If you’re reading this, chances are you are either a foster parent or you know a foster parent. Many of the people in a foster parent’s life want to show love and support to the parent in question but are often uncertain of how to do just that. Below are some ideas you can use to guide you as you love someone walking the unusual path of fostering children. If you have any additional ideas you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!
1) Avoid asking them why their foster child is in care.
With my penchant for minding other people’s business, I don’t resent people asking a nosy question or two (except for the one dance mom I knew only asked so she’d have gossip fodder) as long as they understand I cannot answer such questions. Foster parents are bound by confidentiality agreements and can only share a child’s history with people who have a pertinent need to know it. Even more important than abiding by confidentiality agreements, though, is respecting a child’s right to privacy. Nobody wants their dirty laundry aired unless they are the ones putting it out on the line.
2) Check in with them periodically, especially if you haven’t heard from them in awhile or they seem stressed during your interactions.
The most heartbreaking, rage-inducing, frustrating, and confusing situations in the lives of foster parents are often exactly the same situations they cannot speak about freely with others because of aforementioned confidentiality rules. Nearly every foster parent I know online or in real life, including me, has experienced an emotional breakdown because of the ginormous emotions that come with loving a child in foster care compounded with the loneliness of not being able to talk about what is really going on with anyone other than caseworkers or a spouse who is in the thick of it with them. It’s sometimes easier to avoid social interactions altogether than try to explain why we are a mess without breaking confidentiality. Sometimes we disappear because we cannot spare the energy for friendships when we are using everything we have to keep our families afloat. A little contact to let us know you are thinking about us and love us even when we are emotionally or physically absent goes a long way to replenishing our reserves.
3) Volunteer to be an approved babysitter/alternate caregiver.
Foster agencies often require background checks on babysitters even if the potential babysitter is the most safe and trustworthy person on the planet. Sure, it’s a pain, but it’s a requirement designed to protect the children in foster care from further trauma at the hands of a great pretender. Many agencies provide the paperwork and pay the background check fee. All that’s left for you to do is fill in a few blanks and bask in the hero worship you are likely to receive from the foster parent for being an above-and-beyond supporter of their family.
4) Celebrate the new arrival(s)!
You know how nearly everyone gets excited when a friend has a baby or adopts? There are showers and meals and offers for assistance galore? Most foster parents don’t get to experience that celebratory side of bringing a new child into their family. And that sucks. Yes, it can be a bit awkward guessing at how to celebrate the arrival (or imminent arrival) of a child into your fostering friend or family member’s life, but it’s better to offer to do something than to ignore this milestone because you didn’t know for sure what to do. If possible, keep the offers of support, help, and celebration tangible and specific. Offer meals, age-appropriate toys or clothes, gift cards to buy necessary items the child might not be bringing with them, care packages for the parents-to-be, or anything else you might think to offer someone who just birthed or adopted a child. Most foster parents won’t think to ask for those tokens of love but they will appreciate them more than you will ever know.
5) Stay in the picture.
Please don’t abandon your foster parent friends. We need you. Even when we are busy with medical appointments, bio family visits, various therapies, caseworker visits, court dates, and sundry dramas and traumas. Even when our foster child is acting out or tantruming so loud it is difficult to hear you above the shrieks and resounding wall kicks. Even when our foster child goes home to uncertainty and we are left wondering if they will be okay. Even when our kid needs some extra help, looks different from yours, or hasn’t adjusted to a new life with strangers yet. Please stick with us. We know it can be hard to understand our journey sometimes, but we hope you’ll still think we’re worth walking along with even when things get a bit messy.
Foster parents, what would you add to this post?