We mentioned in our previous article that having a positive perspective and using effective parenting strategies can help to alleviate the pressure of looking after foster children, especially those from traumatic backgrounds, and ensure that your family thrives. Here are a few more tips that might be helpful to you as a foster parent.
Have a role check
Occasionally, one parent may ‘over-function’ as the nurturing parent or the disciplinarian. In these situations, this parent may not allow the other partner to fully participate in the parenting role. A helpful technique is to explore and list which parenting tasks each parent does very well, and which ones are more difficult. The parents can then engage in “role differentiation”, deciding which parent will be the primary parent for particular tasks in caring for the child. This enables the couple to work as a team, share the load, and use their individual strengths to benefit the entire family.
Finding respite care
All parents need a break from the demands of their parenting duties. In particular, foster parents may have especially heavy demands on them, but have fewer options for relief. Some parents may feel that they cannot trust another caregiver, or are unable to find a capable caregiver with the skills to manage their child’s behaviour. They might even feel that their child’s needs are so extreme it would be damaging to leave their child with another caregiver. Yet, finding a feasible form of respite care will pay big dividends in increased patience, renewed energy and commitment. Your child will also receive the recurring message that while you may go away from time to time, you can be counted on to return.
There are several varieties of respite care that you can consider:
Informal respite care
This includes the “tag-team parenting” mentioned earlier. You can also ask a trusted family member or friend to supervise your child while you take a break. A paid babysitter or another foster parent from your support group can also serve as respite caregivers. Most importantly, you will need to find a caregiver who is reliable and trustworthy.
Formal respite care
As you explore respite care options, you might find that there aren’t many potential caregivers who can handle the challenges presented by your child. In such cases, you might opt to use formal respite care through foster care or community services organisations such as MCYC Community Services Society, or programs for developmentally delayed children if your child has special needs.
Respite care can be planned in advance or available for emergency situations following a family crisis. Planned respite opportunities are highly recommended – you might choose to have an alternative caregiver come in once a week or fortnightly to give you time to yourself or for a much needed date-night with your spouse.
Be creative. If you do not find an existing respite care option that works for your family, consider designing your own solution that is tailor-made for your unique circumstances. You might have an arrangement with another trusted foster family to take turns giving each other relief from parenting duties, on a regular basis.
Seeking external help – finding a ‘foster-competent’ therapist
Some families may find that they require assistance from a professional in learning to cope with the challenges of parenting their foster child. It is essential when looking for a skilled therapist to ensure that you find one who is “foster competent” and understands your unique set of family circumstances. Check with the organisation that managed the foster process for your family, as they would be aware of good therapists who work with foster families. Also check with other foster families in your support network if they have therapists they would recommend. A therapist must:
- Be knowledgeable about fostering and the psychological impact of fostering on children and families.
- Be experienced in working with foster children and their families.
- Know the types of help available for foster-related issues and problems.
- Have received some form of training in working with foster families.
Foster parenting is a rewarding journey – one that allows you to open your home and heart to a child who truly needs the security and comfort you can provide. However, it is important to realise that self-care is vital to ensure a successful fostering experience. Using the strategies suggested is a firm step in the right direction to creating a positive, loving and consistent family environment.
This is the last of a two-part series on self-care for the foster parent. Read the first installation here.
Adapted by Focus on the Family Singapore from Wounded Children, Healing Homes – How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families by Jayne E. Schooler, Betsy Keefer Smalley & Timothy J. Callahan. © 2009 NavPress.