Authentic relationships are a key factor in ensuring children in foster care are given the emotional support needed to heal from the significant trauma they’ve often experienced. As a foster parent, you’re given the opportunity to serve as a mentor, guide and advocate for the children in your care. We’ve developed three recommendations to help you engage children that have come into your care after spending time in an institutional setting like a hospital or treatment center:
1. Create Connection
Even if you are only in the child’s life temporarily, make a genuine effort to develop a connection with them. Sometimes connections can happen if you give them the opportunity to discover who they are, show genuine interest in their interests, and remind them that they are not a temporary fixture, but a person who is welcome in your life. Children in foster care don’t need someone who acts like one of their peers or someone who is simply paid to care for them, they need a trusted adult who can guide them safely and successfully into the next chapter of their journey.
2. Establish Balance
Maintain a healthy balance between structure and flexibility. Routines and structure are important in a child’s life to build time management skills, create good habits and even strengthen relationships by encouraging time together. Creating an environment that is structured but flexible shows kids that you value them, are willing to listen to them and that you want what’s best for them.
3. Encourage Honesty and Realness
The child in your home is an incredibly brave and resilient individual who has overcome difficult circumstances. They already know that life can be hard and unfair, so pretending everything is perfect won’t help them discover their next steps to a brighter future. Talk openly with the child about challenges and opportunities and allow them to see that even adults aren’t immune to making mistakes. With love, honesty and a willingness to listen, you can create an environment where children feel seen, known and wanted.
Helping children in foster care heal and be prepared to thrive in adulthood is a collaborative effort, especially for children who have just come out of an institutional setting. Our goal is to find new ways of understanding permanency that will create foundations for children to thrive in young adulthood regardless of how they leave foster care. For more information about fostering through Upbring, visit Upbring.org/FosterInfo.