How to Welcome a Foster Child in Your Family
You made a decision and decided to accept a foster child into your family. This is going to be a challenge no matter how old the child is because you have to remember one thing, they still love their parents. Some foster children may come from abusive homes but some really don’t. We live in a different era where mothers and fathers may be good parents but are struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse and can’t take care of their children. Some parents voluntarily put their children in foster care because maybe they lost a spouse and lost their mental health at the same time. This doesn’t mean they don’t love their children. They are trying to be selfless and make the right decisions for the child or children so they can get on their feet. There are also other cases where children have been abused but it might not have been by their parent, either way, these kids are still scared and don’t know who you are and how you are going to treat them. One thing you should never do is say anything negative about their parents or the situation. In addition, don’t try and compete with their mother or father because you are a foster parent, not the biological parents and in many cases, the biological parents still have supervised and unsupervised visiting rights. This all depends on what the courts have agreed to do in the case of the child or children. Here are some tips to help you.
As soon as the caseworker brings the child over, use a nice voice and talk to the worker and the child. You can tell the child what he or she can call you and don’t use Mom or Dad because the child will be confused and scared. You can give the child a few choices, like Miss Mary or Mr. John or Mary and John, so the child will be able to choose what is comfortable for them. In addition, introduce all the other members of your family to your new foster child so they feel like they are at home. Have your children introduce themselves by their first names and not as their new brothers or sisters.
Show the child the house they will be living in
After introductions are completed, take your new foster child on a tour of the house. Make sure they see their room and make sure their room is all ready for the foster child. Keep it simple and include clean sheets and blankets, closet, dresser, and tell the child they can decorate their walls within reason. Treat your foster child like you treat your own children, same rules apply. You can add a personal touch if you know that the child has a favorite team or likes certain books. Most caseworkers offer a bit of insight before the child comes to stay. If the child is younger, also have a night light because this is a new place and the majority of foster kids are scared when they come to a new home.
Make a Welcome book and Welcome basket
You could create a welcome book to make the child feel welcome. You could include pictures of your family adventures and information about your family. Make sure the book feels welcoming for the child and include the child’s name in the book. You could include a set of rules and pictures of the rooms. This might help the child understand that they can’t jump on their bed, color on walls, etc. This is a good way to set boundaries so the child learns early on what they can and can’t do in your home. Some of these kids probably came from homes that didn’t have many rules so it’s a good way to establish a start.
You can then hand them their welcome basket and you can put art supplies, a journal if they are older, toys, small picture books, and scrapbooks. This will help to make the child feel more comfortable in your home. This basket is a way for the child to already have ownership of something special in your house. This can help the child feel empowered as well. Encourage the child to put pictures of his biological family in the picture scrapbooks or small frames you have provided in the welcome basket. Eventually, they might surprise you and put a picture of all of you in one of their scrapbooks.
You can bake some fresh bread or cookies and have a nice warm pizza waiting for this child so they will feel really comfortable. You can start the pizza while you show the child your home so the food will be ready to eat when you are done. Food helps ease stress for people from all walks of life at difficult times in their lives. Share the meal with the child and the whole family. Never make the child sit in their room if you are having a family event because they are a foster child. A foster child needs to feel love and feel comfortable and have a routine just like you did when you were growing up.
Cook meals for everyone
Mealtime may be a special time in your home and a good time for everyone to bond and discuss their day. You might have to teach your new foster child some manners and healthy eating habits, but don’t rush anything. Somethings take time, especially with a frightened child in your home. Find out what the child likes to eat and if you believe their diet wasn’t too healthy, then gradually introduce new foods. The first week may be hard because the child is going to be nervous but you might have to make adjustments until they are used to the way your family eats. Children need time to learn and process other people’s expectations.
It’s best to try and explain your house rules on the day the child arrives. Talk about what is not appropriate to the child knows what you expect. Talk about privacy and not touching others inappropriately. Talk about not hitting or speaking to anyone in a mean tone of voice. You may tell the child that you as a family listen to each other and don’t interrupt. Talk about kindness and respect and ask the child if they have any rules or expectations. If the child seems to give you some far-fetched rules and expectations, just tell them that these rules don’t coincide with your house rules. If indeed the rules are proper, then, by all means, encourage the use of the child’s rules and expectations as well.
Don’t talk about consequences until something goes wrong. Remind the child about the rules and give the child a warning. If the child does something wrong again, then he or she has to accept the consequences. Just remember never hit or spank a foster child because this might be a bad trigger. Treat the child like you treat your own children and remind them about the rules of the house. Don’t ever be violent and always be reasonable.
You can make the child feel like part of the family by giving them some chores the first week they are in your home. You could give them simple chores like sweeping, wiping the counters or help put some of the groceries away. Responsibilities are always good for kids and they feel like a family member. Ask them if they are comfortable with the chores and let them pick a few chores. This will also help make the child feel more comfortable and give the child some choices.
Ask the child if they would like to help plan out any family plans or activities. This will help you both get to know each other better and the child may surprise you and pick out something really fun. This is also a good way to let the child know that their ideas matter in your home.
Don’t fret if the child doesn’t fit in right away
A new foster child is going to be scared and nervous when they first come into your home. They might be angry and upset because of the circumstances so it’s very important that you are kind and understanding. The child has to have time to adjust to your rules and routines and after a while, they will feel like they belong. This is all up to you and how you feel about being a foster parent. You are now the child’s guardian and you are the one who has to make the child feel welcome. You are learning how to build a new relationship with this child so try to be understanding of child’s needs.
Create Positive memories
You can try things like taking pictures of the child with yourself and your family. Keep track of the important accomplishments in their lives like the first day at their new school. This is the start of building a long-term relationship with the child that is positive. This is one of the best ways that you can help welcome a foster child into your home is to start making some good memories.
Many foster kids have to go to weekly therapy as part of their foster care. You can either choose therapy at the school or have the therapy with the child at your home. The child is taken out of class for school therapy and some foster kids don’t like that very much. The other option is for the therapist to come to your home once a week. This is a bit more private for the foster child because no one at school knows why they are leaving the room. You can also choose to take the child to a professional therapy office for treatment. Don’t miss any of the appointments if you don’t have to and make sure you are on time with the child. This shows that you as a foster parent are responsible and interested in the child’s needs.
Foster care requires serious thinking before you decide to take on a foster child into your home. This is not an easy task and you must be very patient with the child. If you are doing this because you need an extra income, this might not be a good mix for you. Foster kids need as much love and care as your children and probably more reassurance. Some kids have been moved to 3 or 4 foster homes and are numb emotionally by the time they reach your house. If you decide to take on this challenge, make sure you are ready to make a difference in this child’s life. You could foster a lifelong bond with this child and they just might surprise you and bring their family to meet you someday.