With more than 430,000 kids in out of home care each year in the United States, we often hear about the need for more foster homes. You might be surprised to learn that the biggest challenge facing the government-run system is not recruitment, but retention of qualified families. Research shows that one- half to two-thirds of foster parents close their homes within a year of getting approved. This can be attributed to several factors including lack of support, inadequate education, and a general feeling that very little value is placed on input from foster families. Nightlight is striving to rewrite the script. Part of our mission statement is to prepare and support families to be committed and effective parents. Our team understands that caring for kids from hard places is especially challenging and having a strong support system in place is crucial.
One of the best ways to ensure success as a foster home is to thoroughly research agency options at the beginning of the process. Look for an agency that provides adequate education as well as access to real, ongoing support services. With smaller caseloads and more focus on the family as a whole, a private agency like Nightlight is better equipped to provide high level post-placement support. Nightlight understands that easy access to a wide range of support services is essential. We view our foster families as partners. In addition to a high-quality initial education, we offer mentoring, round-the-clock support, community, counseling, relevant ongoing education, a lending library of resources, and much more. Foster parents report that they often feel isolated and alone in their struggles, so staying connected can make all the difference.
You will also want to look beyond your agency for those around you that are willing to help out when you need it because respite care on a regular basis is absolutely vital to success for a foster family. Research tells us that more than 1/3 of Americans have considered fostering or adopting. Although some may not be quite ready to take that step, we know that we are surrounded by people looking for opportunities to get involved in other ways. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many churches have adoption and foster care ministries in place that provide a wide range of services from lawn care, to meal deliveries, to parents' night out. The Nightlight team keeps a running list of these resources for families in the areas we serve. Take advantage of opportunities for respite and take time to recharge. Burnout happens fast and is one of the biggest reasons that so many foster families decide to close their homes. You can be proactive and do your best to prevent this by making a list of respite providers in your area so that you have options for quality childcare whenever it’s needed. If possible, ask a supportive family member or friend to attend trainings so that they can become educated on the specialized care that is required.
Being intentional about self-care and making it happen on a regular basis will go a long way toward avoiding becoming overwhelmed and ready to call it quits. Spend time each day doing something that makes you feel good. The reality is that some days there just isn’t time to read a book or go for a run. But something as simple as listening to relaxing music or drinking a warm cup of your favorite beverage can help you recharge. Sprinkle in your favorite sports, playing with pets, listening to a podcast, or journaling throughout your week. Spending time with your Heavenly Father each day is without a doubt the very best way to refocus and fill your heart with hope and joy. This doesn’t have to happen as soon as you open your eyes in the morning. He is there on your commute to work, and when you’re washing your toddler’s hair, and while you’re heating up leftovers for the second time this week.
Just as important as selecting the right agency and making time for self-care is having realistic expectations. The world tells us to steer clear of hard things, but the Gospel tells us something different. Know that this is going to be hard, but don’t forget that it’s also going to be worth it. There are social worker visits, medical and therapy appointments, court hearings to attend, ongoing trainings, and meetings with the biological family. The reality is that these requirements are time consuming, but they are also necessary. It is important to be both prepared and flexible. Look for ways that you can make the most of these requirements and use them to your advantage. Doing your best to develop a positive relationship with a child’s biological family whenever possible will make a huge difference in your experience at visits. Your comfort level with the family will also serve to build trust with the child and nurture your relationship. The same is true with social worker visits. A good relationship with your social worker will make home visit days something you can actually look forward to. The Nightlight team is here to walk beside our families through it all, keeping our eyes fixed on goal of securing loving homes for waiting children and in doing so, bringing glory to God.
By: Leesa Del Rio