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So, you're just about to be a first time foster mom? If we sat down to have coffee, here is what I might share with you. A list of thoughts and suggestions for you and your heart as you start this crazy journey. **A big thank you to the ladies of my adoption & foster support group--they helped brainstorm many of these ideas.**
1. Set aside money for initial expenses. When our two foster daughters came to us quite suddenly (with about 5 hours notice), we needed many practical items right away. And with the way the calendar fell, we didn't get our first per diem check for almost 30 days. In those cases, it's helpful to have some cash set aside, ready for immediate needs in case the state checks don't come for a while.
2. Appointments, visits and phone calls galore! Just be prepared for many, many visits in the beginning from state case workers, therapists, agency case workers, CASA (court appointed special advocate), etc. And there will be many calls with all of these people, along with e-mails and texts. Plus you will need to set up initial doctor appointments (tracking down a medicaid-approved doctor if they don't have one yet!), as well as dentist and eye doctor visits, if needed. If your child has medical challenges, add in all those specialty appointments. Don't forget visits with bio parents. Basically, be prepared for your calendar to blow up.
3. Keep a binder of documents and a calendar of events. Prepare a binder for each child with all of your foster paperwork, medical reports (at every visit the doctor will fill out and sign a sheet for the child which you will scan to your agency or DCS), communication from the court, etc. It is so helpful to have everything organized in one spot! Similarly, start a specific calendar for your child to record appointments, visits with bio family (and missed visits), and other important events. This will provide a good reference should you need it later in their case.
4. Be careful of the battles you pick. If I could have given myself one piece of advice when we started fostering five years ago, it would be this: don't fight the food battle too soon! For the little boys who were with us for two weeks, I should have just fed them frozen pizza, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets for goodness sakes! For the little girl who was with us for a month, I shouldn't have made her finish the bowl of chili--a peanut butter & jelly sandwich would have been just fine. If they end up staying with you long term, learning to eat a varied & healthy diet will come, but don't pressure them or yourself to get there right away. Similarly, don't use anything too precious. Put $10 Walmart sheets on the beds (with full coverage plastic mattress covers!). Use paper plates and plastic cups. Clear away all breakable or precious knickknacks--this way you can just let the kids be kids and lessen your own nagging and worry.
6. Make an acronym cheat sheet. Until you become immersed in the foster world lingo (don't worry--it will come!) make a reference sheet for yourself. FCM, CASA, DCS, CHINS, SNAP, CANS, CCDF . . . so many to learn! This document may be a good starting place.
7. Ask lots of questions and make connections. Dive in on behalf of your foster children. In the beginning, I reminded myself often that my job was to be the child's advocate--they needed me to be "annoying," to make demands on their behalf, to protect them. I also did my best to stay in good contact with all of the caseworkers via text and e-mail. Build rapport and connection whenever/however you can with all of the people involved in your child's life. Show them your appreciation, especially the case workers. They have a hard and thankless job most of the time (random gifts and thank you notes go a long way). Related: choose not to die on every hill! Carefully pick and choose your battles with all of the service providers. For instance, if they bring a child home early from every visit, and it is a problem for you, then let them know. But if it isn't a big deal since you're there anyway, then let it go.
8. Take care of yourself. Mental health/sanity days are essential! Go on dates with your husband! Let family and friends help you. If they offer to help, give them something specific to do--don't be embarrassed or feel guilty. When our family went from five to seven overnight, we were blessed with meals for three months, dinner and bedtime assistance when my husband was working, laundry-folding help, etc.--all so essential to our survival in those first few months. Also, find a support group of women on a similar journey. It truly is so encouraging and important to have friends who speak the language of foster care and who can provide guidance and friendship. Finally, don't forget about respite care, even if just for a couple of hours during the day or a weekend. This is a valuable resource--let yourself use it, especially if you have foster children with medical needs and you aren't able to ask friends and family for help.
Just a few more . . .
9. Utilize Kingdom's Kloset. So many times we had children come to us with little or no clothing. Please use the ministry of Kingdom's Kloset! At least to hold you over until you get a few per diem checks and can build an actual wardrobe. They will provide a sack of gently-used children's clothing (specific to the gender, size and season), usually dropped off at your doorstep within 24 hours. Such a wonderful gift! More information HERE.
10. Hair cuts are a no-no. Believe it or not, foster children's hair cannot be cut without biological parents' permission. A bit silly and ridiculous? Agreed. But it's the rule nonetheless. I've fought for this approval many times, but just be aware that it may take awhile. Remind yourself this decision may be the only bit of control a biological parent has in the life of their child and they often do not want to relinquish it--try to remember this with grace and patience.
11. Say YES! as much as you can. Another story at bedtime? Yes! More chips for lunch? Yes! Five more minutes outside? Yes! Even more important is to follow-through on that Yes. Be generous and willing to please, especially in those first few months of transition.
Mostly, I want to tell you that you can do it--Jesus will help you and you will need Him! Please reach out if you have questions or need someone to talk to. I love to share about our foster journey and provide encouragement if I can.