By Carol Jones
There are three phases of foster care placement: PRE-PLACEMENT, PLACEMENT AND POST-PLACEMENT.
Pre-placement: Your family structure will change with the addition of a foster child. Make sure the whole family understands what might happen. Don’t ever foster to give another child in your family a playmate. It does not work for your child or for the foster child.
Listen to your children if they have concerns about fostering. Be prepared to spend extra time with a child that does not want another child in the home. Expect a certain amount of conflict as roles in the family change.
Supervise the foster child at all times until you have a good idea of the child’s ability to get along with your children. Don’t expect the foster child to do all the changing. Your children might need to learn to share, for instance.
Placement: You are quite comfortable in your home, but a foster child is being placed with strangers. Most of the initial changing will need to be done by you and your family. The beginning of a placement is overwhelming for everyone involved. Plan to stick it out until everyone has a chance to adjust to the new normal. Many times it will take weeks or even months for the family to settle down again.
Expect issues of fairness, dissimilarity, and risk factors to surface among the children. Face them head on. Talk to the children together and individually to make sure you understand the children’s issues.
Ask for help and find a support group to strengthen your responses and ability to support your family as well as yourself.
Post-Placement: As you find out the foster child in your home is leaving, make sure to talk to the child about the move. One suggestion is to give the child something to remember you by. For younger children it could be a toy. For older children it might be a journal or a favorite book.
Don’t be surprised at the level of grief and loss the family feels after the child has left. Even after a difficult placement, the family has to re-adjust to life without the foster child. Make sure your children understand that they won’t have to leave if they have a bad day. Younger children don’t understand exactly what foster care is as it relates to the rest of the children in the home.
If the foster placement has been difficult, take a break before taking another child.
Please remember, fostering is a challenge. It is rarely easy to start and can get more difficult as you go along. Take care of yourself by making sure you have time away, even if it is just going to the store by yourself. Take advantage of your “free” time. Instead of doing the laundry, call a friend to go to lunch or for a walk.
Try to focus on all of your successes. If you have a partner, make sure the two of you have time to focus on your relationship. If nothing else, sit on the porch and de-brief after the kids are in bed. Remember to talk about the successes even more than the problems. We understand that the successes may be things like “Sara didn’t have a fit this morning” or “Josh got in the bathtub without a fight tonight!” Celebrate the wins!