Encourage Director, Jessie Berry, MSSA, LISW-S, reflects on what makes a foster parent successful.
“So, why are you here? What are your expectations?”
Following introductions, these are the very first questions I ask all the folks who attend Encourage’s Foster Parent 101: Orientation. The class breaks up into small groups and participants introduce themselves and share why they’ve chosen to attend. Looking around the room I see husbands rubbing their sweaty foreheads and wives leaning in… smiling and sharing. Then members of the groups share their answers with the group at large while I write their comments on the white board. Their answers are always both humbling and thought-provoking.
“We’re here because we felt God put it on our hearts to care for kids locally.”
“We’re here because our pastor shared the need one Sunday morning, and we felt we could do something about it.”
“We’ve raised our own kids. We hope to adopt an older youth into our home.”
“Our son is friends with another boy at school who’s in foster care and he’s not in a good place. We’d like to see if we can take him in and be a part of our family.”
Next, I lead the class into a discussion on expectations. Most in the group don’t know how to answer this question because they simply don’t know what to expect. This is the part I love most about teaching new folks.
Diving deeper into the conversation, I discuss the attributes of a successful foster parent. You can see the look on everyone’s faces that while they don’t know what to expect, they also don’t want to fail. They came here for personal reasons, and they want to invest eternally in the life of a child.
So–what traits do successful foster parents possess? You could google it and find some decent answers online. I’ve gone a step further and interviewed our Encourage families and foster care staff and compiled a list of traits and qualities one needs to truly positively influence a child.
First and foremost: foster parents are adaptable and flexible.
They roll with the punches and don’t give into power plays with their youth. They frequently let their foster child(ren) have the last word. They have great self-awareness and recognize that everything doesn’t have to become a battle. Some Encourage foster parents say that parenting can’t always be structured with black and white thinking. The gray areas include the reasons why kids do what they do. Foster parents need to be openminded and use genuine empathy–at all times.
Second, successful foster parents are resilient.
They recognize that in working with any youth, they will experience their share of ups and downs. Just because today was a good day doesn’t mean tomorrow will be a good one as well. And so, the opposite is also true. Resilience asks foster parents to bounce back from tough times and start each day with a clean slate.
Third, foster parents must be teachable.
Foster parents who think they know it all because they’ve raised their own kids won’t be open and accessible when social workers give them tips to better connect with youth in their homes. In addition, most of the youth we serve have a permanency goal of returning to their biological homes. Successful foster parenting involves supporting the youth’s biological family. This might mean foster parents will be asked to call or text a bio-family about their child. Some of our best foster parents even have their youth call their bio-parents to talk about their day. It means so much to bio-parents when they feel that the foster family is for them.
Fourth, successful foster parents recognize the impact of trauma on the youth in their home.
There are usually reasons behind their actions—often times youth come to foster homes with unseen baggage. Foster parents work to develop genuine trust and connection so that these youth will feel safe and in time, open up their baggage. And when they do? Foster parents will be there to support them through it. It might involve a few sleepless nights and a call to the local police when they choose to run away from their problems. But foster parents are always there being the ones who never give up. They seek out guidance regarding what is best for their child. They take advice from social workers and provide information to the treatment team and advocate for their child. They reach a place where they can honestly relay the trauma rather than the “bad” behavior.
Fifth, and final, successful foster parents take good care of themselves both emotionally and physically.
They have good balance in their own lives. This also means planning in advance. Husbands need to care for their wives and plan time away from all that goes on at home. I know one couple who shared that they go to Target and just go up and down the aisles. They say they feel like they’re on vacation when they do! We know that couples who stay connected with each other, and most importantly, with God daily, will lead happy and productive lives. They attend church and let each other know they are lifting each other in prayer. Not everything has to be about their foster youth.
The need for foster parents increases along with the number of children in county custody. We believe in supporting our foster parents so they can be successful in what God is calling them to do. Encourage hosts in depth foster parent pre-service training multiple times each year. Visit our training page for information and contact Heather Huebner, Recruitment and Engagement Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330.462.1118 with your questions.