You’ve been waiting for a foster placement for a few months now. The room’s set up and there are a few articles of clothing in the closet for both a girl and a boy. You even bought some toys you know will be a hit for those hard days.
When you finally get the call, you feel equal parts excited and anxious about what’s to come. You get very little info from the social worker. But you’re trying your best to prepare for this foster placement.
Helping a foster child transition into your home is an important part of the process. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done this twenty times, or if this is your first time. The change your foster child goes through is unique to their situation.
No matter how they respond, act, or behave it’s ok.
To help your foster child adjust you put together a little welcome kit. A snack in case they’re hungry and some toys and books for entertainment. You pull out a special blanket for them to sleep with so they feel safe and secure.
You start to think about going to the nearby park and riding bikes together. And later cuddling on the couch while watching a movie.
Your nerves start to calm down as you imagine what might be.
But the truth is any time a child enters foster care you know trauma, pain, and heartache are inevitable. And putting yourself in their shoes brings you to a realization.
This transition into your foster home is going to need a lot more than a few snacks, toys, and a special blanket.
Every foster care placement transition’s unique. But there are some meaningful things you can do to welcome a foster child into your home.
7 Ways You Can Help Your Foster Child Transition
Welcoming a foster child into your home can be scary for both you and your foster child. Preparation is key when it comes to helping your foster child navigate and adjust to their new home.
1. Do gather as much information about your foster child as possible.
Help your foster child transition into your home easier by getting to know who they are. Ask about their background, bio-family information, and if they’ve been in care before. Caseworkers don’t always have all the information but don’t let that stop you from asking.
Questions to ask a social worker before your foster child arrives include:
- What’s the age of the child?
- Why’s the child in foster care and have they been in care before?
- Does the child go to school or daycare?
- What city is the child from?
- Are there any medical or behavioral concerns?
- Does the child have siblings and are they in care?
- Will the child need any clothes, diapers, or wipes?
These answers better prepare you for making your foster child feel more comfortable when they enter your home.
2. Do limit any and all expectations you have.
This is a hard one for all of us.
Of course, you’re going to want to hug and comfort the child that’s about to enter your care. Imagining what they’ve been through is heart wrenching. Remember, every foster child entering care is a unique circumstance.
And how they respond will be as unique.
Some kids might want to be alone when they first come to your home. They might want to see their room and spend time adjusting in their own way. Other kids might not understand what’s happening and will appear detached.
Avoid painting a picture in your mind of how it should look and welcome your foster child exactly as they are.
3. Do provide plenty of empathy and compassion.
Without a doubt, when a foster child is removed from their home and placed in the care of the state, emotions are high. Chances are your foster child doesn’t know how to manage, express, or understand these emotions. And that can be even scarier for them.
Your child might express anger, fear, and resentment at you. This could be because you’re not their biological parent and they don’t understand what’s happening.
Simple ways to show your foster child empathy include:
- Offering them space
- Doing more listening rather than correcting
- Remind them they’re safe
- Find a game to play together
- Give plenty of praise and encouragement
4. Do offer plenty of patience.
This goes well beyond the first day they’re in your care. Being patient with your foster child’s one of the greatest gifts you can offer. Remember, from their perspective everything has changed in their lives.
They live in a new home with new people. There are new rules and expectations they might not have had in their biological home. And they might even have to start a new school.
With all this change and uncertainty, emotions are going to be high.
Offer plenty of grace and patience as they navigate through these changes and challenges. Give them time to learn new behaviors and ways of communicating. And most of all, time to grieve the loss of their previous life.
5. Do make their room special for them.
As a foster parent myself, I get how the call can come out of nowhere.
You don’t always have tons of time to get your foster child’s room personalized before they arrive. When you get the call from their social worker, try and gather a little personal information.
For example, if you learn your foster child loves Paw Patrol, go buy a little new toy to place on their bed. If they like to color, get them a new set of crayons and books. This won’t be applicable or possible in every case.
Finding a gift relating to an interest they have goes a long way in helping a foster child transition.
6. Do sort through their items together.
As much as you want to get your hands in there and wash everything they have so it’s clean and fresh, resist doing this.
You have no idea what items carry sentimental value. The sweatshirt that you see as dirty and covered in stains might be a sweatshirt given by a parent. Respect your foster child’s wishes if there’s a clothing item they don’t want washed.
Let them share with you any memories they have associated with their belongings. Listening and taking an interest in their home life lets them know they’re safe and you care about their past.
This is a great time to take inventory of a few things, including:
- Do they need any toiletries?
- What are their favorite foods?
- Any allergies or sensitivities?
- Will they need a school bag?
- Do they have weather-appropriate clothing?
7. Do let them decide what they want to call you.
Give them the decision-making power when it comes to what name they call you. This lets them know you respect and care about their feelings. No matter how traumatic their home life was, they’ll always have a connection to their birth parents.
Calling you mom and dad might make them feel as though they’re betraying their birth parents.
But, some children are yearning for a mom and dad so much that not calling you that could cause pain. Let your foster child know whatever they feel comfortable calling you is perfectly fine.
And if in a few months, they want to call you something else, that’s okay too.
Helping a Foster Child Adjust To Change Is an Ongoing Process
There are plenty of things you can do to help your foster child transition into your home. But one thing you shouldn’t do is expect overnight success.
It’s human nature to want to avoid change.
And your foster child’s thrown into so much change without their consent. You’ll have good days and some harder days. Continue making your foster child feel safe, cared for, welcomed, and wanted. This helps make their transition a little easier.
The first few weeks and months have plenty of ups and downs, but you can prepare yourself for some of these. Learn more about what you can expect during your first week of a foster placement.
Connect with them today and learn more about how they support foster families like you.