31 Things I've Learned About Foster Care

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To conclude the #write31days series, I wanted to reflect on thirty-one things I've learned while doing foster care for the first time. We've had these three brothers in our home for twenty seven days as of today. We've learned a great many things, more than we can even explain. But, here are some that I felt important or pertinent:

  1. The phone call or email you receive asking you to house children will, likely, be very short and lacking in description.   - we've received several calls, and this was the only placement that worked out. Each call we got basically told us ages, location, and a tiny description of them 'nice little girl who is fun to be around, says her social worker. Looking for housing by Tuesday.'
  2. Your placement(s) will probably be very different from what you envisioned
  3. Know your limits and abilities - and trust, never feel guilty about, your gut.  Know what you can and can't do, and don't feel bad about it.
  4. Things are slow or things are lightening-fast. We didn't hear anything or have placements from May until October. Then, we got a call on Friday, met kids Saturday, and had kids Monday. And because of this...
  5. It's so important to talk-talk-talk with your partner (or support system) about variables in advance. What things will you do to implement structure or balance (and are they flexible)? How will you get shopping done? What appointments can change or move, and how will you do so? Where will you keep paperwork? Do your family/friends have an idea of what to expect and how to support you?
  6. Have a support system. Be honest with them about fears/needs/feelings. 
  7. Let people help you. Find creative ways to let them help - laundry, meals, errands, spending time with your other children.
  8. Plan for time 'off' to adjust if possible. While we couldn't take much time away from work, we did tell our social circles that we would be leaving our phones unattended so that we could learn and attend to the needs of the new kids and our bio-kids.
  9. Include and make plans for the children you already have. We do daddy-daughter dates. We have family meetings. We try to be consistent with what we were doing, to minimize change.
  10. Expect to have many questions, and learn how to live with them (unanswered).
  11. Understand your timeline, but know that timelines in foster care change frequently and sometimes in ways you didn't expect. 
  12. Emotions are like a carousel. You'll experience them, go through others, then they'll come around again. Or a tornado, as I mentioned here.
  13. You're going to see or hear hard stuff
  14. Failing to plan is NOT planning to fail. You're going to miss things and that isn't the end. You'll learn and talk to the kids and do better next time.
  15. But for real, plan ahead. Here's a calendar that's been a life saver. Also, if they're old enough, tell the plan to the kids multiple times. Every morning or night. It helps them feel secure and less out of control.
  16. Go to trainings and support groups. Talk to people who've done this before - they have a wisdom that is reassuring.
  17. Prepare to self-advocate. The team working with the kids really wants to help, but are often spread thin and can't possibly keep up with things that can happen on the daily. So, ask questions, push for the things the child(ren) need.
  18. You get to make parental choices. Can the kids have sleepovers? Wear certain clothes? What time is bedtime? How much cell phone use? Can they go to church? You get to decide, most of the time, these things. Some times you need parent permission, such as...
  19. Don't get haircuts without express permission from birth parents. This one made us laugh. Each parent is different, I'm sure, and the boys' parents had no issue. But we've heard some scary stories!
  20. Supervised visits with birth parents are (most likely) up-close and personal. You follow set date, time and locations set by the count and then stay nearby while the children visit. It's hard even if it goes well.
  21. Approach supervised visits with an open mind and flexibility. Some parents want to talk and have you assist with visits. Others are embarrassed and just want you to stand back and observe. Feel it out.
  22. Small gestures are really important.
  23. If they shut you out, you can't shut down. As a wise foster-mom said: It's not their job to love you back. Be consistent and strong when they can't.
  24. People will ask inappropriate questions. 
  25. Your new family structure affects your extended family, too. 
  26. Different persons working the case have different, sometimes conflicting, opinions and ideas. 
  27. Get involved in the kids' school life. Know their teachers and advocate.
  28. Even a 'bad' day has good in it. You cared for kids today. You'll wake up with them tomorrow and still be there for them. Look for the good.
  29. It's important to talk as honestly as possible with the kids about what's happening (if possible). You might be the only person they can talk to.
  30. It's okay to say 'I don't know.' Because you're not going to know everything. 
  31. Even if it's hard, it does get easier with doing. Each day, the feelings are less hard to wrestle with. This 'uncertain timeline' becomes less frustrating and scary. Rhythms and patterns set in. You look back and realize, you can do it.