For us, the decision to open our home and lives to foster care wasn’t only a parent decision. Sure, my husband and I were the ones that officially signed up for foster care classes, but we believe foster care is a family ministry. We wanted our littles and bigs to be on board with bringing another child into our home. By becoming a foster family, we knew that meant we’d be opening our space and hearts to more children. We knew our kids would have to do that too.
Before we ever said “yes” to our first placement, we wanted to make sure we were setting ourselves AND our kids up for success. For us, that meant evaluating our health as a family.
Your family culture will play a big part in your success as a foster family.
How can you start creating a healthy culture as a family now?
Determine family rules together.
Rules for a child can feel, well, restrictive. Add in another child to the mix and your current kiddos might feel reactive. Setting family rules and learning family member boundaries before you accept your first placement will help your family be more successful when the hard days arrive. Be proactive. What do you want to stand for and live by as a family? Plus, if you establish guidelines prior to a placement and your kids are used to the rhythm, they become great teachers for new ones coming into your home. You don’t have to be the only model as the parent; your children will be too!
Know your family’s limits.
What number is right for your family? How many children can you add to your family? What situations are you most prepared for or completely unprepared for? Determine what’s going to be best for your family and then stick to it. If you agree as a family to only take one child, then only take one child. If your car can only hold two more, then stop at two more. If your forever kids like the current birth order, then don’t agree to take children older than them. If you stretch beyond your limits or go outside the family boundaries, you will break the trust of your children. Remember, this is a family ministry.
Let your kids learn alongside you.
As you go to foster care classes as parents, come home and teach your children what you learned and let them be a part of the conversation from the start. Take time to discuss scenarios and ask how they would respond. Of course, you and they might not know exactly how they would respond to every scenario, but it’s a conversation piece. It’s preparing their hearts and minds. This is a great way to gauge what your family limits may truly be. Learn the foster care community around you, meet other foster families, find resources to help support your family, and make it a team effort.
Learn new ways to handle behaviors.
Discussion is great. Take it one step further. Make a plan together of how you will respond to behaviors you may encounter and practice it as a family. Role-playing is vital in dealing with behaviors your family may have no experience with. Sometimes our kids need to be given and practice the words they will use or the action they will take. Like a fire drill, the plan may never actually be put into motion for a real event, but at least they will know what to do should it ever occur. It is good to discuss safety too. What will happen if a child is hitting, spitting, lashing out verbally, or threatening you? Talking about, teaching, and role-playing is important in building and keeping trust and safety.
Make it a point to have one on one time with all of your family members.
Children who have experienced trauma may require a lot of time and attention. Make it a priority to give individual time to not only your new child but also your spouse and other children. Be creative when it feels like you have no time to give. Make a journal for your children to write in and leave on your bed if there isn’t time to talk so that they can write a secret message to you. Then find time to follow up with them or write them back. A nighttime routine is helpful and a great time to have one on one time with each child. Use that time to pray through concerns and praises! Maybe you could do monthly breakfast dates, have family game nights, or let one child help with something you are already doing like cooking dinner. Take opportunities in little moments. It doesn’t have to be a big grand adventure.
Invest in your family’s health. Your kids will notice, even if they don’t always verbalize it. Your family culture matters—before you take your first placement and even if you’re already in the thick of it.
Shannon is a wife and busy mother of four with a passion for serving and helping others. After experiencing the foster care system as a foster mom, her eyes were opened to the needs of the foster care community. She is excited to serve with the TFI National team in an administrative support role, as well as continue to support her local foster care community in the volunteer TFI Advocate role with her husband, Aaron.
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