Bringing your first foster child into the home can be quite anxiety-provoking. There is so much to consider… You want to make sure you that the child has a smooth transition and also ensure that you are still able to keep up with your other commitments in life. You’ve done all the paperwork and have attended all the classes, but it can leave you wondering “have I done enough?”
First, take a breath and congratulate yourself. Foster care can have a huge positive impact on the foster children’s’ lives and good on you for being prepared to take on this challenge!
Now to help you prepare for this challenge, we have compiled some tips on preparing your home and your family. Read on for these below:
The intent of the system is to place the child in the least restrictive setting compatible with good care, with the ultimate goal, when feasible, of returning the child as quickly as possible back to the parents or legal guardians. — Glen R. Elliott, MD, PhD
- Gather as much information as you can about fostering. Attend the classes available and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Fostering can be a lot more complicated than raising biological children and no-one expects you to know everything straight away. It can be helpful to speak to others who have fostered before and gained an understanding of their experiences too.
- Through this process, find out what support services are available and come up with an “if all else fails” plan.
- Make sure you have a good support network. As foster children often come from a difficult past, it will likely take them some time to settle and this can put stress on yourself and your family. Make sure that you have some good supports in your life you can go to who agree with your decision to foster so that you can manage your own stress.
- Remember that there is no exact rule-book on this. It’s not going to be a perfect fit straight away and it’s unlikely that everything will go to plan. What is most important is that you are willing to learn from these experiences and use them to grow and become a stronger foster parent with time.
We can teach kids the skills they need to create and maintain lots of strong social connections, and we can rig their environment to make a dense web of relationships possible. — Christine L. Carter Ph.D.
Preparing your family:
- Before you even decide on becoming a foster parent, you should make sure that this is best for yourself and your current family situation. For example, if things are not very stable at home, maybe there’s been lots of arguments lately or maybe you have a newborn or challenging child yourself it may not be the best time to introduce a foster child into the home.
- Ensure you and your family are all on the same page and understand why you are bringing a foster child into the home.
- Explain to your children why foster care is needed and that it is not that the child is trying to take their mother or father from your children, but that you have stepped in because unfortunately their mother and father cannot help the child right now.
- Warn your children that the foster child is likely to be a little scared or nervous, to begin with, and may take some time to settle. This could cause them to behave in strange ways, lash out or become withdrawn. Make sure your children know how to welcome the child without impeding on their space.
- Keep open communication in the home so that if your children feel uncomfortable at any time they can come to you.
- Keep in mind that due to their difficult past some foster children can engage in some challenging behaviors such as inappropriate sexual or physical behavior or self-harming. Have clear set rules around what is acceptable and what is not and make sure your children have some tools to deal with this if they are exposed to such behavior. Most importantly, ensure they come to you or your partner to discuss this if they are exposed. Some really helpful tips around this can be found at https://www.thespruce.com/prepare-child-for-foster-adopted-sibling-27463
Preparing the home:
- Make sure they have their own space. Somewhere to place the things that are important to them. Given foster children often do not have many possessions, they can be very protective of those they do have. Ensure that your children are aware of the importance of this.
- Shut away anything dangerous (e.g. chemicals etc). Foster children may not have been given any guidance on the safe use of such things so it is best to keep them out of reach.
- Have some extra clothes, toothbrush, and toiletry items and some toys just for your foster child to help them feel welcome in the home.
You can establish structure for a child by implementing house rules and child-specific goals, by linking privileges to responsibilities, and by creating safe and private spaces for children to be and discover who they are. — Blake Griffin Edwards LMFT
Preparing your friends and others in your life:
- Tell your friends your intentions and why you are interested in becoming a foster parent. Be aware that they may not agree with this decision, and be prepared for some people to provide negative or unhelpful comments. This is why having your own support network is so important.
- Speak to your employer to let them know your plans. Foster parenting can involve a lot of tasks above what would be expected for a biological child (such as court cases and attending services) so prepare your employer that you may need some time off here and there.
For further information on preparing your family and your home for a foster child please see the links below.