Every child placed in your care is unique. Each experience of welcoming a child into your home is special. Each placement is different. Welcoming a foster child into your care will likely include surprises and challenges.
Welcoming a foster child into your care is a huge event for them and your family. Regardless of how positive you are, it’s essential to remember that this may be one of the worst days of the child’s life. Try to put yourself in their place and think about how frightening it must be to move away from everything and everyone you know, even if the situation is harmful. They’re probably confused, scared, and dealing with a tsunami of emotions, so they might not be at their best.
With so much uncertainty in a foster child’s life, a foster parent’s role is to create an environment that allows the child to feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. Being prepared with a welcoming smile and realistic expectations will help the child feel loved and valued and make the transition as smooth as possible.
With more than 400,000 children in foster care in the US and only slightly more than 218,000 foster families, it’s apparent that more families are needed to welcome children into their care. If you’re considering welcoming a child into your care, continue reading on ways to make the transition smooth.
- Gather Essential Information
While some information is confidential, talk with the social worker to gain sufficient background knowledge to keep the child, you, and your family safe. Other vital information that can help you welcome a child includes knowing their preferred name, what they like to do, their routines, favorite foods, and any medical requirements. If there is anything you are unsure about, ask the child’s social worker so that you can plan.
- Approach the Meeting With Caution and Care
Predicting how a foster child will react when they first meet you is impossible. Each child’s placement is different. So don’t judge your foster child based on their arrival and appearance.
- Manage Your Expectations
Don’t expect any specific reaction. Being placed in care can be confusing and scary for a child. It may be the child’s first time in foster care, or the child could have several experiences in the foster care system, making them wary of this latest arrangement. Recognize that the child likely does not want to be in your home, regardless of why he is removed from his family. Flexibility is key, especially within the first few weeks a new foster child is in your care.
- Set the Stage With Introductions
You should be welcoming, but take your cue from the child. If they seem social and upbeat, a warm greeting is in order. If the child is scared, take it slower. If a child appears indifferent or angry, give them space and talk to your support specialist about what could be bothering them.
Decide what they should call you together, and ensure you’re both comfortable with the decision. Don’t insist that they call you mom or dad, which can be confusing, especially if their biological parents are still involved in their lives.
- Give Them a Tour
It may sound obvious, but planning to show your child around the home soon after arrival can help make them feel welcome. Be sure to point out the bedrooms (yours and theirs), bathroom(s), play/TV area, and where you keep healthy snacks. Assure them they can help themselves with toys or food (within reason, depending on their age) and find you at any time if they need you.
- Set House Rules and Expectations
When a child is placed in your care, they’re dealing with a lot of new information. Reviewing the rules and expectations is important, but it’s probably best to stick to the essentials. For example, share your family routine, from when and where homework is done, Friday family movie night, and what chores they are expected to do.
Don’t expect the child to take to everything immediately — this home experience could differ significantly from what they know. It’s also a good idea to let other family members know that the new arrival will not immediately be expected to join in with chores. Instead, introduce house rules gradually, acknowledge a child’s contribution, and be prepared to be flexible.
- Offer Food and Drink
Depending on the time of day, offer the child food and drink. Give the child a choice. If it’s a meal, it provides an opportunity to talk about their favorite meals or foods. Then, if appropriate, ask them to join you on a trip to the grocery store to pick out a few of their favorites.
- Go Through Their Belongings Together
Often, a child comes into care with a bag or suitcase of personal items. Although you may be tempted to sort through the contents, making this a shared activity is important. Determine which belongings can be washed with their permission, keeping in mind that an item’s sentimental value may not be evident to you. Find a special place for everything. It can help to reinforce the idea that this is now their home.
- Offer Comfort
Understandably, being placed in foster care can come with various feelings — grief, anger, and uncertainty. In addition, a child may be saying goodbye to the only family and home they have ever known. Give them quiet time to be with their thoughts — and some privacy, too, if they are on the older side. Night lights and weighted blankets can be reasonable solutions for nighttime as well. Above all, assure them they are safe with you, and you are on their side.
There’s no foolproof method to guarantee that welcoming a child into your care will go smoothly. However, it’s important to remember that these children have been through a lot and need your love and support.
As you welcome your foster child into your home, listen to them — and ask questions that let them know they’re being heard. Of course, you can’t make all their problems go away overnight. Still, by listening carefully, you’ll be able to help them feel safe enough to tell you what’s going on in their lives so that together, as a family unit, you can find solutions for whatever comes up next!
Consider Becoming a Foster Parent
Most foster parents would agree that the work is often challenging but rewarding. However, there are many reasons to consider becoming a foster parent. As a foster parent, you can provide a safe, loving atmosphere that has the power to change a child’s life and be part of the cycle of healing that enables biological families to welcome their children home.
One thing that sets SOS Children’s Villages Illinois apart from traditional foster care is full-time, professional Foster Parents. The SOS Illinois model places Foster Parents in single-family homes in one of its Villages, where up to six children, ranging in age from infants to young adults, call home.
Change a Child’s Life Today!
When you donate to SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, you’re transforming lives! The generosity of donors has enabled us to provide safe, stable, loving homes for thirty years. Find information on how you can make a difference in a child’s life as an SOS Illinois Foster Parent; we’d love to hear from you.