as a foster parent, I spent so much time bleaching the bathtub from poop accidents that I thought I would never survive. I now gift every new parent with a giant bottle of bleach- mostly as a joke, but it has always come in handy. Once you’re a foster parent, you’ll never want to be without Clorox wipes, laundry detergent, and hand sanitizer.
It truly takes a village! No foster family does this alone. Ask a lot of questions! Find your village- foster parents and otherwise- and never hesitate to ask for help. Are you the loved one of someone considering foster care? Throw them a Foster Care Shower to celebrate their new journey.
New to fostering and looking for support from other foster families? Join our SHAREfostering community group for your state (SC and CO currently available).