If you’re a new foster parent there’s a lot to consider, one of which is knowing what to prepare for a new child coming to your home. There’s no guarantee that they will arrive with all the essentials and you will likely need to ask many questions of the caseworker to get a better understanding of what the child will need. While there is no way to predict all of the needs required of fostering a child, we will go over some of the things you can do to best prepare before their arrival.
What does disability look like in foster care?
To start, a 2020 study found that nearly half of children in foster care have some sort of special health care need. This leads to disabled foster youth oftentimes being less successful in obtaining permanent placement. They will stay with many different foster families or foster homes before finding a permanent home. They are also more likely to experience child abuse while in the system.
Disabled children in foster care also have additional struggles in school. They are more likely to drop out, experience being held back, and not receive the educational assistance they need. They will most likely be put into a special education classroom where they will also struggle socially and have a difficult time maintaining friendships. IEP’s (individualized education programs) are crucial for children with disabilities. Schools are often not informed about a foster child’s IEP and maintaining or updating the IEP becomes increasingly difficult with the constant moving of schools and change in guardianship.
Some of the most common disabilities are: ADHD, autism, blindness, cerebral palsy, deafness, down syndrome, and many others. Due to the broadness of what a child could have you may need to be prepared for at home care, special education, or other forms of specialized care.
If funding is something that concerns you for any of the above requirements, most states provide health care funding for children. This funding will come from medicaid or from the Children’s Health Insurance Program. These will cover dental, hearing, vision, and other medical services.
At the end of the day, working with the caseworker closely to understand their needs before they arrive can give you a heads up. Whether that’s knowing what IEP they have, what doctors they are seeing, or what things you may need to adjust in the home for their comfort.
How to prepare
There are many things you can do to prepare for essential support of a foster child with disabilities. The first thing you will need to consider is trauma informed care. As stated above many of these children will experience some sort of trauma. That is often why they are in foster care. Whether it's abuse, neglect or abandonment you will need to be well informed of trauma responses and how to support them.
Supporting them can look like avoiding specific triggers, sensory issues, and support with any developmental delays. Other things you can do is prepare your home. Having clear walkways, access to food and essentials, and access to privacy is essential. It will be extremely helpful to provide them with a tour of the home and introduce them to every family member in the home to prevent surprises. Be prepared to avoid cognitive overload as well. When providing them with tasks in the home, break them down into smaller more manageable pieces. Task charts and schedules that are posted in an easy to see place so the child knows what to expect in their day will help the feeling of safety and comfort.
When it comes to education, be sure to advocate for your child when necessary. Do what you can to gain access to IEP information and share it with the school immediately so your child gets the care they need while in school. If you find a tutor is necessary, look for or request a tutor that specializes in your child's needs.
You may need to change routines, do extensive research, and provide for them in whatever way you can. Simply being a stable place for the children to learn, go to therapy, and be themselves will greatly improve their wellbeing.
Caring for the Self
Above all, make sure you as the parent are taking care of yourself. There will be times where extra care is needed or you may need to go to the doctors more frequently with the child. Make sure you get time for breaks and separation so you can remain at your best. Connect with your social worker if you need respite care. Respite care is short term childcare that can give you temporary relief and assistance if needed.
Respite care is a very important part of the foster care system as it provides a lot of assistance for free or reduced cost. It is not always guaranteed however, so be sure to advocate for yourself when needed.
At the end of the day, bringing a child into the home comes with many challenges. There’s many things one must consider from physical health to mental health when supporting foster children. As things progress in your life helping a foster child or if you’re considering helping a foster child you may need home modifications. Rosarium Health is here to help with your home modification needs please check out our website if you need more information!