How to Be the Best First-Time Foster Parent – Part Two
Although it’s an immensely rewarding experience, fostering doesn’t come without its challenges. The many families and individuals who have walked the path before you won’t say that it’s easy — but, they will say that it’s worth it. If you’re considering answering the call to foster, we’re here to encourage you along that journey, with a reminder that YOU are capable of being the best foster parent you can be!
Look back at Part One of our “How to Be the Best First-Time Foster Parent,” then read on for Part Two.
The Primary Qualities of a Good Foster Parent
Now that we know how the system works and why it’s so important for foster parents to create a supportive, nurturing environment for children of all ages, we’re sharing several of the most important qualities of a great foster parent.
Empathy and Compassion
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that children are not placed lightly into foster care. They have been victims of trauma, neglect, or abuse, and more than anything, they need to be treated with compassion.
If you don’t think you (or your partner or other children) have the ability to treat a child placed in your home with compassion and patience, you should reconsider.
Children must feel like they are not a burden to you. They will already be dealing with loss and the issues that brought them into foster care, so the more they can feel like they’re part of your family, the better.
Also, it’s not beneficial to the child if they feel like their foster family feels sorry for them all the time. Empathy and understanding go a lot further than sympathy.
Patience and Communication
Practicing solid two-way communication is key to the success of a foster parent/child relationship. The child will likely arrive on your doorstep feeling misunderstood and frustrated.
The more you talk to them, the more likely it is that they will open up. Providing a safe space for them to talk about their experiences will allow them to deal with their negative emotions head-on.
And it’s not just about talking. Listening is just as important, if not more so. Take the time to listen to the child. It won’t be easy, especially at first, but once they feel comfortable and safe enough to open up, make sure you’re listening.
Being Supportive of the Biological Family
When children are removed from their family, it is never due to a lack of love on either part. While the children may be angry with their biological family, they still love them.
It’s important that the foster parents speak positively and constructively about the child’s biological family and stay informed about any progress.
Many foster families will stay in touch with the biological family or at least get regular updates from their social worker.
As mentioned earlier on, the main goal of foster care is reunification. So any negativity directed at the child’s biological family will only slow down the process.
Resilience and Perseverance
Welcoming traumatized children or teenagers into your home is not going to be easy. They might have behavioral problems and emotional problems that are incredibly hard to deal with, even with the best training.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Join support groups of other foster families. Attend workshops and events hosted by agencies and nonprofits.
“It’s going to be challenging, but stepping out of your comfort zone and into the lives of kids, who didn’t ask for their circumstances but need your help, is one of the most selfless things a human can do,” said Wellroot Foster Parent Brittany Behm. “You will mess up, but there’s always another day..”
Give yourself grace, and be okay with the fact that you don’t know everything. No one does. The very nature of the foster care system is that there are so many unknown variables. If a child asks you when they can go home, be okay with saying you don’t know yet. But, at that moment, know that you are providing the love and support that’s needed.
Think Long and Hard Before Committing
While it’s one of the most important things you can do for the future of at-risk youth, make sure you understand your own home/life structure before you commit to becoming a foster parent. If you have high-needs children of your own, or if your relationship is in any way unstable, fostering might not be for you.
Children in the foster care system need stability and consistency more than anything. They need love, compassion, and understanding. Knowing this, take time to evaluate your family’s goals, desires and calling.
For Wellroot Foster Parents Jason and Shauna Miller, it was an international mission trip that motivated them to say yes, after a period of time analyzing whether or not they were ready to foster. It wasn’t an overnight decision, but it was a clear calling for the Millers.
“We spent time playing, teaching, singing and dancing with beautiful children all over India,” Shauna Miller said. “From that experience, we realized how much more love we had to give and how many children around the world and at home could benefit from us opening our hearts to pour out that love.”
Listen to your heart before opening your home. Are you being called to foster? We encourage you to answer the call.