Advice for New Foster Parents | Getting Clear About Foster Care

Last updated: September 2, 2021, at 9:29 a.m. PT

Originally published: August 24, 2021, at 4:35 p.m. PT

Foster parent and youth in foster care

Being a foster parent isn't always easy but it is always worth it. If you are considering becoming a foster parent, check out this excellent advice from seasoned Y Foster Parents:

Expect and Prepare for You and Your Family’s Life to Change  

While it might be easy to imagine that you can handle opening your home to a child, it’s important to remember that children experiencing foster care may not fit perfectly into your family’s lifestyle or expectations. The responsibility is on the foster family to adjust their life as much as possible to fit the child’s needs as they navigate a very difficult and confusing time in their life.

“Expect not to do much of anything for a month or two [after a child is placed with you] and that your world and days are going to revolve around getting to know each other. It’s hard when people want their lives to continue exactly as they were. There’s no perfect time in your life to start taking placements, but anticipating the extra time you will want to connect and recuperate, will set you up to have your days feel more joyous and connective.”  - Megan 

“It’s going to be really hard so be prepared for it to be, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It can be totally worth it and really amazing, but there are a lot of ups and down along the way.” – Angie and Jen 

Focus on Being Child-Centered and Putting Their Needs First 

Whether you’re caring for a toddler or opening your home to a teenager, caring for youth experiencing foster care is not the same as babysitting a friend’s child or siblings. While all children have individual strengths and needs, children in care are affected by the separation from their family. Trauma-informed foster parents can play a key role in meeting their unique needs. 

“Always serve the child first. Try not to get caught up in how hard it is for you that you’re not keeping how hard it is for the child at the front of your mind.” – Megan 

“You’re signing up with only a brief summary of the child but that’s all you know. So you’re really signing up for the unknown. You may never know the whole story.” – Ashleigh & Quinn  

“It’s a big deal for kids to have material resources. There can be a rush to have this deep relationship or share your values with the youth - but just providing for them and getting them to medical appointments is also big deal.” – Ashleigh & Quinn  

Spend Time Thinking about and Preparing for How You Will Support a Child’s Cultural Connections 

Keeping kids connected to their culture is a key aspect of fostering that requires an ongoing commitment to the work. Culture can be anything from language, to the types of food they eat, to social habits and norms, to the people we surround ourselves with, and so much more. For kids in care, they often lose that connection to everything they know as “normal” when they move to a new home. Foster parents have a responsibility, and an opportunity, to make their time in care a little better by thinking ahead about how they will support a child’s cultural connections and work on their own cultural sensitivity. Once a child is in your home, spend time getting to know what home was like for them - what food do they like to eat? What were the norms in their house? Or what did their family like to do together?  

“Right now, we have just had a long-term placement end, and before we begin our next placement, we are reflecting on our communities - our schools, our church, our friend groups - and what’s missing in any of those spaces that a kid in care might need.” –Megan 

“The biggest assumption I had was that I felt that if I could show kids that they could come to a home that was warm and friendly - where they would always have something to eat and be comfortable - where they would have their own room and their own things - that this would make them happy. But that doesn’t make them happy. Some kids just want to get back home – whatever home was like for them.” – Barbara 

Complete Additional Training before Taking a Placement 

While foster parents in Washington are required to take a comprehensive training as part of the licensing process, no single training can cover every topic. It is important to consider your own personal areas of growth and seek out training that will help you be better prepared for this difficult and important work. 

“I wish I had understood that foster parenting is not just adding more kids into my home – that it would be accompanying kids as they survive trauma - which is a whole other skill set that is not intuitive. I wish that I had done more trainings on that beforehand rather than learning as I went.” –Megan  

“Everybody at the beginning of their fostering journey should take the CSEC [Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children] training. Everyone interacting with kids should be willing to imagine that their kid could be exploited and be ready to be the person who shows up consistently for them.” – Ashleigh & Quinn  

Identify Community Support Before You Begin Fostering 

While we have talked about centering the child’s needs, it is also important for you as a foster parent to have support too - so you can continue to show up as your best self for the child. Finding support within the fostering community is deeply important in you and your family’s ability to build resilience and for your overall well-being. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup.  

“You don’t know what it’s going to be like until you do it, but I think having a community of other people who know what it’s like to foster is extremely helpful. Those who know what the relationships are like and what the challenges and rewards are- so that you can have people who provide support when you need it.” – Jen and Angie 

"Even though you might already have a network of friends and family, you will also need a community of foster parents who can relate to what you’re doing. Finding at least one person you can text who understands what’s happening in your home will be really useful. Building a network of other foster parents - and also articulating to your friends and families exactly how you want to be supported - sets you up to receive the support you need.” – Megan 

“Read books, take classes, join a support group, and know you’re in it with others and not alone.” –Sidney 

While foster parenting is challenging, it is also rewarding when we’re able to make even a small difference in a child’s day, month, or year. Megan, who has been a foster parent with the YMCA since 2017 shares,

“Foster Parenting has changed our lives—it is our family’s work, and our love. Our family has been made so much richer for getting to connect with kids, for a night or a year, and it just is so worth it – it has stretched us in the best ways.” 

Learn more about fostering at the Y or check more resources below:

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