One of the questions I am asked frequently is, “Can you be a foster parent if you work full-time?” I hear from all sorts of people who have heard about the foster parent shortage crisis and want to help out, but worry that it would be too hard to keep their job and be a foster parent. So on Saturday, I hosted my weekly Flourishing Foster Parent Coaching Call with Amy, a single woman who was a foster parent for over ten years while also working full-time as a teacher. She shared some wonderful insights and tips to help foster parents who work full-time not only “make it work” but truly flourish, and help the children in their care flourish as well.
Choose an age demographic carefully. When you are a foster parent, you have a say in the ages of the children who come into your care. For Amy, a newborn or toddler was out of the question. She knew she did not have the bandwidth to manage their needs on top of her own work (and sleep) needs. “I took school-aged children, because their schedule worked with my schedule.” This is good news for the majority of children in foster care, where the average age is 8.
Open your home to sibling sets. Amy always took siblings, because she believed it was better for her kids to have someone from their own family there to play with and stay connected with. “I always took two sisters,” she said, “because I know girls and I have two hands. I figured that way, I could always hold their hands when we were crossing the street.”
Involve your village. Amy was 40 years old when she started her foster parenting journey, and her friends and family were a vital part of her support system. “If one of my kids got sick, I would call my mom to help out so I didn’t have to take as much time off work. Once, I got a call to take two girls, and I had an appointment the evening they were arriving, so some friends came and took the girls out to dinner while I was at my appointment.” Amy also turned to her friends for parenting tips or just a listening ear when things were challenging.
Maintain a structured life, including an early bedtime for the kids. I have written about why kids need structure here. Amy described spending time with her kids every night, reading to them and having very positive, connecting time together each evening. Then, once they were asleep, she could attend to her other tasks: meal prep, grading papers, and taking some time for herself.
Hire a house cleaner. This is just one of the ways you can lighten your load so that you have more time to spend with the kids on the weekends. Another tip I have is to order groceries online, which I often do after my kids are in bed.
Limit extracurricular activities to before-school. Amy’s kids often had family visitation twice a week and therapy once a week after school. That did not leave much time for extracurricular activities. So, Amy looked for activities that mostly took place before school, like running cross-country, so her kids could participate without spreading themselves (or her) too thin.
Keep some vacation days for your own mental health. Amy described periodically taking a vacation day when her kids had school. “I would drop them off at school, then go home and have the house to myself for the day. I would get my nails done, meet a friend for lunch, and just have some ‘me time’ before picking them up from school.” She also encouraged taking the full day off on days her kids’ parents had a court date. “I always attended court. I’ve learned as a foster parent that sometimes, attending court is the only way I can get information about how the kids’ case is progressing. I was also able to advocate on my behalf of the kids. A guardian-ad-litem (GAL) would talk with them for thirty minutes every other month or so, but I knew them better than anyone. I always appreciated when the judge invited me to share. Sometimes I would sit with the foster parents of my kids’ siblings, and then we would go out for lunch afterwards. Connecting with other foster parents was really helpful.”
Get to know the school principal and “become his or her best friend.” One of the common concerns for foster parents who work full-time is, “What happens if they act out at school and I have to leave work to deal with it?” Amy was very forthright in dispelling the myth that all foster youth get in trouble at school, saying that her kids mostly loved school and did really well there. That said, she recommended investing in relationships with school personnel and coming up with a plan for the children’s success at school—including advocating to get the kids placed with teachers who would be most likely to be able to support them through challenging behaviors. (If a child’s behavior is consistently problematic, an IEP might be in order, with special education supports in place to help them be successful and stay at school.)
These are just some of the great tips Amy shared with the members of the Flourishing Foster Parent community. If you would like to hear this or any of the other FFP Coaching Calls, they are all part of The Flourishing Foster Parent Resource Library, available to access for $10/month. Click here to sign up!
Photos by Drew Beamer on Unsplash