Being a foster parent requires families to have the mental and emotional flexibility of a contortionist and a "level of readiness" of the Armed Forces on high alert. This week's "Foster Friday" touches on being prepared...
"Just Like a Boyscout - Always Be Prepared"
Diane - Being prepared is not so difficult after fostering for many, many years. I only accept children four and under, so I have pretty much all of the baby paraphernalia needed at this point. The physical stuff is now simple to gather (assuming I can remember where I put it away). I have three closets that are each over half full with clothes, plus a stack of boxes with the remainder, sorted by gender and size. I can pretty much outfit any child under five for at least a week by pulling something together (okay, I do admit, my first newborn boy did wear pink for a week until I got some infant boy clothes). Rooms are rearranged after placement occurs, if necessary.
I have a relationship with the pediatrician (and a couple of specialists) so the child usually makes it into the doctor within the first week. I used to have a relationship with the daycare, always confirming an opening existed before I added myself to the placement list. Now I have an awesome nanny, so I discuss placement with her before accepting. I also have an amazing support system of friends, so I can easily make a run to the store for any items like diapers, formula, or lice treatment that I might need!
My kids and I discuss adding a foster child to our home before I put our family on the placement list. They know and start mentally preparing (and asking WHEN over and over)! The hardest thing for me has always been not to get too excited over every call about a potential placement. Either no calls happen, or I get lots of calls that don’t materialize. Mentally preparing is an emotional roller coaster every time the phone rings. I prepare a lot by praying, asking God to bring the right child(ren) into our home. The more I open to Him, the more prepared I am for our new addition(s).
Mama Foster - I have TOO many bins of children's clothes of all sizes. I try to keep clothes around that are for the age range we have agreed to take. I always have a few boxes of wipes around and an extra toothbrush. I keep extra sheets handy and a high chair and toddler booster seats. Right now I have 4 toddler car seats sitting in the garage waiting to be used and an empty bedroom ready to be occupied.
Realistically, if you have extra money to spend on stuff you might need that is all you REALLY need. You can always run out and get diapers.
When I get a child I usually buy them new PJs and shoes first.
Oh...and sippy cups. I am obsessed with sippy cups.
Rachel - We have only had one placement so far, and he was placed with us as a newborn. Today he is 6 months old and, by the time you are reading this, we will be in court with him, sitting before a judge to determine whether or not the process is being moved along to terminate his biological parents' rights.
Instead of telling you what physical items you may need for a foster child, I'll tell you what you'll need in your heart:
1. Patience with yourself. Every new placement is a huge adjustment. You will feel lonely and angry and scared and wondering, "Why on earth did we decide to do this?" Be prepared with a list of other foster parents you can call, most likely crying.
Our first placement included Baby Man's older brother, and the murderous screaming, 6 hours a night, every night, for the 3 weeks that we had him, had me nearly going insane. I actually called the director of the agency and told her there had been a terrible mistake made, and would she please send someone to take these children back?
In hindsight, I would have been horrified, under normal circumstances, to do all that work and training at MAPP class, trying to show the agency what wonderful foster/adopt parents we would be, and then to call the DIRECTOR OF THE FREAKING AGENCY crying after 2 days of our first placement.
You do alot of things you'd never expect you'd do when faced with a new placement.
So, be prepared for that.
2. Patience with the system. Most states (except the very lucky few who have privatized systems, mine included), have horrible turn-around time when you need help with one thing or the other. Take 10 deep breaths before you open your email, make a phone call, or go to the bathroom. EVERYTHING you do will be tinted with your annoyance with the state in helping these kiddos.
Breathe in and out alot.
3. Patience with your placement. Think about it - you've been ripped from the only home you have ever known, usually with a big scary cop giving you someone's old teddy bear, and your parents were screaming, crying, and fighting as you left. You're now thrust into this totally new home where everyone automatically expects you to be happy that you are there.
Why are they at their happiest when you're just freaked the heck out? What kind of sadistic people are these?
You go into your nice, newly prepared room and promptly throw a fit.
They don't know what to do with you, and neither do you.
But hey, you're a foster kid, and these foster parents of yours are trained Boy Scouts. They're prepared.
They'll speak soft words to you, offer you a brand new stuffed animal, still with the tags on, whisper your name until you fall asleep. And they'll do it tonight, and the next night, and the next.
They do it because they see the fear in your eyes, and the loss. And trust me, they have lost along the way, too.
You'll make a bond, you will. It will just take some time, some tears, some screaming...
and lots of chocolate pudding.