I'm going to be writing a series of blog posts on various fostering topics. This one is first, because it is dear to my heart, and because my fingers seem to itch to write about certain topics at certain times, not because it's really "first" in the process of fostering.
Finding a support group is critical. I grew up with my mom founding the Down Syndrome Guild and taking a year position as president of the Dallas chapter of the ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens). She had dinner with others moms of children with disabilities on a regular basis. They would meet to discuss upcoming ARD meetings and how they were fighting for the educational rights of their child with a disability. Angela and I went to a monthly "Sunshine Kids" Friday night hang out time. It was parents' night out, but it was specifically for families of people with disabilities. They had counselors that would talk to the siblings and fun crafts and activities and sports that all the kids could be a part of. I realize this has nothing to do with support groups for fostering, but I'm starting this off because I grew up with "support groups" being a regular part of my childhood, though we didn't call them support groups.
During the licensing process for fostering, there is a LOT of mandatory trainings. They would encourage you to find a support group. Find other foster parents you can talk to and seek information from. I always thought it was ridiculous since they never told you about any you could join. I mean, how am I supposed to find a support group? I'm a go-getter and don't give up if I'm looking for something. I'm also a pretty out-going personality, so I was able to connect with several other foster moms. However, you know there are people out there that NEED support groups and aren't a part of one. I just think it makes sense for agencies to have a list of some options. Or maybe even offer for their own foster parents to use their facilities and meet occasionally. Anyway, I digress.
I had just moved to Plano and recently started attending The Village. I asked around on Sunday mornings about foster parents and was put in contact with Kristi. We have a secret Facebook group. This means none of our friends can see on their timeline when we post in the group. Only members can post and you have to be invited to be a member. We ask each other about doctor and dentist recommendations. We provide respite for each other. We ask each other questions about how to handle certain behaviors. We meet once a month at someone's home and every one talks non-stop with questions about court cases and certain judge's or case workers or agencies or behaviors or foods or allergies or trainings or fire marshal visits or home studies or.....and the list goes on. It's awesome!
One day, I was in pretty desperate need of child care. J had come, but I had to go to work for a few days and needed someone that could watch her. Kristin called and said Arrow (our mutual agency) had told her I was looking for child care. At the time, she was a foster mom (she's now a forever mom, woot-woot!) and she was willing to watch J for several days. It was AMAZING because Kristin is a former OT and has 5 forever kids and J LOVED going to her house. It was a huge blessing. Well, Kristin is a member of a different church and they also have a support group and I got connected with them, too. We also meet once a month. It's way closer to home, so it's easier to make these meetings. This group also offers trainings pretty regularly and family fun nights each month. It's great!
Both of these groups have their own personality and both of them offer something different, and I absolutely adore ALL of the ladies I've come in contact with. We help each other with meals, babysitting, encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, a laugh and joyful yell when milestones are reached or court decided something that was truly for the good of the child. We don't see each other daily, but we're in and out of each other's lives and provide knowledge, support, wisdom, connections and a plethora of resources to help each other walk this journey of fostering.
If you're not in a foster parent support group, I strongly encourage you to find one. If you don't know of one, start one yourself! Open your home. Start a Facebook group. Invite others that are at any stage of the process to join you. Help each other out!