In honor of May being Foster Care Month, I thought I’d share a bit about this important topic that’s near and dear to my heart. A few years ago, I became a foster parent.
When you think about it, even in the best of circumstances, whenever a child is entering into a foster home, there are a lot of emotions going on for everyone involved. On top of that, the process of actually applying to be a foster parent is time-consuming and complicated. Every aspect of your life is evaluated–rightly so since you’re taking a child into your care, but this evaluation means there are lots and lots of hoops you need to jump through.
Having been through the process of prepping my home for bringing a child in under foster care, there are definitely a few things I wish I would have known at the time. My hope is that by offering these tips here, it can help someone else who is either going through the process of becoming a foster parent now or thinking about it. If this can take even a little of the overwhelm off their shoulders, my job is done.
Keep in mind that while you can certainly go well beyond what’s in this post to create an inspiring space for the child you’re fostering, the goal at the moment is to just make sure you’re covering the basics. Remember, you can always do more in the space once the licensing is finalized and the child is with you. For the time being, we just want to make sure they’re safe and as comfortable as possible on Day 1 and beyond.
For starters, when applying to foster a child, the state is going to assess your home for safety. You’ll be required to have certain things in place, without which, your home won’t pass for licensure.
To help you prepare for this aspect of the assessment, I put together a checklist of the items you’ll need. Take a screenshot or right-click on the image and save it to your phone as a jpeg so you’ll have it with you when shopping and you won’t forget anything.
Depending on the age of the child, you either need a crib or a twin-sized bed. Don’t worry about a larger bed than that–twin beds are good for both younger and older children. Make sure the bedding is comfortable to ensure a good night’s rest.
I find a cubby system with baskets or bins works best for clothing and toy storage. For a young child, you won’t have to worry about little fingers getting shut in drawers or closet doors, and the open storage also allows easier access when getting them dressed and putting away clean clothes. Labeling the bins makes for even better organization and easy clean up.
The child may come with favorite toys of their own or trinkets that they’ll want to treat with care and honor. Be sure to provide a special spot for these. A shelf is great for items they may want to display. It’s even more important to give them closed storage such as a nightstand drawer so they can tuck precious items away and keep them safe if they prefer.
As I said earlier, there are lots of emotions a foster child may be experiencing so you’ll want to make them feel as comfortable as possible in your home. That said, you likely won’t know the child’s particular taste and interests so start with gender-neutral colors and minimal décor. For now, focus on the basics (see below) in colors and patterns that can act as a backdrop for more personalized décor later. Once the child comes in and you learn their preferences, you can give them the opportunity to make their space more suited to their unique tastes. I actually urge you to do so, even if they’re only staying with you for a short amount of time because it will help them feel so much more comfortable and at home. Just think how much joy it will bring them, how much safer they’ll feel in your home, and how much trust it will build with you to be able to decorate their space together!
A magnet board (and/or photo album or scrapbook) to keep pics of family and friends, artwork, or schoolwork they’re proud of. If it’s possible and appropriate, helping them display pictures of their biological family members is a beautiful way to help them process their emotions and maintain those connections. It’s so important to display artwork they've created and to swap it out as they create new pieces. This builds trust and connection with you, as well as loads of confidence in themselves.
Desk and chair for schoolwork, arts and crafts, journaling to write down their feelings, or even scrapbooking. Even for smaller children, having a space where they can exercise their creativity is crucial (plus, arts and crafts have therapeutic benefits).
Nightlights for their bedroom, bathroom, and any hallways in between. An older child may be embarrassed to ask for one but a nightlight will help them feel so much more comfortable in this new, unfamiliar environment. By having them installed early on, you'll prevent them from being embarrassed to ask for them if needed.
Ultimately, we want your home to feel safe, welcoming, and personal to the child, but you don’t have to completely overwhelm yourself to make that happen. Just stick with the basics I’ve covered here and what your area’s assessment requires until the child arrives and then work together to make it their own!
On a more personal note, I want to commend you for embarking on this journey. I know the rules often make it feel so difficult that you may want to throw in the towel at times. I also know that you keep moving forward because you’re doing it for the good of a child.
This path you’re walking isn’t easy. It’s complicated and it can be all-consuming, but I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like no one really understands what you’re going through, please reach out to me. Or lean into your resources. There are third-party nonprofits in your area that can help you navigate the practical aspects of fostering a child, as well as resources at the child’s school. I also think therapy–lots of therapy!–is helpful for everyone involved.
Please forward this to someone you think may find this helpful. Need more advice on prepping your home for foster care or just an encouraging word?
anpil lanmou (lots of love),