The Importance of a Foster Parent Support Network

Foster Parent Support Network
Learn why a support network is vital for foster parents and how you can help even if you aren't called to foster.

Every foster parent deserves to have a network of support. Engaging with foster care is challenging. Foster parents sacrifice time and energy to care for children from hard places. If you are considering becoming a foster parent or currently are a foster parent, be intentional about seeking support. And if you are not called to foster right now, find practical ways to support the foster parents in your community.

Foster Parents Need a Support Network

I recently started teaching at new foster parent trainings, and I have really enjoyed meeting prospective foster parents, answering their questions, and getting to know them. For two years, I have also mentored new foster parents through a mentorship program.

With both perspective foster parents and new foster parents, one of the first questions I ask is, “How many foster parents do you know?” This is quickly followed by a second question: “How supportive are your family and friends of you becoming a foster parent?”

Frequently I get the response, “I follow some people on social media, but I don’t know many foster parents personally.” I also often hear, “I think my family will be supportive once I actually get a child.”

But up to 50% of foster parents quit within the first year. Why?

One of the main reasons is the lack of a support network. I’ve seen this lack of support network in my professional career teaching prospective foster parents, mentoring new foster parents, and in my personal life as a “seasoned” foster parent.

So what can we do to ensure fewer foster parents quit within the first year?

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To the Prospective Foster Parent

To gather the support network needed for fostering, start before becoming a foster parent.

Get Specific

Ask specific things of specific people so you will get specific help.

Here is a comment foster parents frequently hear: “Hey, I heard you were becoming a foster parent. That’s great! Let me know if I can help at some point.”

As a foster parent, it is important to resist the urge to respond, “I will let you know.” Instead, say, “I’m looking for people who can commit to babysitting once a month so we can go on date nights. Can you do that?” Be specific!

Learn From Others
Foster Parent Support Network

But it’s not just about gathering people to help. It’s also about gathering resources.

Surround yourself with foster parents and serve them before becoming a foster parent yourself. You will learn so much about the system, what support looks like, and general wisdom from people who have walked the fostering journey.

Understand Trauma

Find a therapist and/or a couples therapist before starting foster care. Trust me: you will need therapy. Start reading books on trauma and trauma-informed parenting before you become a licensed foster parent.

Prepare in Advance

And do not wait to gather your support network. Do the work of preparing a support team before you actually need the support.

To the New Foster Parent

Even a “seasoned” foster parent like myself needs a support system. Here are ways to take action to ensure you have the support you need.

Build Your Community
Foster Parent Support Network

Continue to surround yourself with foster parents. I wish I could say that most of my support comes from outside of my fostering friends. But in my experience, foster parents take care of each other much more than those outside of the fostering network. Outside of my immediate family, I mostly rely on other fostering families for meals, transportation, and a listening ear.

Therapy is Crucial

Continue to go to therapy. Compassion fatigue and secondary trauma are common, and many foster parents are surprised at their own childhood trauma that comes back to the surface while fostering. It’s important to seek professionals to deal with these serious emotions and memories.

Continue to Learn

Continue to read books on trauma and trauma-informed parenting. Take advantage of all the training offered through the state to keep up your fostering license.

Keep Asking for Help

Finally, continue to ask specific people for specific things. Some foster parents I know have made a private group on Facebook for friends that have said they wanted to help. The foster parents then post specific needs on that page. Do not try to do it all.

To Those Who Want to Support Foster Parents

If you currently cannot be a foster parent but want to help, there are many ways to get involved.

Foster Parent Support Network
Prayer is Powerful

First, pray. Pray privately for foster parents during devotions. And pray with foster parents when you see them.

Take Initiative

Next, don’t ask. Just do. You do not need an invitation to be a part of the support network for a foster parent. Send them a gift card for dinner, find out the child’s shoe size and bring them new shoes, or gather a few people to raise support for a zoo membership for the foster family. There are so many options!

Foster parents are overwhelmed. They report to social workers, therapists, CASA volunteers, attorneys, and supervisors. I can get so overwhelmed with caring for the needs of my kids that I have no voice left for my own needs. It always means so much to me to receive a card or dinner or someone offering to watch my kids without me having to ask.

Be Kind and Compassionate

Finally, the biggest way to help is to be understanding and kind to the children in a foster family’s home. Chances are that if you knew the whole story of the child, your heart would break. But most likely, the foster family cannot share the whole story or any part of the story.

Pray for us, practically help us, and be kind and understanding to us and the kids we serve. That is the support network a foster family needs.

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My Own Story

I almost quit fostering in the first year. I had said goodbye to four kids in four months, and I was exhausted. On top of that, I was fed up with a system that I felt was so broken that it was breaking me. And I felt isolated from my friends, who did not understand the immense grief I was going through. Many decided to outright ignore it.

But God (doesn’t every life-changing sentence start with that?) gently held me, guided me, and gave me the strength to continue on.

God did much of this work through my family, friends, and other foster parents that did support me so well. It’s because of this support network that I have been able to foster eight kids in four years.

Fostering takes a huge support network! How will you be a part of it?

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