Expert Beacon – June 25, 2018
The arrival of a foster child in your house can be a time of excitement, as well as anxiety. The phone call from a caseworker asking if you would like a foster child placed in your home can leave you in a state of apprehension. It is often a time of questions, from you and your family, as well as from the foster child. For the child coming into your home, it is especially an intimidating period. Remember, this new foster child is being moved, against his/her wishes, to a strange home and to an unknown family.
While each child is unique, it is difficult to predict how each new foster child will react to this sudden and extreme change. Yet, with a little preparation and planning, you can ease the stress that is sure to occur during this transition.
Do educate yourself with the child’s background information and history
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for the arrival of a foster child is to educate yourself with as much background information and history as you can about the child. While the caseworker may not have all of the answers, you will find valuable information by asking. Some questions to consider include:
- How old is the child?
- Why is the child in care?
- How long might the child stay with you?
- Will the child need day care supervision?
- Does the child have any learning disabilities or special needs of any kind?
- Does the child have any anger management or extreme emotional issues that you need to be aware of?
- Is this the first time the child has been in foster care?
- Are the child’s medical shots up to date? Are there any medical concerns?
- Is the child from the same town? Does the child need to be enrolled in your local school system?
- Does the child have clothes? Will you need to buy diapers and baby wipes?
Do welcome foster children into your home with warmth and compassion
The first impression you create with foster children is often vitally important to how the next few days and weeks will transpire. Without a doubt, kids will be full of questions, as emotions swirl within them. No matter how much these children has been abused, whether it is physically or emotionally, your foster children will want their mother and father back. After all, these people have been the most important family in their lives. Along with this, they have lost their familiar pattern of living, their home, their friends, and all that made up their own personal world.
Do approach this time with caution and care
Although it is impossible to predict how foster kids will react when they first meet you, it is crucial that you approach this time with caution and care. Each child’s placement is different. What is important is that you do not judge your foster child based on his/her arrival and appearance. However they arrive, they will need your love and care.
Do offer your time and patience
As foster children adjust to their new home and environment, they will require time and patience from you. To them, everything is new: A new home, new food, new “parents,” new “brothers and sisters”, and new rules and expectations. As a result, they may act out in a variety of ways. It is vital that you do not take their behavior personally, as they attempt to understand their feelings and cope the best way they can.
The best gift you can give your foster child is the gift of time. It is often said that “time heals all wounds.” While this may not be true, the passage of time will help your child in foster care. It is important that you give her this time. She will need time to grieve the loss of her family. After all, moving from her home to yours is a huge shock. Additionally, she will need time to fully understand why she is in your home, as well as time to learn your rules and expectations. She will simply need time to adjust to a new home, new family and new school.
Your foster child also will need time from you–time for someone to listen to him, to guide him and to teach him. It will be extremely important for his mental well-being if you give him the time to laugh, play, and most importantly, time to be cared for and loved.
Do not overlook the need to prepare for questions
Without a doubt, there will be numerous questions. Both you and your foster child will have questions. Some of these might include:
- How long will the child remain in the foster home?
- When will the child see his/her parents next?
- How often can he/she visit with family members?
Make sure you answer each question as honestly as you can. If you are unsure of an answer, let the child know, and reassure him/her that you will attempt to find out.
Do not insist that your foster child call you mom and dad
Do not ask to be called mom and dad. In fact, it is wise that you never insist upon this. The word “mom” may refer to the person who beat him. “Dad” may be the person who left her family. If you feel comfortable, allow your foster child to call you by your first names, or by whatever name he/she feels comfortable calling you.
Do not demand that a child follow your rules immediately
All families have some sort of routine and patterns of behavior that exist within their home. Your own family may have a routine that you follow on a daily or regular basis. Depending upon the type of household your foster child came from, he may not be familiar with your day-to-day routine. Indeed, she may come from a home that had no set routine or schedule. Even more, he may have lived in a home where there were no expectations of him, and no rules for him to follow.
Do not expect your child to adjust quickly
It is important that you include your foster child into your family–and into your routine. Before expecting too much from him, give him some alone time to become comfortable with his new home, family and surroundings. Allow him time to observe your family’s routine before expecting him to actively participate. Some of your routines might be informal, such as dinner time habits, shoes in the house and respect for others when speaking. If he has questions about your family’s routine, answer them honestly and at a level he can understand. Let him know why you do such activities in your house.
Each time a foster child comes to live with you and your family, it will be a unique and a special experience. Every placement will be different. You are sure to have surprises from time to time, and some placements may even be challenging and disruptive. Preparation, a welcoming smile and the passage of time will help your family and your foster child during this time of transition.