Five Tips for Building A Foster Parent Support Network
May 22, 2019
Foster parents play a critical role in ensuring the well-being of children in their care. They provide a safe, temporary home for children and youth while their parents or caregivers learn new skills and work to address safety concerns. While fostering can be an incredibly rewarding experience for foster parents, it can also be challenging and stressful. A strong support network is key to ensuring foster families are resilient and successful in their work to care for Colorado’s kids and strengthen families.
We recently spoke with Renee Bernhard about the supports that many foster parents need. Renee is the co-founder and executive director of Foster Source, a Colorado non-profit organization that provides foster parents with support, services and resources to help them foster better and longer. Renee also recently co-founded Colorado Foster Hub along with five other Colorado non-profits - The Closet Cooperative, Foster Family Assist, Foster Together, Fostering Great Ideas and Meghan’s Wish. Most of these non-profits were founded by foster parents who saw gaps in the supports that were being provided for foster parents.
Renee shared some insights about the supports that foster parent need in order to thrive. Here are her top five, in no particular order:
- Follow along. Many organizations that support foster parents have an active presence on social media. Follow those accounts to ensure you are accessing all of the offered resources. For example, Foster Source is always promoting free family activities on its Facebook page. These events provide more than just fun activities. They are also an opportunity for foster parents to meet other foster parents, and for the children in their care to experience a family outing and meet other young people in foster care.
- Join a support group. Foster parent support groups offer a safe space to share concerns, challenges and successes with other foster parents. No one will understand what your journey is like better than another foster parent. Friends and family are well meaning and will offer support, but other foster parents will connect with the emotional ups and downs that impact your family. Support groups give foster parents a chance to connect with each other to listen, speak and exchange useful information. Find one near you on the Foster Source events page, through the county or child placement agency that certified you, or refer to this resource from The Adoption Exchange.
- Ask for help. Being a foster parent can be demanding. Thankfully, there are many people in your community who are eager to help you – just ask. Neighbors and friends can organize a meal train to help with dinnertime. Extended family could help with laundry duty. Local non-profit organizations that support foster families can help with respite care. Foster Together can match you with a “Foster Neighbor” to deliver a meal and provide other support. Foster Family Assist can reimburse you for an evening of respite, and Fostering Great Ideas can match your child with a local mentor. No one can do this alone. Once you ask for the support you need, you may find that it comes in spades.
- Access donated items. Children often come to foster homes with very little notice, and the foster parents are not always equipped with the necessary equipment such as car seats, strollers, clothing, etc. for the child. Rather than taking on the financial burden of acquiring these items, connect with organizations that will provide you with them free of charge. For example, Meghan’s Wish provides children entering a new foster home with a tote bag of clothing, toiletries, toys, books and a card of encouragement from various community members. The Closet Cooperative alleviates the pressure of buying clothes for children so that caregivers can concentrate on providing the things that children need most - love and support.
- Team up. All parents need a break every now and then, and foster parenting can be hard work. Find a foster parent in your area with whom you can exchange respite care. Having a trusted ally to ensure you can take a break on occasion and knowing you are helping them in exchange is both refreshing and relaxing. If you’re following along on social media, participating in a support group, asking for help and for the donated items you need, you will befriend other foster parents. Ask these foster friends to provide respite and be sure to offer it in return.
While no tip will make the foster parent journey an easy one, a strong support network can help relieve the burden and make it even more rewarding.