10 Helpful Tips for Foster Parents of Infants

Foster parenting has been a huge learning experience for our family. If you and your family are thinking about fostering infants or about to take your first placement I am sharing 10 tips that I hope will be useful and helpful. 

Hospital Pickup versus Home Drop Off

If you have the option to pick up your placement from the hospital do it. The nurses will be able to provide you with lots of helpful information. Ask questions because they will be able to give you more background information on your child as well as feeding tips, routine, and medical concerns. For little ones coming from the hospital be sure to note what type of nipple was used on the bottle for feeds. This was something that we struggled with and finally ended up buying a package of disposable nipples that fit on the Dr. Brown bottles we had already purchased.

WIC

Make an appointment with WIC as soon as you know you are getting a placement. I had no idea just what a valuable resource this would be for our family. Our little one was provided 12 cans of formula each month when he was placed with us through WIC. While this didn’t cover all the formula that he needed for the month it greatly helped to reduce our out of pocket expense. His formula cost for the first 30 days we had him was $400. Having breastfed I had no idea just how expensive formula can be. I love WIC and think it is such an amazing resource and having nothing but good things to say. The staff was kind and resourceful and I was able to gain additional information from them about our baby because he had been brought to WIC previously before he was placed with us.

Know Your Community Resources

Your foster care agency should have given you a list of organizations in your community that can provide additional resources. Be sure to go over that list. In Arizona there are several great organizations that offer assistance to families who provide foster care. I called Helen’s Hope Chest within the first few days of placement and made an appointment for our family. Helen’s Hope Chest offers clothes, shoes, diapers, toys, quilts, and books to foster children in Arizona. Even our biological children got to pick out an outfit each visit. All our kids love Helen’s Hope Chest! Our first visit was epic and they even had our baby’s special formula on hand and gave us several cans. God is so good! When a scheduled visit is within 3 months of your child’s birthday they get to pick out a toy from the birthday room. It is truly a special place.

Get Comfortable in the Doctor’s Office

I feel like we our pediatricians and therapy office became our second home for the first few months. If your baby has a large amount of medical needs be prepared to spend several hours each week at the hospital, pediatrician’s office, and with an occupational and physical therapist. I packed snacks and water bottles for myself and our children in addition to the diapers and formula I packed for the baby. Be sure to take a notebook so you can write down any important information for the baby’s medical care. With so many appointments it was helpful for me to put our notice to provider in a clear heavy duty sheet protector that could easily be pulled out of the diaper bag when needed. I found these dry erase pockets at the dollar store that worked perfectly.

Sleep

The question we were asked about the most by our friends and family was how we were all sleeping. I will be honest, the first few months were rough. We had a crib set up in our room for the first 3 weeks but soon realized that we were on edge over every little noise that the baby made. We decided to transition him to his own room which worked so much better. Nighttime sleep is dependent on many different factors. Our first goal was to establish a daytime routine that created an opportunity for naps and a consistent feeding schedule. This will look differently depending on the age of your infant and if there is any ongoing medical concerns. I very loosely followed the schedule I had used with our children when they were the equivalent age to our foster baby. However you decide to setup your sleeping arrangement be sure to purchase a white noise machine for all the bedrooms in your home and blackout curtains.

A nightlight is super helpful as well to keep the light dim in the room when you have nighttime feeds, to change a diaper, or to just offer extra snuggles. We worked really hard to try and bond with our baby by responding to any noise he made when he first came to us. He didn’t cry to have his basic needs met for weeks. Not even when he was wet at night and had soaked his jammies or crib. It was heartbreaking. My advice would be to respond to any noise you hear at first to let your child know you will come. Even if its 2am and you have just fallen asleep because you were up an hour ago feeding the baby a bottle. If you are married you and your spouse can take turns each night getting up with the baby to guarantee you are both getting more hours of sleep at least every other night.

It may feel uncomfortable for your baby to be held and cuddling might not feel natural to them right away. Bottle feeding is the perfect time to practice cuddling, especially right before bedtime. Dim the lights in their room, turn on the white noise machine, and hold them close. Be sure to switch which side you are holding them on when they are halfway through with their bottle. This helps with brain development and a skill which is called crossing the midline. Once the bottle is finished be sure to hold them upright, sing a song or two, and rub their back for at least 10 minutes to release any air bubbles before you place them in their crib. It might sound simple but these little things will quickly help establish a routine for your little one.

Baths

Our little one did not like baths, at all. They were shocking to him and he whimpered the entire time. It was awful to see how terrified and uncomfortable he was in the bath water. From bathing my other babies bath time had always been pleasant and enjoyable. We opted for washcloth baths instead and placed him in the Shnuggle, which is the best baby bathtub ever invented, without water. Gradually each bath time we would add a small amount of water to the bottom of the tub. Now he loves baths and it is his happiest time. He would stay for hours in the tub if we let him.

Identifying Your Child’s Triggers

Just like our experience with the bathtub you will need to be ready to see your child terrified over things that are simply not terrifying to the average kid. Foster children have been through the traumatic experience of being removed from their home. You don’t know what they have seen, smelled, or heard and because of that there is no way to predict what might cause them to become upset or fearful. It is your job as a foster parent to provide the stability they crave especially at this delicate age to create the resiliency they will need in the future. Take a deep breath when this happens, evaluate the situation, see if you can discover the triggers, and then decide from there how to work towards a solution.

Early Intervention

All states have early intervention programs for children 3 and under. As a foster child your baby will be evaluated to see if they meet the program criteria for kids with developmental disabilities. These programs are wonderful because the therapist comes to your home. The only downside is they can take months to get a therapist actually into your home to start treatment. If you and your pediatrician are sure your child needs physical or occupational therapy you can go to any therapist that will accept your child’s medical insurance for an evaluation. We had our child in both physical and occupational therapy within the first few weeks of placement.

Family Visits

The goal of fostering is to get your baby reunified with their family. Keep in mind your child will have visits starting within in the first week of placement. It will be helpful to pack a bag that can be taken with your child when they are transported to a family visit. Think of things that will make the visit more pleasant for both the parents and baby. A fun book for mom to read aloud, a blanket to cuddle with, an extra outfit in case of a diaper blowout, and if it is ok with your child’s case manger maybe a note to say hello and let them know how their child is doing in your care. When getting your little one ready for visits with mom and dad here are several suggestions for what to pack.

  • Ready to use formula with bottle nipple
  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Extra Outfit
  • Blanket
  • Pacifier
  • Toys
  • Book
  • Note for parents (be sure to check with case manger if this is allowed)

Be a Team Player

Be kind and gracious to all those who are entering your home. Remember you are all on the same team and trying to give this little person the best chance at being reunited with their family. If someone is coming over during lunch time offer lunch to be provided. Pray for everyone involved in your child’s case. I don’t think Josh and I realized how much we would come to love all the people who entered our home during this process. This may not be the experience you have but you can still show Christ love by being kind and hospitable.

I have been blown away seeing how Jesus has changed my heart and mind and I am so glad I stepped out in faith when I felt convicted by the Lord in this area. Becoming a foster parent is a huge gift that you can give a family. It can radically alter, not just a child’s life but an entire family by giving the parents a chance to get the services they need to get their child home.

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The Phone Call

Bathtime can get a little hectic in our house with 3 kids under the age of 5. On this typical evening in our household the kids were splashing away in the tub singing, laughing, and getting louder and louder by the minute when Josh’s phone began to ring. My curiosity was instantly piqued. We had been waiting for a phone call for our first foster placement and I couldn’t follow him around the house while he walked and talked like I normally would because I needed to stay with the kids in the tub.

Minutes later he came back into the bathroom and told me that we had received a phone call from our agency worker about a baby in need of a foster home. After that first call Josh and I tagged team bathing the kids and as we made several more phone calls back and forth between myself, Josh, our agency worker, and the Department of Child Safety. In less than 10 minutes we had a plan in place to pick up the baby in the morning.

The limited details we had were heartbreaking. I clung to Josh outside the bathroom door trying to put a coherent thought together and tears started streaming down my face. Everything about this child was the complete opposite of what we had expected. I started second guessing myself and wondering if I could do this. Could I take care of a baby whose health was so compromised and faced so many unknowns?

I picked my 14 month old up out of the bathtub wrapped him in a warm cozy towel and my tears dropped down on his blonde hair as I breathed in his clean baby freshness. Many thoughts swirled around in my head at that moment but I knew saying yes to that phone call wasn’t just me saying yes to a child but me being obedient to the Lord and what he was asking our family to do.

And it was in that moment that I knew I had to completely surrender, yet again, my ideals and expectations. Up until this point Josh and I being foster parents had been something that would happen in the future. Now the clock was quickly ticking to the time when we would get to meet this little person and welcome them into our family. I felt somewhere between throwing up and obsessively cleaning to release my bundle of nerves after all the kids were in bed but I knew that saying yes was the best choice.

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How & Why Our Family Became Licensed to Provide Foster Care

Earlier this year our family became licensed to provide foster care and we took our first placement soon after our license became active. The last 6 months have flown by and our foster care experience has been so different from what we were expecting. And I mean that in the best way possible :).

Foster care is temporary and an amazing opportunity to love and care for a child and be part of the ministry of family reconciliation. When you provide a temporary home for a child it allows for the possibility of a permanent reconciliation to happen within a family.

I enjoyed reading and learning from other foster families when we were starting this process. Below are the steps we took to become licensed in Arizona and also the reasoning behind why Josh and I ultimately said yes to becoming foster parents.

THE PROCESS

Our journey into becoming licensed as a foster family started all the way back in November of 2015. Our kids at the time were 4 and 2 years old. Josh and I knew we wanted more information about becoming foster parents and thankfully we found Arizona 1.27 online and signed up for the next orientation.

Arizona 1.27 is a non-profit that partners with local churches to recruit and care for the members of their congregation engaged in the ministry of foster care and adoption. Childcare was provided for our kiddos and we were able to go and learn more about the process and ask questions. If you are at all interested in fostering this organization is a great starting place!

This orientation outlined all the vital steps we would need to complete. For two people who knew nothing about how this process worked we left feeling confident about moving forward but devastated by what we learned.

Everyday in Arizona only 4 families become licensed to provide foster care yet 33+ kids (babies through teens) will come into foster care that same day.

About 2700 children are currently eligible for adoption in Arizona.

In the last year in Arizona only 23% of children were reunited with their families.

If a girl ages out of the foster care systems she has a 2% chance of completing college and is 20% more likely to become pregnant before she is 21. This also means she is at a greater risk to become homeless, imprisoned, or a victim of sex trafficking.

We next signed up for the Basic Training class offered by Arizona 1.27 which increased our understanding of a Biblical approach to foster care and adoption. And this class was so so good! I left convicted and blown away by what was presented in this class. The pastor who taught recommend the book Orphan Justice and I highly suggest reading this book to everyone! Even if you aren’t considering fostering or adopting. It really challenged my thinking and started to break down some of the presuppositions I had about the foster care system and those who are part of it.

In the Spring of 2016 we had our fingerprint cards, picked an agency, began taking our 10 week PS-MAPP class, and filled out stacks of paperwork. PS-MAPP stands for “Partnering for Permanency and Safety – Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting.” Arizona requires a minimum of 30 hours of training before becoming a foster parent. Several weeks into this class Josh and I shockingly learned I was pregnant! You can watch the video HERE. Spoiler alert: Josh had a vasectomy the year before and had two clean sperm counts after the procedure.

In the Fall of 2017 we contacted our agency again and began the steps needed to complete the licensure process. This time we had a 5, 3, and almost 1 year old. We had to retake two of our PS-MAPP classes which equaled 6 hours plus another 3 hour class, fill out even more paperwork, meet with our licensing worker from our agency, have medical exams, and share all the details from our childhood until currently.

All our paperwork was completed right before Christmas and our file was turned over to the State of Arizona the first week of January 2018. And several weeks later received an email from DCS that our license was active! This means that our family was placed on the list for a placement. We decided to keep the order of our biological children so any child that is placed with our family will be younger than our youngest.

WHY WE DECIDED TO BECOME A FOSTER FAMILY

The Bible says we are all image bearers of God, which means we were created to point others towards Him, and to display His character in the world. God has wired each of us differently to encapsulate his own qualities. Taking care of orphans was NEVER a desire I had on my own BUT, I can now say that because of God, through the work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit within me, God’s call to care for orphans has overwhelmed me. To the point now that I could not imagine our family saying no to caring for another family during this season of life.

And I say our family because this is not just about myself and Josh. Our kids are part of this life changing experience, as well as our extended family, by being the hands and feet of Jesus and loving those who have no one to care for them. Our kids were beyond excited, because we had been talking about doing this for awhile. Our five year old asked if we could buy a bus so we could take all the kids who need a home. We talked to them about the baby who will come into our house and how we we will be their family for as long as needed until their own mommy or daddy can take care of them again. We have also made sure to continue to explain to our kids that they we will always be with us.

Over and over again Josh and I have heard the same statement from other people, “I don’t think I could do that, I would get too attached”. And I get it. I really do. We know our hearts will get broken but we also know that we have an amazing opportunity to make a life changing impact on a family and to offer a loving home for a little person in need.

This is new territory and we know we won’t do this perfectly but we hope to do this with as much grace and mercy as possible. Grace and mercy to each other, to our kids, to the foster care system, to the family of the baby who enters our home, and especially to the little one who we welcome into our home and family. This grace and mercy we can extend because it has been extended freely to us.

Josh and I have been reconciled by God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-20) and believe that the Bible is alive, active, and sharper than any double edge sword (Hebrews 4:12). And scripture has pierced my heart multiple times as the Lord has convicted me and reshaped my priorities and focus over the last several years. I would not be writing this at all if not for His goodness, grace, and mercy.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27

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