1) I would start small.
We figured we already had one kid (our toddler son), so what's one more? And if we're fostering anyway, why not siblings?
Knowing what I know now, I encourage new foster families to start fostering one child, and accept more children as they are confident in their capacity. Think about the intensity that comes along with each age-range: sleepless newborn, nonverbal toddlers, active preschoolers, school-age kids, teens with more freedom and long-term weight on their decisions. Kids in foster care can have PTSD rates higher than United States military veterans. To love them well, we may need to adjust our sense of normal, and our expectations of day to day life, in order to prepare our homes for their healing process.
I know the need is great, and foster homes often take multiple kids to help keep them out of institutions, but I'd rather not send a kid away from my home, and risk traumatizing them more. I'd rather work harder to recruit my friends in caring for children, than put too much strain within one home.
My friend, Melissa, asks families to consider only adding one child with trauma to a family at a time. Of course, siblings are a special consideration here. But her stories help me understand that it's okay to know our limits. (I also talked with Melissa here.)
If we set our limit at only one child at a time (my family's current standard), the girls may have gone first to a home more adequately prepared for siblings, not needing to move multiple times before going home forever.
Disclaimer: You may have a much higher threshold in your family. We've found that fostering one at a time is what we, as young professionals with a young son, can handle. We have several friends with happy houses FULL of kids, and it works for them. But foster parents who foster one at a time are needed, too.
2) I would build my village and prepare support for our family.
We naively moved 60 miles from home weeks before bringing these girls to our home. New city, few friends, higher cost of living. Stress upon stress. We didn't have an easy place to send our son when he needed to play with toys without fear of being pushed or bitten. We didn't know what childcare centers might have an opening. We didn't have our network of 20 or so friends in our former neighborhood who would have loved to help us. More stories soon on how to build your village, but this article is a great approach for anyone who wants to help a foster parent.
3) I would have met their parents.
I was scared of parents, that first time. I heard intimidating rumors (which would not phase me now) and figured it was best to stay away. I never met them face to face, even though their daughters lived in my home for seven weeks, and visited them twice a week. Frankly, I'm now horrified by the idea that I was acting as mother to someone else's children and never took the opportunity to meet their mom and dad. Regardless of almost any "scary tendencies," I could have requested a safe way to meet and talk with their parents. The older sister told me every day that she missed her mommy, and I wish I'd given her the reassurance that I personally knew how much mommy missed her, too. I remember one day she sent the girls home from a visit with a bag full of gifts and a note that said, "Say thank you to the family who is taking care of you, and be good." She could tell the girls were taken care of. I could have sent a note back, at the very least.
Now I know that meeting the parents can help a case in a few ways.
First, when kids see a positive relationship between their current caretaker (foster parent) and their primary attachment figure (often mom or dad), they can relax, feeling a little less blind-sided by the sudden change. If mom or dad is positive in response to the foster parent's outreach, the child might see that trust as "permission" from mom or dad to develop and grow in the foster home.