Disclaimer: every toddler is different! They toddle differently. They may not toddle at all. Our experience is with the 2- to 3-year-old age range, so these may not apply to younger toddlers. Disclaimer 2: I am not an expert, and found these items from many attempts and mistakes. I may learn better options in the future and hope to share those, too. Not really a disclaimer, but just in case you're wondering: none of these companies paid me anything.
Will you be fostering a toddler in the future and wonder what may be helpful to have on hand besides clothes and shoes? Here are a few things that fit Cricket and Crocodile's needs:
Multiple sturdy nightlights
Toddlers do not like the dark, and toddlers who are in a new home and have experience trauma especially do not like the dark. Toddlers who are savvy enough to climb out of a crib and need a bed are also savvy enough to unplug or break cheap nightlights. Our current configuration is to have one nightlight out of reach that turns off after 20 minutes, and one nightlight that the child can use.
The out-of-reach nightlight has helped with building trust at nighttime and naps: I will come in the room to check on you when the light turns off. Most requests are delayed with the refrain: "I'm right over there. I'll come in when the light turns off." Once again, every child is different, but after settling in, we were able to make this work (usually) so that naptime and bedtime were less dependent on adults being in the room, and it helped us be consistent with how much we went in the room. We use an old Dream Light (which did not work as a personal nightlight as the plastic cover came off, exposing wires).
The nightlight for the child gives the child control and comfort by having that control over the environment. We went with the Munchkin Owl Nightlight, which is fabulously cheap and has an amazing battery life. Over 2 months with nightly use and we have not changed the batteries. Crocodile really loves it and operates it easily. I have heard, though, that red light is better for kids falling asleep, so I may try the Kinderglo in the future, but Crocodile already loves his so much, I'm not going to mess with it.
I'm debating adding a third nightlight with future placements to have something that just stays on all night. We haven't had luck with plug-in ones because they unplug them, and while the Owl is awesome, sometimes he may not be able to find it in the dark, or just waking up in the dark is too alarming. So, maybe motion-sensing lights would be good? Leaving the hall light on sort of works, but I think they find comfort having the light in their room. Or maybe I can find something better than the Dream Light that can have a timer but also be switched to run all night, which can still be placed completely out of reach of the child. Suggestions?
Sturdy photo album
Getting toddlers pictures of their biological family members is very important. However, partly because they're toddlers and partly because the pictures bring up strong, mixed emotions, they may destroy them. They also want to carry them everywhere, so precious pictures are lost quickly. I tried a cheap small photo album, like a Grandma brag book, and the plastic on the pages was torn apart swiftly. We never found a good solution for Cricket. Now I'm trying the soft album pictured above that a friend suggested and passed on to me. I may actually sew the photos in there, as Crocodile has already managed to get them out. And the next time around, I want to start out with this album, pictures sewn in, and we're good to go.
This may seems small, but if you have other young children and your house is like mine, everyone has "their" water bottle. When a newly placed foster child notices they do not have a water bottle of his or her own, it's not cool. So, I'm trying to keep one on hand ahead of time, even a few so the child can choose one, or to have a back-up in case they can't work the one I bought.
Little backpacks are adorable. But besides that, I've found them to be great for visits. I usually have a few pieces of artwork and notes for biological parents, plus they may give gifts to their child. A backpack makes it easier to round up all that stuff, especially when holding multiple hands crossing parking lots. They're also useful for the inevitable multiple appointments you'll have for a foster child, as I put waiting room activities in the backpack to bring along.
Duffle bag or suitcase
I hope this is pretty well-known by now, but foster children may move from your home, they may move suddenly, and they need something with more dignity than a trash bag or shopping bags. I often find cheap kids' or small duffle bags at Aldi and stock up. Some agencies may provide them when the child arrives, but be prepared in case they don't. We also use them regularly for weekend trips, respite, and transition visits.
We always have a couple boxes of mac and cheese and frozen break-n-bake cookie dough on hand.
African-American hair basics
This will be its own post, and I'm really looking forward to sharing it.
What are your toddler essentials for foster care?