Parenting Children in Virginia Foster Care system

Simple parenting skills to help you.

Simple parenting skills to help you.

Strategy to lay down a healthy foundation in your family

Parenting is difficult enough when you are trying to raise your biological children using whatever resources and experiences you have. You may feel unequipped and unprepared for this journey. Parenting children in Virginia foster care is even more challenging, as their background and trauma responses are added to the mix. One of the most significant challenges foster parents face is how to effectively parent children in the foster care system. Rightly so, because it is indeed different from parenting your biological children. The whole “same across the board” mentality of parenting does not apply when parenting children in foster care. It’s similar to being a teacher: no child learns the same way, so you must adjust and individualize your approach. In my experience, some foster parents have expressed the difference in parenting the most challenging. Either their biological children see it as “unfair” or parents have difficulty shifting from their upbringing. 

One of the most important things to remember is that children in foster care were raised in unique environments, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Their experiences are more than likely, very different than your own. You also did not raise them, so you do not know who they are. It may seem like common sense, but building a strong foundation for a budding relationship is the first part of fostering. Building a relationship with a foster child will require some creative outlets, as sometimes our typical way of establishing relationships don’t resonate with foster children. For example, in some families, dinner time is a time to gather, talk, and reconnect. Children in foster care may have never experienced your norm and will not respond as you might expect. The truth is, youth in foster care frequently have difficulties building and maintaining healthy relationships. Patience is key. Nurturing is an essential component to parenting foster children, but so is space to process and grieve their many losses. 

How to lay the foundation for a healthy relationship within your family: 

1. ​Create a structured environment with clear expectations and boundaries. ​This helps establish rapport and build trust when they know what is expected. 

2. ​Allow them to control when they feel safe enough to come to you for support. ​Your efforts may be extensive, but it is up to them when they want to go to you. 

3. ​Consistently be available when they are ready to come and talk to you​. Consistency is essential to building trust that was never present to begin with. ​

4. Be a positive role model.​ This could include displaying appropriate coping mechanisms, displays of affection, emotional self-regulation, and taking responsibility if the moment deems it. Children in foster care are hyper-aware of their surroundings and interactions around them. They will notice! ​

5. Be present. Be encouraging. Be empathetic. ​This will help build feelings of trust and safety. ​

6. Lastly, but most importantly, be patient and empathetic with ​yourself. ​You are human. You will experience moments of frustration, sadness, inadequacy, and hopelessness. 

This is normal, as it is when you parent biological children. Remember again: you are not a “failure” if your foster child doesn’t connect with you or establish a bond. Most foster care children have lived their entire upbringing to mistrust adults based on their trauma experiences and learned interactions with adult figures. Their behavior is not a personal attack on your parenting. (Children’s Bureau, 2018 Belian, M. 2020). 

Understanding the importance of building relationships while also recognizing the trials and tribulations of establishing a connection must be incorporated during your parenting journey in foster care. The journey may be rocky. As you inch slowly closer to a healthy relationship with your foster child, you will be one inch closer to creating trust and security for that child. 

Children’s Bureau. (2018). Parenting Children and Youth Who Have Experienced Abuse or Neglect.  

Belian, M. (2020). National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families. Retrieved from 

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