5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Foster Parent

foster parent

Being a social worker, I see all too often how devastating the child welfare system can be on families.

So, I decided to be a positive part of a challenging system by becoming a foster parent.

My husband and I decided to transform two out of our four bedrooms to be used by foster kiddos of all ages, and began the licensing process shortly after.

After a long six month process, you would think we would be prepared for what we signed up for, right?

Wrong!

We’ve learned so many lessons in just this first year, but there are a few things I wish I would have known before our first placement.

5 Things to Know Before Becoming a Foster Parent

1. There is no “typical” foster family.

You don’t have to have a ton of money, although you do need to be financially stable.

You don’t need to be married or have children of your own.

And you don’t have to own a home.

There are some requirements, of course. But as long as you can provide a stable environment, keep a child safe, have space, and commit to taking care of a child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, you can become a foster parent. After you pass a background check of course! 

2. Not all parents want their children back.

This is really hard to type out and even harder to deal with in reality, but it is something I wish I had been prepared for.

Foster care is complicated, and the reasons people are involved in “the system” are complicated as well. We will never truly have all of the facts and we have to be okay with that.

With empathy and willingness to understand that we will never understand, we must know that some parents do not want to be parents. Some want to be parents to one child over the other. Or maybe they did at the beginning of their journey and now they’ve changed their mind. However you may feel and whatever the situation may, know that it is a possibility. 

3. Have money saved up!

This might be a no-brainer for some people, but when you are a foster parent you will get a stipend per child in your home. This stipend is reimbursed. Meaning all of the extra food costs, transportation, daycare, clothing, bedding, etc. will need to come from your pocket right away.

Save up money before you accept your first placement. 

4. You may feel in the dark about your child’s case.

Many people will become involved in your child’s life once they enter the system. This includes caseworkers, therapists, lawyers, guardians, etc. With so many people involved, information is bound to get lost.

It’s hard to realize how detrimental a lack of information can be until it’s happening to your child. It’s not just miscommunication of appointment times or food preferences, it’s lack of information about accommodations at school, medications, and legal documents.

The foster care system is not perfect by any means. And oftentimes this requires foster care families to take a hands-on advocacy role in their child’s life.  

5. It’s okay to say no.

Whether you are at your capacity, you need a break, it is not a good fit, or any other reason. You have every right to say no and you should say no if you cannot provide proper care. And you don’t need to justify to anyone why you said no. Because at the end of the day you know what is best for you and your family. 

Just know that no matter how many articles you read, pins you save, or welcome baskets you create, there is no way to truly prepare for foster care.

Similar to being a parent, you just have to dive right in! And the beauty of foster care is that there is so much opportunity to truly impact families for good, even if we don’t get everything right the first time.

For more on foster parenting, see Room for More Love: Why We Chose to Become Foster Parents.
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Alexa Dixson-Griggs was born in Houston, TX, but has lived in ND/MN for the greater part of her life. She graduated with a Masters in Social Work from the University of North Dakota and works at a local non-profit in Fargo. She is passionate about social justice for marginalized populations and mental health. Her husband is the Finance Manager for the City of Dilworth. They met attending college at MSUM in 2013 and have one son, two cats, and two dogs, and have recently became licensed foster parents!

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