Foster parents are a very diverse group of people who come in all shapes and sizes. We are as different as the children we look after: every colour, age, and personality type. These differences allow us to serve the varying needs of these young people in the best way we can.
There is no doubt that there are some key qualities that are particularly useful when parenting children who are feeling uprooted, stressed, or anxious as many foster children are. Here are 7 qualities of effective foster families that will help ease your pathway.
Children in the foster care system are living in a sense of disruption. They are in a new environment with a new family, and often a new school. Foster families welcoming a new child also have an adjustment to make when explaining all the family’s routines and schedules and learning about the foster child’s needs. Humour and joy will ensure that you can laugh through some of these challenges and ease the stress. Play fun music, watch funny movies, and joke about your adjustments—you and your foster child will all benefit from seeing the bright side of your worries.
The difference between sympathy and empathy is experience. Most foster children have some trauma or negative experiences as a result of their displacement from their lives at home. Having an adult to not just say “that’s terrible” but showing kindness and understanding regarding those feelings is invaluable. Let them know you will always be there to listen and care about their feelings.
Very rarely does foster parenting meet your exact expectations. The child who arrives on your doorstep may need a bigger bed than you planned for, or perhaps they are shy and reserved when you want to go out and have fun. Being adaptable will not only spare a child the embarrassment of feeling like a nuisance, but it will help you feel less stressed about expectations.
In general, communication is just an excellent life skill. In foster care, it is a vital component of relationship building. “Checking in” regularly about questions or concerns, and keeping the door open so you’ll be the first to know when something is wrong is crucial for conflict resolution.
You also need to communicate with your foster agency regularly to ensure the best care for your child. This will be face-to-face as well as via email. You will need to provide updates regarding appointments, needs, and concerns in a timely manner to your worker. The ability to do this concisely and positively will benefit everyone in the long run especially you!
A child in foster care, whether for short or long term, cannot help but feel a sense of uncertainty regarding their home life. Having a stable environment to feel safe is critical for good mental health. Follow predictable schedules and routines around school, chores, bedtime, meals, and weekly practices like access visits, or church. Having predictability means one less worry for a child living in someone else’s home.
This may not initially seem like a huge consideration in foster care but being a resource home for a child can feel invasive at times. The home study process is in depth, once approved your new child will likely explore every square inch of your home looking for treasure, and your worker will stop by frequently and sometimes unannounced. Getting comfortable with openness and honestly is essential.
Another important element in foster parenting is being able to express when you are experiencing difficulty. Although asking for help may have been taboo before, being honest about your capability and struggles will help your worker to provide you with resources to help when you are in need.
The entire foster care system can be characterized in one word, slow. When working with such a vulnerable population, it is important to ensure that there are backups to every policy and an extra person to oversee every decision. This keeps children safe, but makes the process lengthy. Patience is a virtue that will help you to endure the length of time it takes to get an answer about access to the new training, how much you can spend on your child’s new school clothing, or when the next court date is happening.
The other place that patience will be priceless is with your foster child. It may take them longer to warm up, adjust to living in a new home or attend a new school. Change won’t happen overnight and their negative experiences will impact the speed with which they adapt.
These qualities can be developed and grown over time as you spend more time with the children in your home but the more you work on them, the easier your role as foster parents will be. Reach out to Satori to learn more about fostering a child in need in your area and follow us on Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram.