When my husband and I were becoming foster parents, I looked all over for sites and books that would talk more about the practicals of foster parenting. I could find all kinds of feely stuff about foster parenting, but what I wanted was a guide to tell me how best to prepare my house and my life for 0-2 children ages 0-6 who are Basic Level care (this is what we were licensed for at the time, now it is 0-4 children ages 0-6. Yikes!) I found nothing so I thought I would write a blog about the things Matt and I do when we are on the open list and how we have prepared for children in five hours or less.
1) Have some funds ready - Unless you are the type to have a car seat and bed and high chair in every size, it is pretty hard to have all the gear because our age range is 5 years. Sometimes we have a stockpile of giftcards or a savings account with some extra money. These kids typically come with nothing so you will need stuff and the state subsidy does not come through for a while. We use this to buy the bigger stuff. For example, when we got the call for our most recent placement, we needed a full size bed and mattress. We had some money saved up and ran to Big Lots and bought one. With our first placement, we had a stock pile of gift cards to go buy 2 car seats and 2 high chairs. We try to replenish the savings, pay off the credit card etc. once their subsidy comes in, but be prepared to spend up front. This is stuff we try to purchase before the kids come. When we get a placement call, we try to find out the childrens' sizes, (even if you only know ages, buy a little bit bigger (easier to fit a kid in pajamas that are too big than too small) We go to the store, get a couple of pairs of pjs, some day clothes, a couple of age appropriate toys (if we don't have any), kid friendly food (chicken tenders, waffles, apple juice) diapers if needed, toothbrushes, etc. This gets us through the first couple of days, because we usually lay low for about two days.
2) Have a "go team" - these are people ready at a moment's notice to bring you stuff you didn't know you needed. With our most recent placement they were both pretty traumatized and were having a hard time speaking. When "T" finally did speak, he said " I want Cars pull ups"...And so you shall have them. I wanted him to know that this was a place where he would be provided for and that he could communicate wants and needs and that he would not be punished. So we texted the Shackletts, and as always, they came through in the clutch. Your "go team" should be people who are ok with dropping stuff on the porch, passing it through a door and not being invited in to meet the kids just yet. We find it important to limit visitors the first couple of days so as to not overwhelm the already traumatized kiddos. Ideally, this group of people is small and geographically close and have been told that you are expecting a placement (i.e. family, close friends).
3) Tell people - When we get a placement, we tell our community (through text messages, facebook, and email). We are incerdibly blessed to have a huge community that belives in and supports our ministry in foster care. There are a few practical reasons, yet mainly this is for spiritual and emotional provision. When we got the call that T and J were being removed, we were told that the situation had become volatile that the children were barricaded in the house and that police were involved in the removal. I sent out a text to our close friends and family and they immediatly started praying. Each time we have had a placement, we have had our community praying for the children and for us during the time of transition. We belive this is vital to our success as foster parents. It has also been been crucial to tell our community because they have cleaned out their childrens toys and clothing, they have provided meals, giftcards, formula, diapers, and other supplies. This helps during those first days of transitioning children into our family. It so helpful to not have to worry about the practicals, every time a child has come to say in our home, I have been floored by the outpouring of love, support and provision.
4) Receive - Be willing to accept help, to accept items that are needed, and maybe even not needed at the time. Not everyone is called to be a foster parent, but allowing others to help, receiving their blessing allows them to be a part of your ministry in a major way. We always marvel at how our friends and family show up for us and for the kids we are caring for. I honestly don't know if we could do this without the community that we have!
I know this is not an exhaustive list of everything that could be done to prepare but it is what has helped us. Feel free to add any other suggestions in the Comments. I would love to hear them! Also ask any questions you think of.