As promised, here is the part regarding fostering children! I know I’ve left pieces out, so please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Please also read the first part of this post on tips for foster parents. These are all things I would have loved to know before I started fostering. What are some things you wished you knew?
About Fostering Children
- Most kids are in the middle. People will tell you all kinds of crazy things, when really the crazy thing is they have NO EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER! I don’t mean to shout, it just kills me when I am offered advice and the person giving it has never dealt with it or even knows anyone directly… their cousins, best friends sister does it and WOW did they have a HORRIBLE experience. Sorry that is not a direct connection. What I mean by ‘most kids are in the middle’ is that most kids are neither perfect nor are they absolute terrors. I would say we are lucky, we have four GREAT kids, and I really mean great! They have their issues, but for some reason I don’t notice because, well, I am in love.
- Ask for assistance whenever it’s available! As a foster parent, you probably have a tremendous amount of resources available to you. USE THEM. Don’t feel bad about it! I did when I first started, I felt bad every time I asked for help paying for things. In IL, we have WIC (Women, Infants, Children). Kids 0-5 can get vouchers for FREE food, and foster kids are eligible to receive WIC benefits! I felt SO guilty walking into the health department to sign up for WIC… 18 months later, I laugh at myself. WIC is for the kids, not for us. They give you formula, cereal, bread, peanut butter, milk, beans, bananas, oatmeal, babyfood, brown rice, tortilla shells, and more… and while I didn’t buy everything on the vouchers, it was a good supplement. We also were able to get a clothing voucher when they first came into care, as well as an equipment voucher, free school lunches, paid daycare if you work and can prove it and more. There are a ton of resources, seek them out and use them.
- Go for a tour: Before you start taking in kids, go on a tour of the local schools, day care centers, parks, and be on the lookout for all the great childrens activities in the area. Check it all out so you know where to go and who to talk to.
- Educational Advocate. As a foster parent, you need to do more than just babysit, you are their educational advocate. Monitor those grades, ask the teachers for assistance, get an IEP, speech therapists, developmental therapists, ask for tutoring, ask for extentions, ask for special equipment… the state covers costs like these (at least they do in IL). Everything else is falling apart on these kids… don’t let their education fall apart. They deserve every chance they can get!
- Go Shopping! When you first take kids into your home, you can do all the prep in the world… but there is no way you will have everything they need. Plan on most of these kids coming to you with absolutely nothing. If they do come with stuff, it’s likely the items won’t fit, are in poor shape, or are really dirty. Within the first 24 hours take those kids shopping! They will more than likely need stuff! Clothes, toiletries, food, toys, books, blankets, a little something to make their rooms feel more homey! They will appreciate this! Especially older kids. My older two told me they didn’t need anything but I dragged them to Target anyway saying we needed new sheets and found out they didn’t have tooth brushes, deodorant, toothpaste, a razor to shave with and a few other essentials. One of them was rather shy about it, he was nevous about how much money I spent on him. How many of us ever had a complete stranger just buy you a bunch of stuff. Probably none of us. But this is a great way to help your kids feel comfortable which will be desperately needed.
- Open your mind! In the foster parenting world, you will come across people from all walks of life. You will quickly find out that everyone does things in their own way. This does not make them wrong. Your child may only know one way, and being in your home may be a culture shock to him or her. They may not be used to bed times, regular meal times, or any kind of structure. The food you make normally may not be what he or she is used to. The way you keep your home may be different. They may just be shocked that you actually care about their school work and talk to them about it. The best thing you can do is try to make them feel at home, buy the foods they like or are used to… even if it’s not something you normally eat or does not jive with your organic lifestyle. Find out about their culture, and routines and see if you can make them feel comfortable by including their culture into your lifestyle.
- Set the mood! On intake night try to create a calm environment for the kids to come into. Is there enough lighting or too much? Do you have some soft calm music playing? What does your home smell like? I am a big fan of Essential Oils, and one of my favorite scents is Young Living’s Peace and Calming, it’s not too strong and very pleasent. You can also have some cookies baking, or throw in a frozen pizza because what kid doesn’t like pizza? The kids may be hungry, but if you make something and they don’t want it, don’t be offended. They may still appreciate the effort. Just be aware of how your home will feel to a complete stranger. Be aware of the fact that your home may include things that could be potential triggers and be ready to make a change whenever necessary. Take them on a brief tour, show them the kitchen, tv, bathrooms, and bedrooms, then let them unpack and unwind (if older). If you have younger kids, get some toys out and help them put their things away.
- What to prep in advance at home. Depending on what age range you asked your agency for, you can do a little bit of prep work before any kids come over. At first we asked for an age range of 0-5, we did not care about the sex or race. Here are some of the things that work well for little ones that we purchased in advance. Remember you can always go garage saleing for a lot of this stuff! I did!
- Furniture: We went to IKEA and got bunk beds and a crib, and neutral room decor, we already had a dresser that worked for the room. IKEA is perfect for genderless bedroom decor that is colorful and fun! We painted the room a calm blue, and the colors were blue, lime green, and burnt orange. We figured we could make minimal changes to make the room more appealing to a girl or a boy. You can absolutely find great used furniture at garage sales, just get a new mattress.
- Car Seats: With a car seats! NEVER BUY USED! Here are some great tips about car seats, READ THEM… just trust me. You can also visit your local fire department or police department for help installing the car seat. I spent the more time than necessary worrying about the darn car seat… what do I get that will fit a newborn and a 5 year old… well they do make such an animal. I ended up purchasing the Chicco Nextfit. This thing is amazing! It’s like it’s own spaceship. Super easy to install, fits newborn to nearly out of the seat. It reclines easy, will go frontways or backwards. My only complaint is that it’s too heavy… but most convertable car seats are. It’s not cheap but it’s the only car seat you will ever need! Get on the list for coupons at your local baby store and make sure you get a discount.
- Books & Toys: We also got a few generic toys in primary colors like legos, a pop up tent and tunnel, a bead maze, a Walk N’ Ride, some stuffed animals, and a few other things. These were all obtained at garage sales or second hand stores. I was lucky to find an in home daycare that was going out of business, she had some great things for cheap. Everything that I purchased was safe for that age range, and we stuck with primary colors. Don’t get too many things, the items I listed should keep kids busy for a little while. For books, I did snag a couple on Amazon, but I also scored a bunch of great books at the local library sale… an entire paper grocery bag full for $5!
- Feeding: I would recommend getting a variety of all different kinds of cups. Sippy cups, formula bottles, open cups, cups with straws. I love the Kalas Tableware from IKEA, the set includes plates, open cups, bowls and flatware.
- Clothing: I wouldn’t get too crazy with the clothes… you just never know what to expect. If you really want to you could invest in plain sweat pants, and t-shirts in every size. But in all honesty it’s better to wait.
- Health & Personal Care: I would have some medications on hand, these are the ones I find I use a most often. Childrens Tylenol (make sure to get recommended dosages from your doc), and Childrens Ibuprofen (you can stagger the dosages!). Vicks Vaporub, and a cold air humidifier. I would also recommend a probiotic, bandages, Pedialyte, and a Thermometer. You will really want to be sure and get a Lice elimination kit as well, every child you take in should be checked right away for lice. I really like the power tooth brush for kids, they help stimulate the gums which can help kids with speech, and of course childrens toothpaste!
- Essential Oils: I am a hippie and love Essential Oils. And for little kids this is a godsend on so many levels. Little kids often cannot take over the counter meds, and you will hear your doc say the most frustrating thing you can hear “It’s Viral”, which is code for ‘we can’t do anything to help you, sorry’. I have written a seperate post HERE where you can learn more. There is a lot of information, and if you are curious and want to give it a try, I hope that my article will help you.
- Amazon Prime: You will notice there are a lot of Amazon links above! Do yourself a big ole favor and sign up for prime now! You get free two day shipping, stream all the kids shows you could ever want, and rent books for free! What more could you possibly ask for! THEN you can put diapers, formula, wipes, and other essentials on auto ship and get an even bigger discount. I can’t tell you all the times I was too lazy to go to the store with two toddlers (toddlers in stores gah!), we’d rather play and have fun. You can also sign up for Amazon Family and save 20% on your diaper subscription as well as many other savings opportunities.