Fostering is a tough decision to make; it brings with it joys and trials like any kind of parenting holds. While vastly rewarding, it holds certain challenges. The following are seven resources every foster parent should have.
A Fostering Mentor
When you know someone who has already journeyed the path of fostering and/or adoption, that person can be an amazing resource for foster parents. Parenting, in and of itself, is a challenge. For new parents, knowing whether or not a behavior or quirk in personality is normal can be tricky. This is particularly true in foster parenting. Attachment in fostering can appear quite different than in those traditional parenting scenarios. When experiencing these differences, they can be worrisome or confusing. Having a mentor in your life, someone of whom you can make queries known or to whom you can voice concerns is vastly helpful. A mentor can assuage your fears and reassure you that things are proceeding normally and help find other resources when situations call for them.
A Library of Helpful Books
These include Dr. Karyn Purvis's The Connected Child, which is a must-read for parents looking after children with attachment issues, inabilities to bond healthily, or other disorders; Beyond Consequences, Logic, & Control by Heather T Forbes, which answers how to discipline children when they are acting out of their trauma, and A Different Beautiful, by Courtney Westlake, whose infant girl had a rare skin disorder from birth. Other books are The Mystery of Risk, by Ira J. Chasnoff, M.D., an expert who is world-renowned on the topic of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Twenty Things Adoptive Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge, who was herself adopted.
A Child Therapist with the Right Experience
It is not unusual for parents to feel that seeking the help of a professional therapist or counselor means that they have failed in some way. This is categorically untrue. Foster children benefit from experiencing a safe place in which they can work through some pretty complicated feelings. Loss is inherent in fostering and adoption. Sometimes those feelings of loss can result in the child feeling less secure in a parent/child relationship. Do not be afraid to help the child through this grief and offer support in the best ways possible. Visiting an experienced therapist who is trained in attachment-based therapy will assist in strengthening the connection between you and your child.
A Pediatrician Trained with Fostering and Adoption
The reasons behind your child being placed in foster care and the previous living conditions might well influence this or her health, especially when children are coming to you from care that is post-institutional. You require a pediatrician that views the child's fostering narrative as a possible underlying cause to whatever medical conditions may be present. Sometimes a foster child's internalizations of loss and grief are manifested through medical conditions, physical behaviors, gastrointestinal issues, and emotional disturbances. These are regularly seen in foster children and adoptees and in this case, treating both the symptom that is visible and the cause that underlies it is of vital importance.
A Respite Caregiver
Respite is a term often used in caregiving communities that means to have a break, a short period of relief or rest from a task or tasks that are unpleasant or difficult. Parenting can be both of those things, and all parents need breaks here and there. All parents can feel guilty about this. This is misplaced. Some foster parents do not wish to confess to their feelings being exhausted and overwhelmed; avoiding asking for the help they need out of aversion to being judged. Allowing a qualified babysitter, close friend, or family member to tend your child while you relax results in you being a refreshed, refueled, and revitalized caregiver to your child. Your child requires you to be emotionally and mentally healthy more than he or she needs you to be in their presence for the full 24 hours in a day.
A Supportive Community
This community might be online, a support group, a church, close relatives, or a warm neighborhood, but we all require people about us who we know will be there for us in times of need and to share with us in joyful times. These groups can also often be drawn upon as sources for respite times and for recommendations of qualified experts.
A community is not the only resource to be found online. While the internet often has hate and negativity, it also has understanding and love in the right places. Look for people who have been where you are in the fostering journey. Here you might find a fostering mentor or someone in need of your expertise that you can help and pay it forward.
Brittany Waddell is a contributing writer and media specialist for Youth Villages. She often produces content for a variety of foster care blogs.