- Lock Up Meds and Chemicals: Licensing standards where we live require foster homes to lock up any cleaning supplies and medications. We put something called a "lock hasp" on the outside of one of our closet doors, and then we put all cleaning supplies and medications in that closet. Lock hasps are small metal hinges that swing open and closed, and you slip a padlock through it. You can get them at any home improvement or hardware store for a few dollars. We are about the least handy people in the world, but we managed to install it ourselves within minutes. We also keep a tackle box in the kitchen where we store any vitamins or medications that we take on a daily basis. The tackle box travels with us whenever we go out of town. We put small numeric padlocks in both the lock hasp and the padlock. Numeric is nice because you don't have to keep track of a key.
- Pack Away The Breakables: There is a chance that children coming into your home may be destructive. So if you have anything fragile that you value, consider packing it away or relocating it to somewhere away from the kids. In addition to breaking something that holds special meaning for you, you don't want your child hurting him or herself on broken glass. This is not the time for porcelan dolls or crystal frames.
- Collect Clothing: You usually don't have much time to prepare for a placement between the time you say yes and when they actually show up on your doorstep. Gather some clothing for each size and gender that you're open to accepting, plus and minus one or two sizes in case the kids run smaller or larger. We recommend having a small plastic bin for each size and gender (4T girl; 3-6month boy; etc), marked on the outside, so that you can quickly grab the bin and get to the clothes you need when your new child arrives. We recommend having about two daytime outfits and one or two sets of pajamas for each size and gender. Have a few pull-on style training diapers as well.
- Have Toiletry Items on Hand: Have some extra children's toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair brushes, shampoo, and body wash.
- Buy Some Basic Medications: Kids will often come to you a bit lacking in the personal hygene department, you'll all be stressed out, and you'll all be getting used to each others' germs. This seems to be the perfect storm for everyone to get sick whenever a new placement arrives. Have some basic over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducers on hand (infant's or children's Tylenol) and a thermometer, and consider having some lice medication just in case. If you're open to accepting infants or young children and haven't had much experience yet in parenting such young kids, you may want to purchase a book that includes basic health information about children with an index of different diseases.
- Set-up Your Living Space: Most states require that you have a bed for each child you are licensed to accept (so if you are licensed for three children, you need three empty beds in the house). We have found it easiest to have our two bio children share a room so that their space remains stable as other children move in and out of the house. We decorated our other bedrooms in gender-neutral colors. We didn't go crazy with the decorating, but there were a few small touches that made the rooms look cute and inviting. It was well worth the time and money, because when our kids got here they were scared until they saw their bedroom, and then their faces lit up! We also put video baby monitors in each bedroom so that we could keep an eye on them at all times (read more about keeping your children safe while doing foster care). Interestingly, when our kids were scared to sleep the first few nights, it helped console them to know that we were watching them through the monitor.
- Collect Toys and Stuffed Animals: Don't go crazy with collecting toys ahead of time because you won't know exactly what your future children might enjoy, but it helps to have a couple of things on hand. I find that books, blocks, dolls and art supplies are pretty timeless when it comes to which ages enjoy them. Also collect a couple of stuffed animals so that any child who arrives can choose one to be his or her special "lovey." Warning: adults tend to think bigger is better and like to go buy the largest teddy bear they can find. Meanwhile, kids usually prefer the very small stuffed animals like Beanie Babies.
- Be Ready to Feed Them: Keep in mind that we nearly doubled our family's size overnight, so keeping enough good on hand is an ongoing battle for us. But if you can swing it, we recommend getting an extra fridge or deep freezer. Even if you're only taking on one kid, foster care is really time consuming - there are tons of appointments that are suddenly added to your schedule each week. So if you can do fewer, larger shopping trips, that will help you maintain your sanity, and will also help save you money (read more about how much money foster parents do - or don't - make). One you're licensed and waiting for a placement, it's not a bad idea to keep a couple of frozen meals on hand, some kid-friendly food (think hot dogs and chicken nuggets), and some Pediasure (a lot of kids arrive under-nourished).
- Get Ready for Baby: If you're open to accepting infants, here are a few more helpful hints. Let your friends and family know what you're doing and what you might need. A lot of people have an extra high chair, bouncy seat, or baby swing sitting around in their basement that they'd be happy to put to good use. Don't go crazy buying every new baby gadget you see. Often when a new baby comes to your house you'll get an equipment voucher to buy what you need. Also, what you need will vary greatly depending on the specific age and developmental stage of the child in your care - babies grow out of swings by about four or five months, so you won't need one at all if you get a six month old. You will want some formula (we bought whatever had the farthest-out expiration date), a couple of bottles, a pacifier, and some diapers. We use cloth diapers, so we keep some adjustable one-size diapers around. If you want to use disposables, ask your friends with babies for a couple of their diapers so that you can build up a stash of different sizes.
We've found that waiting to become foster parents feels a whole lot like the waiting period when you're pregnant. You know that your life is about to change in every possible way, and you want to do everything possible to prepare for that change. Yet, at the end of the day, it always feels like you should be doing something more.Here are some of our recommendations for preparing your house for fostering. It should help keep you busy for a little while.
Happy lady. Busy mom (biological, foster, adoptive). Awesome wife. Writer. Public speaker. Previous (and hopefully future) world traveler. Gentle parenting advocate. Tree-hugger and all-around do-gooder. Follow me at www.Facebook.com/Jasmine.Dee23.
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Everything on this site is based on the experiences of one foster family, and stories we've heard from other foster parents. Your experiences may be vastly different. Please remember that rules and regulations vary greatly from area to area, so always check the laws that pertain to your unique situation.