There are over 420,000 youth in the foster care system across the country, and over half of them will find themselves living without mom or dad for a year or more. Even if the youth was removed from their home due to neglect or abuse, this separation is still a difficult time in their lives. It’s little wonder, then, that so many youth in foster care struggle with adverse childhood experiences and mental health challenges.
The physical and emotional trauma experienced by foster youth presents unique parenting challenges for foster or fost-adopt parents (now known as Resource Parents in California and other states). When someone finds themselves as part of the foster care community and in need of a home, what can you as a Resource Parent do to help them? What steps can you implement to make the transition into your home as smooth as possible? Here are five steps to consider:
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. The more you know about a person, their likes and dislikes, and what makes them tick, the better you are able to help them in the forthcoming transition. Try to learn as much as possible about the foster youth and their situation before they live with you. Be proactive and assertive in asking questions that are important to you, your family and your community.
Gather information and insights from a wide variety of stakeholders and caretakers in this youth’s life. Social workers and caseworkers are of course a great place to start, but, when applicable, consider communicating with teachers, neighbors, family members, clergy members, friends, etc. It takes a village to raise a child, so coordinating with the youth’s pre-existing village beforehand may be advantageous.
If possible, talk with the youth in foster cate directly to get to know them better. What do they like? What are their expectations and desires? Do they have particular anxieties or fears?
Whether they know it or not, youth in foster care want routines and thrive when they’re established. Routines mean stability, trust and predictability – all things that may have been missing from their lives earlier.
In the beginning, work hand in hand with the youth to establish routines and procedures that work for everyone. Get to know more about what their expectations are, and let them know what you’d like to see.
In these early stages, try to stick to these routines as much as possible. They won’t stick nor will they be effective for everyone if they’re not consistent. Asking for and respecting a youth’s input can go a long way in establishing trust.
Every person has their own unique set of personality traits and circumstances. Take the time to really understand this, and then take appropriate next steps.
Even if you have a particular way of acting around youth or if you have a specific set of youth-rearing ideas in mind, be prepared to be flexible in your approach and outlook. Look at the person in front of you, and then determine the best next steps for you and them. During the certification process and beyond, Resource Parents are exposed to a variety of training and parenting methodologies that will help you establish the most successful strategies for your situation.
Going from living with mom and/or dad to living with a family member or total stranger will likely be a difficult transition for the youth. Some people may seamlessly transition into their new living arrangements within days or weeks while others need months or years. Be flexible, and work with the youth to create realistic goals. If they are struggling in a particular area of their lives, find the necessary resources to help them make a plan and get through the difficulties.
Being a parent is no small feat and that’s especially true of foster and fost-adopt parents. There are a lot of places to find help, including mental health professionals (for both you and the youth), caseworkers, social workers, friends, family members, respite service providers, foster family agencies and many more. Seeking out resources and asking for help will contribute to you being a great caregiver to the youth cared for by you and your family.
Alternative Family Services (AFS) provides thoughtful, informed foster care, adoption and mental health services throughout California’s San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Sacramento region. Since 1978, the mission of AFS has been – and continues to be – to support vulnerable children and families in need of stability, safety and well-being in communities through foster care, adoption and mental health services.