Foster parenting is an amazing journey that teaches you great lessons and gives you the satisfaction of making a difference to the world. Accepting an unknown child as your own needs an enormous amount of empathy, patience, and of course, unconditional love. Despite the fact that you may have all these qualities, you may still face certain challenges when you take the plunge. But you learn with experience as this journey makes you a compassionate and fulfilled person. Though there is no magic formula to become a successful foster parent, here are some strategies that you can embrace to handle the challenges involved.
- Utilize the pre-placement period to be prepared
The pre-placement period is a crucial one as it gives you the opportunity to know the child better before actually bringing her home. Get connected with the child to know her behavior, interests, expectations, barriers and traumatic experiences, if any. This helps you to be better prepared to handle the child and you can also use the information to get your spouse and children in line with what lies ahead.
Have regular interactions during this transition period to make the child comfortable. Ask questions and encourage her to ask some as well because this will break the ice. At the same time, avoid being pushy and give the child ample time to be comfortable and build trust. Before you bring the child home at the end of this period, work on your home to make it safe and inviting for the child.
- Talk to seasoned foster parents
Talking to seasoned foster parents is a good idea, particularly if you are doing it for the first time. This helps you to understand the typical challenges that you can expect and also find ways to address them. Though every child is different, talking to someone who has done this time and again is a learning experience. Knowing about the barriers and behavioral issues in children helps to cope with the toughest of situations.
Besides talking to fellow foster caregivers, you can also discuss your concerns with therapists, social workers and community organizations to get a wider overview. Going in as an informed parent definitely gives you a winning advantage when it comes to handling the challenges of foster care effectively.
- Have a support system in place
Being a foster parent puts you through a test because there are several stresses that you may need to handle. You may have to juggle things, between your job, spouse and biological children, while looking after the foster child. Perpetual Fostering explains what it takes to be a foster carer and the need to look after yourself all through it. A dependable support system is something that you must have at your back to cope with the stresses of the responsibility.
Start at your home and seek support from your family members. Discuss your decision at the workplace as well because it may have an impact on your professional life too. Involve neighbors and friends as they can help you in the crisis situations that you may face. Do not hesitate to seek support from community organizations and human service professionals because they will be more than happy to help.
- Create a safe environment for the child
Another key strategy for successful fostering is to create a safe environment for the child at your home. Children in foster care usually come from the traumatic background and they may get violent if they fear for their safety. Therefore, giving them a predictable and safe environment can make them more comfortable. What goes into creating such an environment really depends on the age and individuals needs of the child.
The first step would be to know the child better and understand her triggers even before bringing her home. For young children, safety pertains to physical aspects such as ensuring safety on the railings and keeping medicines locked away. However, the concerns may be of behavioral nature for older children as they need consistency in terms of elimination of triggers such as noise and bullying.
- Have a rule book in place
Even though you require to practice patience and flexibility as a foster parent, you still need to have a rule book in place. This is all the more important if you have biological children at home. Remember that the rules should be the same for everyone as inconsistencies breed distrust. Have set schedules related to daily chores such as bedtime, meals, study time and play time. Allocate duties to each child and ensure that they fulfill them too.
Have a reward system within the rule book to encourage the children when they stick to it. You can practice firmness when it comes to adherence but corporal punishment is an absolute no-no. Talk to the child instead and find the reason behind not obeying the rules. Explain to them the value of being disciplined and list the positive consequences as well.
- Be prepared for some tough decisions
When you enter the territory of fostering, you should be aware of the challenges that lie ahead. The situations could be drastic; while some children fit like hand in glove with your family and lifestyle, others may cause great problems for you. Even attending family functions or tending to your professional responsibilities may become challenging. Your relationship with your own children may change too. The best strategy is to be prepared for the worst.
You may have to take some tough decisions, such as staying away from certain family events or even changing your job. Things generally improve as the child settles in your home and gradually build a comfort level with your family and lifestyle. Yet, you should be prepared for some changes and have the patience to wait for things to get better on with time.
Foster parenting is a major decision and you should have a good strategy in place before taking in a child under your care. It will help you give better care to the child as well as become successful as a foster parent.