First, lets get some things out of the way, I don't mean to recommend specific products, but that may be the best way in a few cases to get the point across. I also can't speak to all regions about what is needed to pass the home study. What I have listed here will be what I found to be "generally" needed, mixed in with some recommendations. Most of this list does not involve the home study at all, but instead focuses on the kids needs, I did try to include some home study items as well. But they are very small in number compared to the other items.
Foster parenting is a lot of work, just like real parenting, but unlike bio-parents, you don't get a baby shower, 9 months to prepare, and years of experience with a child to know what they want and will like. Instead you get poof a 8 year old girl, and no idea what she likes, what she has been taught, and what she has gone through. You need to keep this foremost in your mind when making decisions. This little girl may not like ponies, and princesses, she may love trucks and hammers. You need to be able to adjust to their needs and wishes instead of trying to impose your own.
Best to get this out of the way too. When you're a bio-parent your kids will look like you, they will have your core beliefs, they will have shared fond memories, etc. When you're a foster parent, your children could be of a different race, culture, or religion, and almost certainly come from a different background. You need to keep this in mind as well. Posters saying "Jesus loves you" may seem like an awesome idea, right up until you find out that your new placement is Jewish.
Same goes with race. It's not enough as a foster parent to go "it's ok your black and I'm white, it's no big deal". That's not going to cut it. You need to support your foster children in connecting with others of their race and culture. Culture is the important one here. People have different cultures and you have to be more than just accepting. You have to be supportive.
Gender is another tricky subject but more so than some may think. A lot of foster children will want to cling to any sense of normal they can. Even if it's something as basic as "blue is for boys". You may want to teach that blue isn't just for boys, but in the first few days, if that's the "normal" that they can cling to, then you need to just buy all the blue things you can find. At the same time decorating a room in pink then putting a boy in it, probably isn't going to end well. You also need to be open at the same time, to maybe "this" boy likes dolls. It's cool, get him some dolls.
So much is disrupted in their lives when they first come to you, you don't want to add to that.
So with the elephants wrangled, lets focus on the goals. First and foremost you want to create a safe place for the child or children to be. When they first come to you, they don't even have that. So that's the first issue. Then you want to create an environment that can build a good relationship, start the healing process, and promote attachment to both you and the bio-parents. Finally you want the kids to feel and be normal. You don't want "the system" making everything a "procedure" or "task". There will be some of that, but as much as you can, you want the children to feel normal, loved, and safe.
You may be looking at different age ranges, but a lot of this won't change. That's kind of the point. My wife and I are taking 0-10 year old boys and girls, 1 or 2 if they are siblings. That's where this list came from. If you're taking older children or teens, then you may need to adjust, but hopefully this list will give you a good set of ideas.
One last mammoth of an elephant
Money! Let's not forget that your going to be spending money. While it's important to know that this process is going to cost you some money, it's also important to keep in mind that you're not going to do anyone any good, if your are flat broke, and can't afford simple things like food, because you went overboard preparing for your first placement. I wrestled with this one quite a bit. I would never buy things from the dollar store for myself. I'd rather not have something than to support the dollar store. But, that line of thought needs to give way to the sheer fact that you may very well need to buy 50 toothbrushes next year. Sure, you want to get the $19.99 toothbrush, but come on. Fifty of those toothbrushes is almost $1,000. Don't feel bad about getting things on the cheap, especially at first. This list is long and involved, and you are going to have to re-buy a lot of things. Shop, look around, bargain hunt. It will be worth the cheaper toothbrush when you can feed a child that hasn't had food in days.
There is no way to get around it, you're going to have to buy some furniture. You're going to have to decorate a bedroom, maybe more than one, but at least one. However, you need to keep the elephants and goals in mind. Let's start with a story and then move right into the room.
When I was around 12, My mother decided we were going to move to Michigan (from Florida) and that we would be staying with my step great grandmother. OK no big deal, when we got there though, I was given a room that I never felt was mine. The rug was ugly and felt wet (it wasn't, it was just the cold), there were things I couldn't play with and dresser drawers that I couldn't use. Under the bed were things I wasn't supposed to touch. My great grandmother tried to make a place for me in her house but failed so badly, that when I got a little money I bought a cheap tent, and just lived in that in the yard. I was willing to be effectively homeless at 12, even though I had a perfectly good, technically acceptable, room. All because I didn't feel like it was my room. I never made the connection that this room was "home" or "mine".
So when trying to decide what to do with our room for our foster children we wanted to avoid that experience as much as we could. This meant staying away from gender specific things, but also avoiding "brands" or "people" that a child may not like. Not everyone likes Sponge Bob.
So we went with bunk beds that could be turned into single twin beds. For example https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01DH9R44A/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 This way if we have 1 child we can make 1 bed, just for them. Two younger children and we can have bunk beds to give them more room to play and two older children can have two twin beds.
For decorations we went with vinyl stickers in nice neutral shapes. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001M5UDVI/ref=od_aui_detailpages01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 If a child doesn't like them we can pull them down. At the same time, for a child that is going to be with us a while, we can ask them what they like and add more stickers to it. They were a cheap way to make the room look more like a kids room, without committing to any age range or gender.
Next up we went with green and gray sheets, a cheap set from Target. Our goal is to find out what the kids like then go shopping and let them decorate their room. But for those first few nights, gotta have something.
Same with the blankets. We did very neutral white and gray, or white and green stripes. They're medium weight, and we have some extra blankets should they feel cold.
We went with a small toy chest that looks like a happy bear. It's very small. But nothing says "you don't have anything" better than a huge empty box with nothing in it. This smaller box is soft so it's no problem if it gets "thrown around" some, and it's smaller size means that we can "fill" it quickly once a child is placed. So at least they won't feel like they should have 100s of toys but only have a hand full.
We also went with a "closet organizer" over a dresser, mostly because as a kid I never wanted to put my cloths away. Now all they have to do is get them in a pile. One less fight those first critical days and weeks. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B019YI8E0Q/ref=od_aui_detailpages00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 We went with one with drawers because some kids may not want to display their underwear for everyone to see. As a big bonus, because it's in the closet, there's more room to play in the room.
For a little bit of a "finishing touch" on the room we also got a collection of tiny stuffed animals. They are too small to be cuddled, but they are small enough to hang on curtain rod ends, nobs, bed posts and what not, just to make the room more friendly. Also they can be stored very easily for kids that are too young (they are too small for babies), or too old (a 12 year old might find them too "little kid".
Lastly we grabbed a "Pack-n-play" one that doubles as a changing table and a few other things. It can be "torn down" and fit under our bed, but is ready for use at a moments notice. A real crib was left for after we get a baby as a placement.
That's really it for the room decoration. We got a hamper and a few other things, but they're not really decorations. The main point is that the room is warm and welcoming, but not age or gender specific. There is a clear "upgrade path" for new placements to make the room theirs without costing a fortune, but even for children only staying a day or two, the room should at least feel a little welcoming.
Around the house
Around the house is a bit easier. We got some mag locks for cabinets with chemicals and liquor in them. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004GCJMLG/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
A small medical box that hides away well, https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004G8HXW0/ref=od_aui_detailpages01?ie=UTF8&psc=1
A fire extinguisher (4 lbs ABC)
Night lights in a cheap 4 pack that we can put around the house in the "kid areas" like the hallway, the bathroom, and the bedroom.
"Outlet covers" because that makes sense.
A few door locks for rooms that are not kid friendly. Especially without supervision (like the office or utility room).
A cheap thermometer for the fridge. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01M1IC1DP/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o07_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
A first aid kit, as "complete" as we could find.
For the Bathroom
We have a second bathroom that is going to be for the kids. But we wanted to make it more kid friendly. We got a family of rubber ducks. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004USI7E4/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o04_s02?ie=UTF8&psc=1
And a bunch of non-slip things for the tub https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003PGUL4G/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
As to baby needs, unfortunately, you have to just play with that more on the fly. It's too much to get a "baby tub" that may never be used. And you can make due without one for a day or two. Just remember this list is about surviving the first day or so, not about what you will need long term.
For the children
The rest of what we got, we got for the children. The goal here was to pick up things we though they would need. The first part of the list I tried to separate into rooms, because that made the most sense, but the rest of this list is just a list, with our reasons. Some will need to be adjusted, but most of it is just stuff that we didn't think of. Stuff we never would have though of because we are not used to having kids around, especially kids that will be staying a while and come with none of the stuff they need.
Toys were tricky. We decided not to get any toys until after the kids arrived, then we could ask them what they like, and what kind of things they play with. There are some exceptions, but I will list those out as well.
Again, remember the larger goal. This is supposed to be stuff you would need for the first day or two. A trip to the store once the children are placed is still going to have to happen. This isn't to avoid having to do that, it's to buy enough time that you can go to the stores you want instead of having to go to stores that you don't like because it's 3AM and you need something.
- Headphones - Kids may not like the music you play, or the TV you watch, this can really help them close off and enjoy something they like. It's not really useful for younger kids, but they're cheap enough to just have a couple pairs on hand. Older kids will really appreciate it. Especially if they come from the "country" into the "city" (or the other way around).
- Nook Tablet - This is probably more "us" than everyone. We don't have TV, we have Netflix. There is Netflix kids, but they will need a way to watch it. A lot of parents use TV as a pacifier. Recognizing that and getting "something" to help with that was important to us. Using the nook tablet seems like a good fit because it can also be used for books, it's main purpose, and for some games, and some "TV". But because it's really a reading device, we can use parental controls to limit TV and Games while promoting Reading and Learning. If we had cable we probably would still do this at some point, but it wouldn't be as critical. The Nook tablets are small enough and cheap enough that they are kid friendly. Plus a trip to B&N lets them customize the device with a case, stickers and the like.
- Photo Frames - When they come into the home they may have a photo, you may be able to get one from the case worker of bio-parents, but you can certainly take one yourself. Nothing makes a place feel like home more than seeing your face on things. Plus if you can manage one of their Bio-Family it can help with the healing process. Keep in mind this is true for your infants too.
- Fridge Magnets - They are cheap, get them. Almost everyone with kids has magnets. We didn't have kids so we didn't. Get some, they're useful for sticking notes to the fridge. This is great not only for the older kids, but babies too. Doctors appointments, visits with bio-parents, etc, are all examples of things that will end up on your fridge, regardless of age.
- Key Rings - Especially one with a "big" decoration. You now will have new locks all over your house you're going to want a way to unlock them. A huge key ring will help. Plus it will help you know if the kids get hold of the keys.
- Starter clothes - This is tricky. You can't cover everything. Babies are right out of the list of possibilities. But you can buy 3-4 pair of sweat pants and t-shirts, one in each size range, like a big set, a medium set, and a small set. If you stick with baggy clothes like sweatpants then you can get away with them wearing them around the house, while you get some of their laundry done. Or if they don't have laundry, then they "can" wear them to the store so you can get properly sized clothes. Just remember you're not trying to buy a wardrobe, you're trying to buy clothes for 1 night until you can do laundry or go to the store. Don't go crazy with the clothes buying.
- Bubble Bath - Kids and babies like it. Get a mild one, in a neutral "flavor". It will make that first bath more fun, and less "you can't make me". Plus for more modest kids, they may feel more secure "under the bubbles".
- Books - I won't give a list because that depends too much on taste, but having a couple of books around is important. Many kids coming in will be behind in school, seeing books as part of their room is a strong signal that this is a learning environment too. Not to mention that books are a great way to tell stories that will help them through their situation. There are some geared directly for children in foster care that can help with "odd families" or moving around. Even for babies having something to read to them can be very calming. A lot of times the babies in care just need to be talked to, and held. This can help with that.
- Kid's Flashlight - Nothing is more scary to a kid then being in a new place and it being dark. Combat this with a flashlight.
- Stuffed Animals -This is the one area it's OK to go a bit overboard. Get a few stuffed animals. Go ahead, place one in their bed, even for older kids. Sure a 10 year old may act like they're too much of a big boy to play with a teddy bear, but close the door, and you'll find them hugging it. Just make sure to get some that are good for babies. You can never have too many of these. Try not to break the bank though.
- Lunch Boxes - These are easy enough to store, and great for the times when the kids need to go to school the next day, but you don't have any cash on you. They may not be used much. You may use them all the time, but they store very small, and are a great way to make the school age kids feel normal. They also work well for younger kids when going to the park (snacks). If you get these you will find a use.
- Ice packs - for the lunch boxes.
- Plastic cups - kid friendly, yet plain plastic cups. Probably a good idea to get some with lids and some without. We only had glass and ceramic cups. That won't do, even for a short time, with kids, especially upset kids, instead get plastic cups. You don't need a lot, again you will likely be headed to a store soon where you can buy cups with things the children actually like on them. But for night 0, plastic cups.
- Plastic dishes - Same as the cups. Don't use ceramic or glass plates and bowls, just get some cheap plastic ones to last a few days.
- Kid friendly shampoo - We never thought of this, but as kids come in, they often times need a bath and some cleaning. Our smelly adult shampoos aren't going to cut it. Get some "no more tears" shampoos.
- Kid friendly soap - Again, not something your really think about, but if all you have is "adult" soap and body washes, then you really should pick up some "kid" soap. It doesn't have to be anything special, but kids aren't going to appreciate having to wash with fruity smelling body wash, they won't mind having to use some Irish Spring. Try to keep it mild though. You don't know what kind of skin issues a kid may have to certain soaps.
- School stuff - Again, in the category of things that you should get, but that won't always be useful, some basic school stuff is a great idea. Paper, pencils, and a pencil sharpener, are a great start. You will certainly need more, and quickly if your kids are in school, but paper and pencil will get you through day one.
- Duffel bags - This is one we never would have thought of, but once told it makes perfect sense. A lot of times children coming into care will get all their stuff that they can bring in a garbage bag, grocery sack, or if they are lucky a box. If you think out it that's pretty gnarly. You wouldn't feel great putting all your belongings in a garbage bag and carrying them around, so get them something to put their stuff in. At the same time, you may be thinking, well now that they're here, why bother? Well that's a bit of a trick one too. There is something final about unpacking your things and putting them in the dresser. Maybe they're just not ready for that. Maybe they are still hoping to only be there a few days, and don't want to unpack. The duffel bag will give you a tool that can help them not feel so bad, and if they're not ready to "move in" yet, they can live out of the duffel bag. Sounds silly, but also makes sense. If you're talking about the very young, then the duffel bag can act as a kind of "carry-all" for diapers, bottles, and what not. And if the children are just with you for a short time, like over night. At least they can go on to what's next feeling a little bit better because all their stuff isn't in a garbage sack.
- Files/Folders - Just get a pack of those basic folders or hanging files. There is so much paper work that needs to be kept track of. Usually (almost always) the placements will come with a folder from their case worker, but as soon as they are in your house there are visitation logs, sign in sheets, medication logs, doctors logs, and a mess of other things. A pack of folders makes this task a lot easier, and while it may not seem like it, it is something you will wish you had right from the start.
- Markers, Crayons, Colored Pencils, coloring books, craft paper - While you can't really get toys for all ages, these things are great for 2 to 99 year olds. They're cheap and they will store well, you can let the kids take it with them if they need to move to another home for any reason, and well it will buy you some time to get to the store to get better toys.
- Scissors/Glue - like the stuff above, just simple coverage. For the little older kids sure, but if you don't have kids you're not going to be able to make do with super glue and scissors that are designed to cut car doors in half. You need something more friendly.
- Towels - It's really easy to overlook this. Make sure you have enough towels and wash cloths for you and the new placements. My wife and I had around 6 towels. With our laundry schedule that was fine. Throw in two more kids, and now you don't have enough towels to make it through the day.
- Play dough - Another simple thing that should work for ages 3 to 99. It's so easy to keep some on hand, and will buy you that precious day or two to get to the store for something else.
- Kid bandages. Not really with something on them. Kids would rather bleed then wear a superhero they don't like, but kid sized bandages. Yes there are some in the first aid kit, but kids are kids, you're gonna want more.
- Peroxide, Neosporin, etc. Just have some on hand. A lot of kids will unfortunately come in with boo boos that need tending.
- Cork-board - the smaller ones from staples or office depot. They're a great place to to hang school work, appointments, letters from home, stuff like that. And while yes you might want to put school work on the fridge, at the start, try putting it in their room, so the room feels more "theirs"
- Chalkboard - again a smaller one. It should look fun and not be like school. But the idea is you can write their name on it. Write down important times like bed times and school times, when the bus comes etc. At least here they want you to get the kids back in school in a day or two. This can be tricky while you try to do everything else, but having a clear list of times and such makes life a lot easier for them. It's hard to remember all the new stuff. They have to have new phone numbers, new addresses, new bus numbers, new drivers, new people, new pets. Just having a place to write that down is great. For kids not yet in school, the chalkboard can be a great place to draw, and play, and for babies, just writing their name down, and a smiley face can make a huge difference. Anything to make them more comfortable. While they may not be able to read (babies), they can sense that you're trying to care. It may take some persistence, but this chalkboard is for you too.
- Monthly Calendar - The grid with 30 days that they can cross out. Again, seems like something for "after" but putting a smiley face or a sticker on the day they came to you shows that you care. For the rest of the time it's a great place to show visits with parents, doctors visits, school trips. Those start right away. Even for babies, it's important that you keep it straight, so a calendar is a must. Using a calendar the kids can access (instead of just google calendar) and see, makes it much easier for them. They can see "2 more days till I can visit with Grandma" and that can be a great help. Again, these start right away (here they try to get the first visits in before 48 hours, then again in a couple of days).
- Calamine lotion - for the bug bites
- Lotion - because some kids will need it
- Nail Clippers and such - If you don't have kids then you might not have these, especially for babies and toddlers. Again, seems like you could worry about it later but a babies nails seem to grow to death claws every couple of days and it could have been that long since someone had thought to cut them. Don't worry if they're not used, it's only a few dollars and they will keep forever.
-Starter Foods - Cheerios, Soups, Crackers, Peanut butter and jelly, things that can last a very long time in the cabinets. While babies may come with formula for a day or two the older kids do not and they often need food right away. Just try to pick something that lasts a long time. You may not get placements right away, or you might and they might hate peanut butter. But having somethings on hand will help until you can get to the store and get something better.
- Kool-aid/Tea - As adults we drink different tea, and we don't drink Kool-aid. Get some. Kids can't (well they can) live on juice and water alone, and Kool-aid is a much better choice than soda. If you go the tea route, make sure to get caffeine free. Again if you get babies, then don't worry about it, Kool-aid powder lasts forever.
- Pitchers - Sounds silly to you think about it, if you don't have kids, then I bet you also don't have pitchers for that Kool-aid. We make tea by the glass. We needed to get some pitchers for storing Kool-Aid, and tea. Make sure not to spend a lot here though. They could end up sitting in the cabinet a while.
- Brushes and Combs - Again another thing you might not think of, but they're probably not going to come with any. And if they do inspect them first. Lice is a real problem.
- Hair care products - This is tricky, you want to get some emergency basics, but whatever you get here is going to be wrong. De-tangler for sure, probably some "Hair Cream", baby oil would do in a real pinch. Here's the thing, babies are not going to be able to tell you what they need, and kids aren't going to realize you don't have it until it's too late. Again don't go crazy in this category, but for example, my sister being half white-half black, could not wash her hair without putting some kind of moisturizer back in it, especially when she was younger. She knew this, and would tell you if you asked. But because she was a kid, she would happily wash her hair, dry it out, then realize that there was nothing to put in it. That would mean for her, a rotten day of her hair being a tangled, nasty, mess. Now, obviously you can't know what the future placements are going to need, that's going to take time. But, you can get some basics. Just don't spend a lot here because whatever you get, you're probably wrong.
- Cotton Balls and Q-Tips - Just check your supplies, you probably have them, but with cleaning cuts and scrapes, school projects, arts and crafts, etc. Better just check up on them.
- Wall Mirror -It can really help their self confidence. Get the kind that can hang up on the wall. For babies, show them themselves in the mirror, for older children place it where they can use it. It's a cheap, easy self confidence boost. Plus seeing themselves reflected in their room, will help it feel more like their room.
- Hangers - For clothes. Again if you don't have kids you probably have "adult hangers" and they just don't work for some of the smaller clothes.
That's the list, I will try to update it, if there are new things, but when my wife and I were starting our search for stuff, we really wish we could have stumbled upon a list like this. It took us quite a bit of time to research all the dos and do not dos. I hope this is helpful to someone. I will also be updating it to fix typos and spelling mistakes as I find them.
That last Mammoth
While that's the end of the list, I do have one more piece of advice to go with it. Keep both some small cash (say $20) and some large-ish account (maybe a couple of hundred) on hand for when you get a placement. Soon as they get there they will need things. And having a bit of a buffer to help out with food, clothing, sheets, medicines, etc. will be an amazing help. It doesn't have to be a lot, but having something on hand is advisable.