Mar 29, 2018
When a child is placed in foster care, it is a difficult situation to deal with, no matter the reason behind it. Sometimes the biological parents are willing but simply not able to care for their children and both parent and child are upset that they are being separated. Sometimes the reason for a child being placed in foster care is due to the death of their parent or parents, which increases the feelings of sadness, loss, uncertainty, and fear of the future. Often there is no available biological family member who can step in and take over the care of a child, and this can leave the child feeling rootless, unwanted, or unloved, even if that is not the case. Being understanding about the conflicting and confusing emotions a foster child is dealing with and extending kindness, patience, and being accommodating can help make a very difficult situation somewhat easier. Part of helping a child deal with the difficulties of being placed in foster care involves making that child feel welcome when they arrive at your home.
What can you do to help make a foster child feel welcome? Foster kids need kindness, love, and support just like every other kid. Because of being separated from their biological families, they often need a little extra patience and understanding, especially during the initial transition period. A foster child may be shy, withdrawn, and initially uncommunicative. Do not take this as a sign of rejection; your foster child needs to get to know you and understand that you want them in your home. They need to feel included without being pressured to act a certain way in order to be accepted by you. The more you are prepared to receive a foster child into your home, the more welcome you can make him or her feel. However, even if it’s an emergency placement there are a few simple things you can do to make the transition easier.
The Arrival. When your foster child arrives at your home, be one of the first welcoming faces. If the child is young, kneel down to eye level when you introduce yourself. Offer a few options for your child to call you, and don’t expect to be called “mom” or “dad” initially, although you can offer that as an option. Don’t force physical contact such as hand holding, but make it available if the child is younger, as this could be reassuring and help to start forming a bond between the two of you. If the child does not welcome your touch, respect his or her space. There may be a history of physical or sexual abuse, which can make a child hesitant or anxious about being touched. It’s wise to err on the side of caution and do your best to make the child feel welcome and comfortable without expectations.
The Welcome Basket. If you have a welcome basket ready for your foster child, it can offer reassurance that you were expecting and anticipating his or her arrival, and that they are worth getting a gift. Fill it with age appropriate toys, books, clothing, and a treat. Having a welcome basket prepared will let your child know you care. Include a small family book with photos of family members, pets, and a list of general house rules. Talk about your family’s favorite hobbies, activities, and traditions. Be sure to leave room for your foster child to add their own family history, favorite foods, activities, and hobbies. Leave a blank page for a wish list of things they would like to do or places they would like to visit.
The Home Tour: Show your foster child around the house. Explain that she’s now part of your family and can feel free to use things around the house. This can help give her a sense of belonging, which may be a first for her. If you have other children, have them join you to help start bonding with your foster child. End the tour with her room. If you have enough advance notice of your foster child’s arrival, you can ask the caseworker what your foster child likes and have it waiting for her, such as a favorite book or movie. Having a nightlight can help make the room feel safer, especially if the child is young. Allow your child the option to rearrange things in the room if it will help things more comfortable for her.
The Ice Breaker: Once your child has had time to get settled, gauge her mood and see if she’s open to talking. If so, start by asking questions that show that you’re truly interested without being intrusive, like asking if there’s anything you can do to make her more comfortable. Make yourself available if there are any questions. All of this will help build a bond, but don’t feel rejected if she doesn’t want to talk. It’s likely been a very difficult, and perhaps even scary day with a lot to process. Keep in mind that your child’s previous experiences with adults may have led to trust issues. Remember you are still a stranger, in whose house where your foster child is now expected to live. There may be genuine feelings of fear, and it’s important not to try and force your child to adapt or open up to you immediately. Patience is key to learning to live with one another.
Foster parenting is a serious commitment to provide love and support for a child and family in need, at a critical and often very emotional time for both the child and the family. The impact of being in the foster system is life changing for all involved, and becoming a foster parent is a big commitment of time, resources, support, emotions, and care. Being kind to the biological parent or parents, if they are present, can help everyone understand that you are there to help make the situation better. Remember that foster care is about helping to rebuild families and bring them back together, not split them up. In the end, love and patience will win the day.
If you think you want to become a foster parent in the Colorado foster care system, we encourage you to first educate yourself on the requirements. Kid’s Crossing is a private, non-profit, 501c3 Child Placement Agency licensed by the State of Colorado providing resources and training for foster parents. Our agency was founded by foster parents, for foster parents, and we understand the heart, commitment, and dedication required to foster a child. For more information on Colorado foster care and/or becoming a foster parent in Colorado Springs, call Kid’s Crossing at (719) 632-4569.