May marks the beginning of National Foster Care Month! This month focuses on showing appreciation to the adults that choose to open their homes to be safe and loving places for children in crisis. And with a foster parent shortage in Texas, now more than ever we need loving and supportive caregivers like you to show these children the care that they need. The choice to foster a child in DFPS care can be deeply rewarding but is not without its challenges. Here are some suggestions to help you and the children in your care navigate this time more smoothly!
Make sure that you are taken care of first. Just like putting your own mask on first if an airplane is in trouble, foster parents should ready themselves first before bringing children in foster care into their home. Choosing to take in children is generous; However, it can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t prepare yourself for the challenge. More children in your home will likely add additional stress to your time and finances. Additionally, consider whether you are emotionally and mentally prepared to respond to the behaviors, emotions, and upsetting experiences of children in foster care. Care for yourself by ensuring that you will have the resources and support that you will need to feel cared for yourself during this time.
Relationship before discipline. Children in foster care are in crisis.Their behaviors can be chaotic, frustrating, and confusing to others. It can be tempting to foster parents to discipline children in care in the same way you would discipline a biological child. However, keep in mind that for children in foster care, their lives and relationships have been overturned. These children are not dealing with the same challenges that their peers may experience and they should be handled with extra care. Search for opportunities to communicate love, care, and a desire to connect with them over compliance.
Treat the items that they bring with them with care. Children in foster care can come from challenging homes and the items they bring with them may be unpleasant to you. But the items they bring with them will remind them of home and are special to them. Its ok to check for health and safety concerns but don’t clean (unless they ask), dispose of, or speak badly about the items they bring with them. Instead, you can show interest in their items and ask the child to share with you about what they’ve brought with them.
Allow them to care for themselves without your help. Imagine you’re staying in a stranger’s home and you get hungry in the middle of the night. Would you feel comfortable going to the fridge and picking something out for yourself to eat? Consider that children in foster care may be too shy to ask for what they need or unused to going to adults to have their needs met. Place items that they may need (snacks, water, hygiene products, comfort items, etc.) out where they can access them without your help and give them permission to use as much of these items as they need.
Validate their emotions surrounding the process, system, and their family. Foster care is an emotionally charged process for everyone involved, especially for the children. Children in foster care may have emotions that shift and change in intensity quickly. Any and all emotions that a child experiences during this process are valid and should be treated with care by foster parents and others. You may not understand why a child is sad and missing a parent who hurt them or why a child is furious with you over a seemingly small issue. You can use phrases like “I wonder if you are (insert emotion),” “I see that you’re (emotion). Can you tell me more?” to show a child that their feelings are valid and that they can share them with you. Even if you don’t understand why they are feeling the way they are, you can honor the child and build a stronger relationship by showing them that you see their feelings and care.
Fostering a child is a bold and generous action! And this May we’d like to thank all the caring and supportive adults who step in to care for children in foster care. Don’t be afraid to reach out for to our counselors who can support both you and the children you care for in managing this time. We are here for you!