What Qualities do successful foster parents have?

How to be a successful Foster or Adoptive parent in Virginia

How to be a successful Foster or Adoptive parent in VA

Some of the skills that you need to be successful as a foster parent.

In parenting children with complex trauma and heightened emotional needs, there are several necessary qualities that a parent must cultivate to ensure a healthy dynamic between foster and adoption parent and foster child. One of the most important attributes is appropriate responding. Successful parenting cannot occur as it is the rule and not the exception for challenges to arise when parenting a foster child. The parent's responsibility is to ensure that they respond and not react to the child when difficulties surface. To achieve appropriate responding, a level of tolerance for negative feelings/responses is necessary. This includes tolerance for the child's negative feelings/responses and the parent managing their negative emotions. Sometimes this means stepping back and taking a break, sometimes this means taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before responding. Sometimes this means taking the time to explore and process any unsettling feelings privately or with professional support before acting.

Another key quality when raising a foster child is cultivating a level of acceptance for rejection. Children in foster care typically come from families where adult support could not be counted on, and it is not uncommon for this pain around rejection to be leveled against their foster parents. Foster kids may often avoid getting attached, actively reject the foster parents, or create situations that would cause rejection as a way to avoid or anticipate what they most fear. Understanding that this is a defensive behavior intended to protect the child's sense of vulnerability around attachment will help the parent not react or take offense.

This leads to another essential quality, unconditional love. Parents who go into foster care, expecting a mutually beneficial parent/child relationship or hoping to meet their own needs for affection and attention are setting themselves up for extreme disappointment. It is vital as a foster parent to accept the role's limitations and have realistic expectations. Foster parenting may not be mutually beneficial. The child may not appreciate the parent. They may not bond with the parent. They may not express love for the parent. The foster parent's role is not to fix the child, rescue the child or receive affection from the child. The foster parent's role is to be a reliable adult figure available to provide safety, guidance, consistency, and affection. Affection, healing, and attachment may result from this relationship, but often the road towards these mutually uplifting feelings is long and the relationship hard-won. Building trust and attachment with a child in foster care is a marathon, not a sprint. As that is, patience is another critical quality for successful foster parenting. Patience as a foster parent involves allowing the child to be where they are and not imposing unrealistic expectations on their progress. Celebrating the small steps and demonstrating support and acknowledgment for the little accomplishments along the way provides the child with the encouragement they need to keep moving forward.

Flexibility is another essential quality. The Foster care system is complex, with numerous stakeholders and service providers intervening on behalf of the child. This means dealing with regular interactions from foster care workers and regular treatment team meetings, court hearings, therapy sessions, and family visits. Changes to the child's goal, visitation rights, services, and needs are all common occurrences and require foster parents to be able to adjust and regroup regularly.

Last but not least, the quality of balance is one that will support foster parents in going the distance in their supportive role. This quality is easily overlooked but is, in fact, completely necessary for successful foster parenting. Lifestyle balance will look different for everyone based on personality and preferences; however, incorporating habits such as self-care, structure, supportive relationships, and community involvement ensures that foster parents can meet the rising challenges of their role with resiliency and strength. 

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