fbpx From Paperwork to Placement
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on May 23, 2024

You did it! You completed the process to get licensed as a foster parent! And now? The clock is ticking, anxiety creates a topsy-turvy roller coaster in your stomach, and every time the phone rings, you have a paranoid sense that a social worker is calling you from an obscure number to tell you that your life is about to change.

As a new foster parent who just completed mountains of paperwork and all the necessary training, you may wonder what exactly is next. How will this happen? How will a new face (or faces) show up at your doorstep so you can serve them during this very scary time in their life? Will it just be like bippity-boppity-boo, and the social worker shows up one day? Will a stork stop by with a child As comical as this sounds, after we complete the licensing process, we realize we aren’t sure how this will logistically progress.

I remember being a newly licensed foster parent, so anxious to help kids in need, wondering when I would get the phone call… and then our licensing worker started forwarding us emails of referrals that she thought matched our profile. That seemed better than a last-second, panicking phone call (though we were mentally prepared for that, too). Each time an email came through, my husband and I would thoughtfully read through the description of the child/children and consider if we could meet their needs. Rarely did we say “no,” and sometimes we would get our heart set on a “yes” we had sent, but a home had already been found or the child was able to live with relatives.

So, we would wait some more.

Our Yes Finally Came

One day, we received an email for siblings, a boy and a girl. We gave our yes, and we waited… Sure enough, while on vacation, that yes was answered with a reciprocal yes! The children were in separate shelter homes, and we would pick them up right when returning from vacation. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live: driving with our social worker to two different shelter homes to pick up these sweet kids, a 13-year-old boy and his 1-year-old sister. The boy was quiet and came to the shelter door with a new Nike bag with clothes inside, and his little sister had one plastic bag with clothes she did not fit into and were stained (I was not sad that I got to go shopping new clothes, despite being sad for her that she lacked some necessities!). 

We went home, I gave a tour to the boy and showed him the room he would share with my biological son, and the boys got to playing. I took the little girl and showed her the rocking chair, her toddler bed, and all the toys and books. I read her a story in the rocking chair. I thought, “So this is it. Here we are.” It was the first time I realized that being a foster parent had tremendous joy and deep sorrow at the same time - joy to help, and sorrow that your help was even needed in the first place. But with this feeling, a deep conviction that it’s the right thing to do and I’d give my whole heart and mind to it.

And we began our new normal - finding the rhythm of each other’s body language, learning appetites and food preferences, slowing down to really get to know one another, scheduling doctor and therapy appointments, and expanding the definition of “family”. Day in and day out, I learned to have my eyes, ears, and heart wide open. I learned that, while I was the one to establish rules and keep boundaries in place, I also had to flex and flow and be extremely teachable.

I still love those two so much, even though they left years ago. The first placement never leaves you, and the lessons you learn as a new foster parent carry with you forever. The paperwork and training become a reality. Your heart gets new names.

Paperwork to Placement Process

For a logical breakdown of paperwork to placement, here it is:

  1. Become licensed. 
  2. Make sure you are honest with your licensing worker about your preferences for age ranges, number of siblings, and what sorts of abilities/disabilities you feel prepared or willing to manage.
  3. Check your emails and your phone often when you are waiting to be matched with a placement. Reply as soon as you can, but not without thinking it through first. That is, don’t get so caught up in the excitement of a placement that you stretch what you can realistically handle. If you have four biological children and said that you can take up to two siblings, don’t say yes to a sibling group of five just because you feel excited or anxious to help. We can’t underestimate how painful a disrupted placement is for kids, and this can happen when foster parents are too eager or if they feel pressured to take more than they know they can handle. (I see your heart and I am grateful for it! Eagerness to help is beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of!)
  4. As soon as you are matched and confirmed with a placement, set up your home in small, meaningful ways for these particular children. If you have the time, ask social workers to find out what they love and try to put that into your setup. For example, stock up on kids’ favorite foods and snacks, buy a Paw Patrol blanket for a child who loves that show, get stuffed animals, buy a poster, etc. Quality over quantity here, just small touches to make them feel seen and comforted. Note: you may not always have enough notice to do this, and that’s okay, too! You can always get these things later. 
  5. Day of move-in: Have a plan for a tour, a place for household rules to be posted, and a transition activity for when the social worker leaves. For example, you might do: tour, snack, movie. Or you could do the tour, a snack, and then a walk to a nearby park. It depends on so many factors, including ages of your foster youth, but having a plan will help you all feel more at ease. Also, review the household rules within the first 24 hours and allow the kids to ask questions. Being clear is being kind! 
  6. Week of move-in: Schedule the kids’ well checks and get them onto therapy waiting lists if local therapy isn’t already established. It also helps to figure out which dentists take their insurance and get on their waiting list.
  7. Week/month/beyond of their move-in: Stay in contact with your social worker, and don’t feel bad reaching out to them with any questions! Provide some structure, and keep notes on the kids’ routines, habits, etc. Getting to know them will help you as you all get used to each other, and keeping some structure will help prevent unnecessary chaos. I tell myself, “Flexible, but structured.”

There is much to learn along the way, but just like most things in life, experience is the teacher that shows you how and when to apply all the lessons “from the book.” 

So… how do you feel, new foster parents? Excited, nervous, apprehensive, fearful, overjoyed, and (kind of) ready? It’s all normal. Remember: you’re not alone, take one step at a time, you’re doing a beautiful thing in this world, and you can do this!

This blog article was contributed by Cherie Johnson, Foster and Adoptive Parent at Nexus-Kindred Family Healing.

Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for community mental health servicesfoster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Access more resources at nexusfamilyhealing.org/resources.