Utah is a vast state, and the need for foster parents is just as expansive – we need them in urban areas like the Wasatch Front, and in rural communities as well. I work in the Richfield/Manti area, educating my community about the needs of our area and answering questions from families interested in providing safe, loving homes for children in foster care.
One of the most common questions I get is, what qualities make a good foster parent? After seeing many families deal with the challenges of this important role, I’ve put together my own “Top Ten” list of the attributes I have seen in successful foster families.
- Stability and Consistency: Provide structure, routine and rules. All of us want to know what is expected of us. Once that is outlined, be consistent in your follow through, conversation and action. “Trust is built upon the foundation of consistency.”
- Adaptability: Navigating the child welfare system can be frustrating and confusing. Be adaptive to change and learn to roll with the punches.
- Communicate: As a foster parent, be clear, open, and upfront. Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions and seek to understand. You will be spending a lot of time listening and speaking to your child in foster care, the case worker, the child’s therapist, birth parents, etc. Interacting openly with those involved in the case will start things off in the right direction.
- Empathy: Showing kindness and being aware of the feelings of a child placed in foster care is vital. All kids need to know they are loved, but kids in foster care NEED to feel it, hear it, and see it. Let that emotional connection be felt.
- Support system: You will need someone to talk to, share successes, failures, disappointments, and triumphs. Foster parenting is not an individual sport, it’s a team sport, so build your network. Reach out to others, surround yourself with people who “get it” and will be a resource for you. (Utah Foster Care’s local support groups are a great resource!)
- Acceptance: Kids in foster care come with huge challenges. Learn to accept them as they are. Be welcoming of their past and their biological family. They will always love their birth parents and desire to have a relationship with them.
- Resiliency: With parenting, there is no comprehensive manual, although we could all use one! Don’t give up when things get tough– bounce back from challenges, determined to try harder and do better. Kids deserve someone who is committed and will advocate for them.
- Self-educate: During your journey through the foster care system you will encounter many unknowns. Take classes to educate yourself, this may be on ways to manage difficult behaviors, effective discipline techniques, trauma and attachment.
- Patience, patience, patience: As I sit down to interview prospective foster/adoptive parents, this is the number one advice I give. If you don’t have a patient demeanor, you better find your inner calm before you begin! Be patient as you allow children in foster care the time to adapt to a new environment; sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. EVERYTHING is very different from what he/she is used to.
- Sense of humor: Learn to laugh at yourself, mistakes and misunderstandings. “Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.” As a parent myself, I try to find a reason to smile each day. Try it—a smile is contagious!
If seeing these ten attributes and thinking, “I can never measure up,” let me remind you of another reality: you don’t have to be perfect to be a foster parent. You will need nurturing, just like the children in your home.
We have learned it is critical that foster parents learn how to take care of themselves, and Utah Foster Care offers a village of support services, through foster parent appreciation events and ongoing training. I’d love to tell you more about this and our upcoming classes to prepare you for this important work.
If you have ever considered fostering, I encourage you to call (877) 505-5437 and we can connect you to staff members like me who live and work in your community. We look forward to talking with you soon!
Marissa Douglas is Foster-Adoptive Consultant for Utah Foster Care in Sevier and Sanpete Counties.