When we were preparing to foster, I read a lot about support systems and making sure we had them. They don't have to be extended family, but that's usually the first assumption. My family lives one state away and B's family lives one country away. I do have one sibling + spouse within 45 minutes, and they have been very supportive, but it's not quite like having your whole family in town, or parents. So far, this is how being a foster parent without much extended family nearby has played out.
What's been not-so-great
Travel: Out-of-state travel needs birth parent and judge approval, and out-of-country needs birth parent and judge approval, and some serious documents that are hard to get a hold of. We have successfully traveled out-of-state with a foster child, but not out-of-country. (Theoretically, we would have taken Pterodactyl out of the country, but she moved the week before. Since I never had all the documents in hand, I'm still not entirely sure it would have happened.) We've used respite once, and done some creative planning. I sent B with Dinosaur for one trip to B's family rather than having the whole family go. We just went out of country because we knew that doing that between placements was easier. We plan things telling people that they may be canceled, but we also let them know that we won't cancel trip after trip. If it starts looking like that, we'll use respite. We have two trips planned out-of-state in the next few months, and we'll see how that goes. We're planning every third Christmas to travel nowhere (though I argued for this anyway).
Feeling the foster kid difference: After having both families swoop in and stay for lengths of time when our biological kids were born, it's hard when they don't do that for a sweet foster newborn. I don't blame them, but it's still hard. It's hard because we could use the help, and it's hard because we already know this child is treated differently. Some relatives haven't met any of the foster kids so far, and they only ask about our biological kids. One relative asks about Pterodactyl because she met her, but had no interest in hearing that Beetle was coming over for respite. I know it would be different if they saw them more frequently.
Lack of free babysitters: We knew this part already because we have biological kids, but with foster kids more things have come up that we've missed this. We do have wonderful friends and my one nearby sibling who are able to fill in, but I know it's not the same. It's hard to ask people who aren't related to you for those kinds of favors often, or for bigger things like overnight stays.
What's been great
E-mail: I send e-mail updates to our parents, siblings, grandparents, as well as our church small group and a few very close friends. Our agency okayed e-mailing pictures as attachments, just not "posting" them, so I can introduce foster kids this way. I keep them up to date with my constantly changing perception of how long the child is staying and what the child has been up to lately, plus some prayer requests. Getting short responses from people really, really means a lot to me.
Prayers: My mom reminds me that she prays for our former foster kids and their families every day. Shoot, that's better than I do sometimes. Plus, we have their prayers for our family as we go through this journey.
Personalized gifts: While any gifts for foster kids are thoughtful, I get really excited about personalized gifts. One relative made Pterodactyl a nursery wall hanging with her name and info from her birth, just like she had made for Dinosaur and Rhinoceros. Foster kids get clothes and toys from all over, but those individualized things I think are the the things that may really stay with them and remind them that people cared about them in particular.
Intentionally including: Even though I feel an overall sense of the foster kids being treated differently, there have been some really special moments where that wasn't the case. One relative spent a Valentine's package for our family, and included a little Valentine for Beetle, despite the fact that he was 2 months old and had no idea it was a holiday. It touched my heart, and it was special for Dinosaur and Rhinoceros to see that Beetle was included.
I would never discourage someone from fostering because they don't have extended family in town, but I hope that helps some know what it might be like. I am grateful for their prayers and love for our foster babies, and we'll continue to grow and try to communicate well as they continue on this journey with us that they didn't ask to be on!