I received an invitation to speak at a foster care conference in Poland next month. The timing of the event didn’t work out with my schedule, so I had to pass on the opportunity (which I was so bummed about!), but I did record a talk for them to share at the conference.
The organizer who reached out to me asked me to talk about what I think foster parents need in order to flourish. What could make a foster parent’s life easier? What do I wish I had when I was first starting my journey as a foster parent?
As I thought about her questions, I realized that my answer is really simple. It basically boils down to two things.
First, new and prospective foster parents need thorough training in trauma-informed parenting. We get minimal training during the licensing process, but it is not nearly sufficient to prepare us for the reality of parenting children who have experienced significant neglect and trauma. When I think of the mistakes I made, I cringe. Fortunately, we sought help right away and got connected with a parenting coach, who helped us tremendously. But it took years for me to really learn about trauma and neglect and what it does to a child’s brain and development.
Foster parents need tools for parenting children from hard places. Not only do we need to know the ins and outs of brain development and trauma, but we need very accessible, practical tools for how to parent our kids. Safety plans, structured daily routines, tips for interacting with teachers and school administrators, ideas for enforcing boundaries and addressing behavior challenges, etc. are all things that I have learned only after struggling for many, many months, stumbling and fumbling my way through caring for my first few children.
Second, foster parents need moral support. We need to hear “Me too!” and “Same here!” We need to know we’re not crazy, we’re not imagining how hard it is, and, above all, we’re not alone. We need to learn from other foster parents. We need camaraderie with others who know the challenges of caring for kids from hard places—and while we might have other “mom friends” (or “dad friends”) on the playground, only other foster parents truly understand and are able to empathize with other foster parents.
I’ve been contemplating these two needs—education and encouragement—for years now. Since starting my YouTube channel nearly five years ago, I have heard from people all over the world who reinforce my conclusion that what foster parents need most is summed up in these two words.
That’s why I started The Flourishing Foster Parent, my new program aimed at educating and encouraging foster parents. The focus of The Flourishing Foster Parent is our Coaching Calls, which are structured around a 30-minute talk by an experienced foster parent or professional focusing on something relevant to foster parenting, followed by a 30-minute facilitated discussion for everyone on the call. These calls are wonderful opportunities to receive vital training and connect with other foster parents to hear one another’s ideas, share tips, and offer heartfelt empathy.
If you are a foster parent, I hope you’ll consider joining The Flourishing Foster Parent! There will be many opportunities to learn and grow, as well as to be encouraged and supported through the ups and downs.
I’ve offered my thoughts on what foster parents need in order to thrive. What would you add?