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What to Expect as a New Foster Parent: 7 Crucial Aspects to Prepare For

Parents with foster daughter preparing sandwiches for breakfast together standing in the kitchen

If you’re considering becoming a foster parent, KVC Missouri is here to support you! While foster parenting can come with challenging moments, it can also be a profoundly meaningful and joyful experience.

It’s perfectly normal to experience a wide range of emotions when stepping into the role of a new foster parent, from excitement to worry and everything in between. Here are seven crucial aspects every new foster parent should prepare for.

Expect Reunification

It’s important to remember that the ultimate goal of foster care is safe reunification. While reunification isn’t the reality for every child, foster parents should approach their role with the expectation of providing a temporary home while supporting a connection between the child and their biological family as they work toward reunification. 

Group of diverse foster family and biological family having fun at an outdoor dinner party on a warm Summer evening.

Currently, Missouri is grappling with a welfare crisis, as the number of children in foster care exceeds the number of available foster parents. However, recent data indicates a downturn in the number of children in foster care, from 14,265 in 2021 to 12,790 in August 2023. This trend is likely due to the increased focus on family preservation services, which aim to prevent children from entering foster care altogether. 

Studies show the many benefits of children safely reuniting with their families. Foster parents must keep in mind that reunification remains the primary goal. To do this effectively, biological parents must commit to the cause and welcome ongoing help from professionals and programs such as KVC’s Intensive Family Reunification Services

Expect to Maintain a Connection to Relationships and Cultural Ties

When a child is removed from their home, family and close-knit community, it’s natural for them to feel lost, alone and uncertain. Because it’s at the heart of reunification, foster parents should expect to help the child remain connected to their biological families. This may include immediate family members and extended relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and more, whenever possible. These relationships are invaluable, and you can play a crucial role in facilitating and nurturing these connections.

Alongside prioritizing kinship relationships, foster parents should embrace cultural awareness by opening themselves up to learning and understanding diverse cultural norms and traditions. Studies show that maintaining connections to familial relationships and cultural practices helps children develop a stronger sense of identity and self-assurance.

Expect Childhood Trauma

Every child has their own unique past, and many have experienced some degree of trauma as they enter into foster care. Many children in foster care have been removed from the care of their biological parents due to neglect or substance use disorder, while others have suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse. 

In the presence of trauma, practicing patience is crucial. Utilizing trauma-informed practices is a simple yet effective way to build trust with the child in your care. Trauma-informed practices aim to acknowledge trauma through positive, proactive and restorative interactions. Here are some common ways to help the child in your care feel safe and begin healing from their past trauma: 

  • Establish a structured and predictable environment so the child in your care knows what to expect.
  • Regularly reassure the child that they are in a safe environment.
  • Begin with clear boundaries and gradually introduce rules.
  • Prioritize thorough and abundant communication.
  • Prepare a welcome basket filled with necessities, snacks and comfort items to help the child feel welcomed and cared for right from the start.

Expect to Need Self-Care

It’s common for new foster parents to feel overwhelmed. It’s completely normal and expected to require more self-care than you might have expected, especially as you navigate numerous new responsibilities and waves of sometimes intense emotions that can be challenging to manage.

Too often, new foster parents overlook the importance of prioritizing self-care as they’re navigating their new responsibilities. However, to be an effective foster parent, your self-care cup must be refilled. To improve self-care practices, you can:

  • Utilize Respite Care: Often provided by the agency you’re working with, respite care is available for foster parents to receive a much-needed break. 
  • Prioritize Sleep: Consistent and quality sleep can be challenging, especially with younger children or those facing medical conditions or other trauma. Make an effort to prioritize adequate sleep to rejuvenate your mind and body.
  • Maintaining Physical Health: Caring for a child when you’re not prioritizing your physical health can make the role more challenging. Focus on consuming a nutritious diet and staying physically active to support both your physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Journal: Write down your feelings and emotions that come up through your experiences. Journaling can serve as a powerful tool for gaining clarity, fostering reflection and tracking events and behaviors in children. 

Expect to Lean on Your Support System

Between the new routines and welcoming a new child into your home, relying on your support system becomes crucial. Having this system of relatives, friends and professional contacts can significantly enhance the fostering experience.

Part of being a successful foster parent is learning when to seek support from those who are there to help and reaching out when additional support is needed. Something as simple as talking to a counselor or therapist can provide valuable coping tools to help you through challenging moments. KVC offers an abundance of foster parent resources and guidance to support you throughout your journey.

Expect an Emotional Rollercoaster

The experience of a child being removed from their home and placed into an unfamiliar home is incredibly difficult. It’s reasonable to expect an emotional rollercoaster — not only for the child but also for the new foster parent.

The child might have a hard time adjusting to new routines, struggle with behavioral challenges or find it difficult to express their emotions. Patience, reassurance and consistency are essential to building a strong relationship between you and the child. 

It’s important and necessary to prepare for an emotional rollercoaster not only for the child but for yourself as well. As you navigate the ups and downs of the foster care journey, you can expect to hit both highs and lows. Be kind to yourself, practice patience, give yourself grace and remember that you’re doing your best for both the child and yourself.

Portrait of happy parents with their adoptive children smiling at camera while resting together in living room at home

Expect Fulfillment, Meaning and Joy!

Foster parenting can be heart-wrenching at times, but it can also bring immense joy! All that matters to us at KVC, and to a child in need, is how much you care. Foster parents provide a safe and loving environment, and for you, it’s a significant opportunity to find personal fulfillment as you show a child the love and care they deserve.

Through fostering, you’ll experience joy and may even discover a deeper sense of purpose. Do you have the heart to foster a child? Say yes, and KVC Missouri will support you every step of the way. Learn more about foster caregiving and how you can make a difference. 

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