Making the decision to become a foster parent can take a long time. Perhaps you have known your entire life that you would foster someday but have been waiting for the right time. Maybe your heart is telling you one thing and your mind another. Our Top 5 list will provide you with information to help you make the best decision for you and your family. It is an honest look at what successful Wisconsin foster parents have and what you will need to care for kids in treatment level foster care. These characteristics will enable you to help children in your care grow, heal, and feel safe.
Taking time to search within yourself is a necessary step in the decision process. As a Wisconsin foster care agency, it is our responsibility to make sure that you have the necessary characteristics to foster youth who have significant trauma due to abuse and neglect. Of course, Community Care Resources has foster care training programs and support services in place to support you throughout your fostering journey but this Top 5 list will explain what you must have that we cannot necessarily teach you or provide for you. Let’s begin our countdown to number one.
Foster care is less about accepting a child into your family and more about giving yourself and your family to a child
#5 Healthy-Stable Relationships
Being a foster parent is hard work. You cannot do it alone!
- If married or in a committed relationship, we believe it is best if you have been together for at least 3-5 years. Understanding your spouse or partner and having worked through the infancy of your marriage or partnership is something both CCR and the state of Wisconsin takes seriously. During the application process, you will be required to complete several, lengthy questionnaires about your personal relationships. You will be asked the same questions as your spouse or partner during separate interviews with our foster care licensing specialist.
- The ability to communicate with your spouse or extended family is crucial. It is difficult to be a foster parent when dealing with our own stressors. The ability to tag team and depend on each other is very helpful in caring for the types of kids and behaviors that will be in your home. Treatment level kids require a united front during challenges and frustrations that will arise in your home. It is important to remember that positive parenting stems from positive relationships.
- A common question is “Can I be single and be a foster parent?” Single foster parents benefit greatly from healthy and stable relationships with extended family, a church group and/or close friends. There are many emotions that accompany fostering children with significant trauma. If you are single, recently divorced, in a new relationship or if you live a long distance from family and close friends, it may be a good idea to take some time to develop and build a network of stable relationships before you become a foster parent.
- Foster parents must be flexible in their thinking. Rigid parenting or militant discipline structures can often backfire and create stress when caring for youth in foster care. Foster parents must be able to stop a reaction and make quick, necessary adjustments in the heat of a moment. The ability to see where a child is coming from, accept a behavior or opinion and keep an open mind to every situation is an important factor in successful foster parenting.
- Be open to the moment and the world your foster child came from. For example, a seven-year-old may be using coping skills that were appropriate when he was four, but now those coping skills need adjusting. However, he is doing exactly what a seven-year-old should be doing under his set of circumstances and level of experienced trauma. Parents must use wisdom, compassion, and understanding, rather than reacting with unrealistic expectations. Helping foster youth develop healthy coping skills requires foster parents to be patient and consistent. Read more about helping a child who struggles with coping skills.
#3 Flexible Schedule
- A flexible schedule is mandatory for all foster parents licensed with Community Care Resources. Interruptions, schedule changes, medical appointments, therapy appointments, biological family visits, family disruptions, and school truancy can all be part of fostering at the treatment level. Your availability to your foster children will play an important role in a child’s ability to heal and develop healthy relationships.
- Single foster parents need flexibility with a work schedule and must have a backup person to count on during hours you are unavailable. Often times, daycare and after-school programs are not the best options for treatment level foster children. CCR requires a consistent schedule for all kids in your care so they may benefit from a routine and familiar caregivers when you are unavailable.
- Couples with alternating work schedules, work at home positions, teachers, business owners, school employees, a stay at home parent…these are all good scenarios for Wisconsin treatment level kids because one parent has the ability to be available when needed. Being a treatment level foster parent is going to be much like another job, requiring appointments, meetings and time spent in your car transporting children.
Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt
#2 Support System
- Will your extended family and friends support your decision? Many stereotypes plague foster children and many people have strong feelings about the types of kids that come into care. Be realistic about your expectations of those close to you.
Your greatest support system outside of your family will be your Clinical Case Manager (CCM). He or she will visit with you in your home on a weekly basis. During these home visits, you will learn from the experience of your CCM on how to best care for your foster child(ren). You will discuss problems, progress, setbacks, and accomplishments. Weekly support is what our foster parents love most. Read more about support here.
Foster parents experience increased workloads and emotions that come with the difficulties of caring for children with health and mental health problems due to trauma. A backup system is critical. A friend, family member or neighbor that you can call on will be imperative while on your fostering journey. In addition, there will be times when are unavailable, sick or delayed for an appointment or afterschool pickup, you must have a backup support system.
- Self-care is NOT selfish! CCR encourages all foster parents to take a break before a break is needed. Get away for some much-needed restorative personal time, grab coffee with a friend, go to the gym or take a day trip to Devil’s Lake. There will be times you have an obligation such as a funeral or medical appointment. Most parents can call a babysitter for their biological kids. This isn’t always an option for foster parents, particularly for those who are fostering at treatment level. Taking care of yourself is key to caring for children. That’s why we offer two days of respite each month to our families AND a one week vacation each calendar year. Respite providers generously give foster parents a few hours or an overnight break when needed.
#1 Ability to Adapt
- Being able to shift at the moment is an attribute that all successful foster parents have. Situations will arise when a quick adjustment or creative solution will help a child get through a tough moment or crisis. Your ability to handle disruptions appropriately and problem solve at the moment will be a great asset to your family. Behaviors can change quickly with children who have experienced significant trauma and their inability to express themselves or cope with a specific situation might be caused to send you into a tailspin.
- As mentioned above in Open Mindedness, rigid parenting styles are often a recipe for disaster when fostering. If a child is having a tantrum in a moving car, your only option may be to pull the car over and sit idle for a while, a long while. This disruption will most likely have a domino effect on schedules, arriving at your destination on time, and possibly the behaviors and attitudes of other children or adults in the vehicle.
Saying goodbye is difficult. Loving someone means taking a risk. If a child learns to trust and attach to you, they will be able to take those skills into future relationships. That is a wonderfully, powerful thing. Will it be hard? Absolutely. Will it be worth it? Most definitely. You have welcomed a child(ren) into your family and given every bit of yourself so a child might have hope and experience healing. Managing the loss of your foster children will be personal and it will be difficult. You will be changed forever because of your experience and your heart will be missing a tiny piece that you chose to give to a child that needed it more. Many foster parents say that the goodbyes make them stronger and for many, relationships continue after the child leaves your care.
If you have the ability to adapt to a variety of situations that will arise, have a dependable support system, are surrounded by positive relationships, have a flexible schedule and an open mind then it might be time to take the next steps towards beginning the process to become a foster parent.