By Eleanor Delewski
Recently a co-worker announced that she and her husband her expecting … they didn't know when the baby was due, or if it was a baby, or if there was one, or two, or more, or if it might be a boy or a girl....they had just finished training to become foster-to-adopt parents and were awaiting their very first placement.
Eager to celebrate their co-workers impending parent hood I was quickly approached with whispers of "What do we do? We should do a shower but how?". Everyone wanted to support their friend but had no idea where to begin when they didn't know how old the kids would be. I hear the same thing from new foster parents fairly often: what should we buy?
I tell everyone to buy ONLY the basics. Just because you dreamed of a pink nursery decked out in rainbows and unicorns it does not mean a three year old girl who arrives to your home will have the same interests. I suggest painting rooms in fairly neutral colors (our 'nursery' is green) that can be personalized after kids arrive.
There are, however, some things that it is better to have before 'the call' comes - if possible beds, car seats, some books, some toys. - just enough to get through the first few days until you can brave a trip to your local foster closet or department store.
We have collected a list of our favorite, adaptable for multiple age items below. (Note: Richie's Wish is part of the Amazon Affiliate program. Richie's Wish receives a small percentage from any items purchased via links included in this post. Proceeds from this program are used to fund future projects)
Shopping/gift idea lists vary depending on the age of the child the family is open to fostering: the list below starts with toys and books and then has specific lists of items depending on the age range of children you are open to accepting.
Toys and Books
We have several blog posts written about books for families who are fostering/adopting and books for families who are fostering/adopting transracially. In addition to some books written specifically for kids in foster care I suggest having a few books on hand that can be read to children over a range of ages, consignment sales are a great place to start your own kids library.
We keep some toys on hand that can be used by kids over a range of ages. Our families favorites are listed below.
Magna Tiles/Picaso Tiles
These tiles have been a favorite in my house with kids of all ages. (I also love playing with them). They allow for creative open ended play and have provided hours of entertainment here. The various different brands can be played with together - we now have a big tub of magnetic tiles in all shapes and sizes.
These do contain small strong magnets so should not be accessible to children (or pets) who would put them in their mouths.
While we love the Lego building sets in our family we also have a big bin of loose Legos on hand. They are a great toy for boys and girls of a range of ages and allow parents and kids to play together. For those expecting younger children Duplo blocks work well too.
Having a few art supplies on hand for when kids arrive is a good idea. I keep a packet of crayons, some markers and a few coloring books in our kids room for when new kids arrive. Most kids enjoy drawing/coloring and are thrilled to have something that belongs to just them.
This is another toy that works well for boys and girls over a range of ages - while wooden kitchens are pricier then plastic ones they stand up to years of hard play - ours has been played with by a half dozen kids over a decade and still looks almost new.
Many of our kids have gravitated to the baby dolls we have in our toy box, I have learned a lot about my kids experiences by watching the, 'play parent' their baby dolls.
Board games offer a great bonding opportunity for newly formed families. Our favorites include: for preschool kids - Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Guess Who and the classic Candy Land; for school aged children Twister, Blokus, Apples to Apples Junior, Hedbandz,' for tweens/teens Code Names, Would You Rather?, Apples to Apples, Boluks
Peaceful Kingdom has some great board games where "everyone plays together, no one is left out, and everybody has fun!' According to the company "Cooperative games cultivate emotional development, shared decision making, positive self esteem, creative problem solving and develop a sense of community in a non-stressful play environment". For kids that struggle with 'winners' these games are perfect. Some favorites include Feed The Woozle, Beat The Ogre, Mermaid Island, Stone Soup and Fish Stix.
For families open for kids 0-5
Convertible Car Seat
These things are - in my opinion - the best thing since sliced bread. When we first started fostering (over 12 years ago) they did not exist, or if they did they were so far outside of our price range I was unaware of them! So I used to drive around with an infant seat, a 5 point seat and a booster in my trunk, just in case I got a call. Now I just drive around with a convertible car seat which covers kids from birth-100lb! They are NOT small so if you drive a compact car this may not be the seat for you but if you have a bit of space one of these is a good investment.
Space Saving High Chair
This high chair reclines back to accommodate an infant during dinner time, sits up for a baby 6months +, turns into a booster seat after a child progresses to table food. I have had kids in this thing from early babyhood-4 years.
Portable High Chair
This little device is pretty compact - it straps onto chairs and has a 5 point harness so can be used with infants (who can sit on their own) up to preschoolers. We spend a lot of time out and about and end up eating at family and friend's houses who do not have young kids so having a portable high chair makes a big difference for us.
A crib that converts to a toddler bed, a day bed or a full bed is a worthwhile investment. Be sure to buy one that is easy to convert. Some require full disassembling - some a quick pop off the front rails and the 'crib' is now a toddler bed.
Ring Sling and/or Infantino Baby Carrier
I have practiced 'baby wearing' with many of my kids - for kids who are new to your home, scared and do NOT want to be put down it can be the difference between going about your day trying to juggle a toddler on your hip and strapping them on your back as you move about your day.
My personal favorites are a Ring Sling and the Infantino baby carrier. Both can be used with kids from infancy up to pre school aged (make sure to check weight limits) and go on and off quickly. My husband prefers the Infantino to the Ring Sling but is pretty adept at wearing both of them.
The dark can be scary - especially when you are in a new house and nothing is familiar. This little night light has been a favorite with many children, it has a handle for little hands to carry, turns itself off after 20 minutes, stays cool and the battery compartment is protected by screws.
A diaper bag is one of those things that is nice to have on hand before the kids arrive. The first week or two of a foster placement is a whirlwind of medical appointments, court dates, social worker visits -you will be out and about a LOT! This is my personal favorite bag - it holds a lot, copes well with repeating washing, has enough compartments to keep stuff organized without me getting confused about where I put my keys.
Everyone knows you need a glider with a newborn but if your 'baby' is 2, 4 or 5 when they come home you may still find yourself doing a LOT of rocking!
Families open to school aged kids
I am not a proponent of showering kids with gifts when they first arrive (I like to make sure kids are not given unrealistic expectations that our house is a 365 Santa's workshop) but having something little in your car to hand to a child when you first meet them can help - coloring books, matchbox cars, a Barbie doll.
If you already have kids odds are you are well stocked with snacks. If you are a first time parents having a few boxes of kid friendly snacks on hand can make the first day/night easier. Cereal bars, goldfish, applesauce and animal crackers can always be found in my house and if I think I may be picking a kid up today I have a selection in my car too.
Depending on the size of the child some need high back boosters, others just the booster seat base. This car seat can be used as a high back booster or the two pieces separate making it suitable for older kids who are not ready to ride without a booster yet.
Older kids often do not want to admit that they need a night light to feel safe but they are in a totally new environment. They are in a totally new space and the sounds at night are all different. I keep a night light in the room and just turn it on without making a big fuss about it. One of our favorites is this projector that displays colorful lights on the ceiling. It also plays music and white noise and is pretty durable.
Many, many kids - whether they are in foster care or not - wet the bed. Even when kids have a known history of bed wetting this information has never been passed on to me when I am accepting a new placement. All of our beds have waterproof mattress protectors on them, just in case.
Teens have strong opinions on everything, so I would wait to do MOST of the shopping till they arrive to your home. A few things that are good to have on hand:
Night Light (that doesn't look like a nightlight)
Sleeping in the dark in an unfamiliar place can be scary, even if you are too big for monsters under the bed. A lava lamp glows at night but does not look like a night light so can be a great addition for a room designed for a foster teen.
Blue Tooth Speaker
There are many different speakers on the market - this one is our favorite. It's small but surprisingly powerful for it's size. Giving a teen a way to play their own music in their room can help to create a space of their own to retreat to when needed.
Especially feminine hygiene products if you are open to teen girls
Can you imagine being in a new family and having to ask for a ride to the store to buy tampons? When we were open for kids up to 13 I kept a tote of hygiene products in the kids room - toothbrushes, deodorants, some pads and tampons, body wash so that teens could just help themselves in the early days.
Did we miss anything on the list? What are your favorite purchases you made while waiting for a placement? Let us know in the comments and we will add items to the list.