By William Holmes, MD
May is National Foster Care Month, and there is no better time to recognize and give a heartfelt word of encouragement to all foster parents, who are a necessary and vital part of providing safe and appropriate care to children and youth in the child welfare system. Unfortunately, when it comes to this system we tend to most often hear about problems and changes that need to occur.
We should not make light of these concerns, but at the same time it is right for us to remember that there are thousands of loving, caring foster parents who go about their task each day with little recognition and far too little encouragement. With the focus on foster care this month, it’s good for us to stop and consider ways that we can support the important work of foster parents, as well as ways they can help themselves.
Words. Our words have a greater impact than we can ever know. For those of us who work with foster parents, let’s encourage them regularly and let them know that their efforts are both noticed and appreciated. Those of you who foster can also encourage one another. Sometimes the most meaningful and genuine words come from those who “walk in the same shoes.”
Rest. Foster parents give their time, love, effort and attention, often to the point of exhaustion and beyond. It can be a risky thing to “run on empty,” and there is no substitute for intentionally taking some personal time for rest and renewal. You can only love and serve others when you have something to give, and it is never selfish to renew yourself so that you can serve others.
Mind. No one has ever heard it all, and you are never too experienced to learn and be reminded of tools and strategies that will help you be a better foster parent. The best foster parents are those who never settle for what they know now, and who always seek to improve their own understanding. Be sure to seek out opportunities for effective and instructive learning.
Support. There is a famous quote, “No man is an island,” and this applies especially to foster parents. In the middle of busy and chaotic days it can be easy for parents to feel isolated and unsupported by the others. This is why it is especially important for foster parents to actively seek out connections with others who have similar interests and experiences. In addition, the idea of support includes the importance of mentoring relationships in order to raise up the next generation of foster parents.
The fundamental idea behind all of these elements is that no one expects or wants foster parents to do everything on their own. For foster parenting to work best, all parts of the system must come together to support and promote parenting success. One way to do this is by active involvement in local, state and national foster parent organizations. These groups exist for the purposes of support, encouragement, training and advocacy.
We are always able to accomplish more when we join together than if we try to separately do the best we can. One valuable organization is the National Foster Parent Association. If you are not familiar with this group, check it out at nfpaonline.org. The association conducts an annual conference, which will be held June 28-July 1 this year in Orlando, Florida, as a joint effort with the Florida Foster Parent Association. The conference fulfills all of the aspects discussed earlier in this article. Participants will have time for rest and renewal, supportive interactions, meaningful training and much encouragement. Check the website for details.
Finally, for all foster parents, know that your work is appreciated, and that there are many groups, organizations and individuals who stand with you and want you to succeed. In that way, we are able to promote the success of the children and youth who need more adults to speak out on their behalf.
William D. Holmes, MD, serves as the senior medical director for behavioral health with Envolve PeopleCare, which is part of the Centene Corporation. Previously, Holmes was in full-time clinical practice, primarily providing care to children and youth in the Texas foster care system. In his current role Holmes helps to provide input related to mental health services to children and youth in foster care in several states, including Florida, Kansas, Texas and Washington. His work includes the monitoring of psychiatric medications used in these populations.
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