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We are often asked what the first steps are to becoming a foster parent. There might never be a perfect time to step into that role, but we also must keep in mind that there is never a perfect time for a child to be placed into foster care either. Some basic guidelines are: that you are able to provide a safe and loving home; that the child will have their own bed and dresser; and (a foster) child over five cannot share a room with a child of another gender. It will typically take around 3-4 months to become certified. A lot of it is dependent on paperwork being completed. Any child separated from their family of origin will experience the trauma of that loss. Even if it is a newborn coming straight from the hospital. We highly recommend that you study how trauma affects brain development and the best ways to connect with children who have gone through this experience. We have a page full of resources here, so do lots of homework first! If you didn’t read the previous step, be SURE to read through as many resources provided as possible.
If you are open to being a transracial foster or adoptive family, it is imperative to think through what your life looks like currently. If you are a white family, does your neighborhood, church, school, and friends mostly resemble you? If so, what changes are you willing to make to ensure that a black/Latino/Asian child would have racial mirrors around them?
One of the consistent heartbreaks that we read from adult transracial adoptees is that they were raised in racial isolation. This has contributed to further trauma in their lives. We recommend reading this book as you consider what this will look like for a child. Yes, a loving home is the most important thing. But you also want to continually make intentional steps so they do not feel further isolated. You must be committed to proper care of their hair and skin if it differs from yours as well. Here are some resources for black hair care.
Remember that as a foster parent you are a part of their story, but their story is not yours to tell. Part of our jobs as foster parents is to protect the dignity and privacy of a child in your care. This means you must commit to not sharing details such as why they were placed in care, if they suffered abuse, and details of their family history or first parents. That is their story to tell if they choose to when they are adults. We must all work together to commit to protecting their life story. As a foster parent, I have often been asked why a child is in care. I simply answer, “those details are private to their story and not for me to share”. If you hear someone oversharing details, don’t hesitate to say, “I think those are private details of that child’s story, so please don’t share.” Be committed to staying connected to the first family. Building bridges of connection with the first family is very important for the good of that child. Trying to establish a positive relationship from the beginning is crucial.
You cannot enter foster care with the goal of an easy path to adoption. It won’t be. The goal of foster care is always first and foremost reunification with the child’s first family or a relative. You must be willing to support that goal from the beginning.
If you are in the Pittsburgh region, the next step would be to connect with a local foster agency. Most agencies have an introductory meeting. We suggest going to several agency introductory meetings so you can get an individual feel of what agency feels best for your family. Keep in mind that foster care is a roller coaster of emotions. There are going to be dips and turns along the way and foster agencies can’t prevent those challenges.
One of the most asked questions is how do you give back a child that you have bonded to during your care for them? It will be hard, there will be heartbreak. We encourage you to focus on what is best for the child. If a child needs a safe and loving home for a certain time and you can provide that, focus on doing all the good you can for the best of that child while you can. There can never be regret in the love and care a child receives while in your home. It will always have an impact on their life.
Here are some agencies in Pittsburgh: