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According to the most recent survey conducted in 2020, there are more than 400,000 foster children in 215,000 foster homes in the U.S. One such foster parent is Laura, a California millennial who has fostered children with her husband since 2019. The couple operates a therapeutic foster home, which means they have additional training for kids who need a higher level of care. She asked to be referred to by only her first name because she houses especially vulnerable children and has encountered intrusive followers on social media.
Laura began her TikTok account in June 2021 posting advice for foster parents and tips for communicating with traumatized youth. Her videos include how to greet a child when they first arrive, what placement calls with a social worker sound like and how to conduct a house tour with a timid child. She has amassed a following of 830,000, about four-times the number of U.S. foster homes.
Each year, 30 to 60 percent of foster parents close their foster homes. Common reasons include inadequate support, lack of training and stress. When Laura became a foster parent, she said she needed additional resources. Now, she said, her TikTok is providing new foster parents with the information she wished she had.
What resources did you use when you first became a foster parent?
We started off just by consuming a lot of media—documentaries, shows. There are a lot of things on YouTube. Our agency who licensed us provided the extensive training. And we go to support groups and community events where we can get help from fellow foster parents.
Why did you decide to create a TikTok?
Something that I think only new foster parents understand is just how intense it can be right at the beginning. You have a ton of training but it’s not specific, in-the-moment advice. And that’s really what I needed. When a child is not sleeping through the night—what are 20 different things I can try to support them through this hard time? I can read every book about trauma and how it affects the brain, but ultimately, what I needed was guidance and practical advice. And so I’ve collected things along the way, and that’s what I try to display in my videos and on Instagram.
Beyond that, the pandemic happened, and so many local supports for foster parents were totally cut off. Our support group ended for a whole year. You can often feel like you’re on an island as a foster parent. We are also seeing families struggle. Their support systems have changed. It was a hard experience, and I am just trying to do something positive with it.
Who watches your videos?
A lot of new and hopeful foster parents, which is my core audience. But in addition to that, case workers, social workers, therapists, attorneys, even judges and politicians follow me. I have current foster youth and former foster youth. They provide a lot of context, nuance and experiences in the comments section and validate what I’m talking about. But also, some people disagree and it’s a very constructive conversation, because child welfare is diverse.
Do you feel a certain need to get things right, being that you’re one of the only people in this space putting out viral content?
Yeah, it is a lot of pressure. I spend a lot of time brainstorming and researching content. I will also consult with experts privately. And ultimately I refer everyone to the professionals on the Child Welfare team who know what’s best for the child.
You sell courses and have a Patreon. Could you tell me more about them?
The course is a home walkthrough showing how we’ve created safety that goes beyond minimum standards. The counties are going to have a minimum checklist of what you need to create a safe home. I’ve put together examples of how we can elevate that, while also being trauma-informed and nurturing. And my Patreon is for more in-depth content. I provide one-on-one, unlimited DM support. It’s like a supportive friendship. It’s not professional, but because I get hundreds and hundreds of DMs, I can’t provide one-on-one care and support [for everyone], so that’s what I do on Patreon. Maybe [the foster parents] just need a little extra support if there’s a reunification coming up or [if the child is] grieving, and that’s what I provide.
How do you drive traffic to your courses and Patreon?
It’s really in the DMs. If someone has messaged me and wants to talk further, I will direct them to Patreon, and I’ve tried to make it affordable for everyone. If someone has limited resources, it’s a dollar a month. Anyone who’s seeking information on how to provide care for their kids—I want that to be accessible.
Do you have any sense of why you blew up so quickly on TikTok, especially with this very niche content?
From what I’ve heard from my followers, people like to watch what maybe it could have been like, or healing their inner child. That’s why you see in the comments section, “I wish my mom had done this with me.” Child welfare and providing trauma-informed care touches a lot of families, and people spend a lifetime reflecting on that, so I think a lot of people are curious about it as well.
None of my stories are a copy-paste of something I’ve experienced, because I would never want a kid or family to watch a video and be like, “Oh, she’s talking about me.” Everything is modified, but I still think people can learn. I’m hoping to show others that you can still educate and talk about these complex issues without exploiting families and kids.
What is next for you?
My husband and I have talked about writing children’s books normalizing trauma-informed care. I want to spread awareness, spread empathy and get people involved because the system is 100 percent broken and if people in our communities are not asking questions and getting involved, we aren’t going to see changes.
This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it’s online.