So, you’re about to become a foster parent! Thank you for opening your heart and your home to a child who needs it.
By now your house or apartment has been inspected for sufficient space and safety. Still, you may be looking around, wondering how best to prepare for the child’s arrival. Whether you have days or mere hours to prepare, some thoughtful touches can help them settle into their new environment and routine.
Here are eight tips for welcoming a child into your foster home.
- Make their room inviting. Take a look around the child’s new bedroom. No matter what the space used to be (say, an office or guest room), has it been redesigned with a kid in mind? Bedding, pillows and wall decals are simple, colorful touches that can be switched out as needed. Before the child arrives, clear out drawers and closets so the space is entirely theirs.
- Make it theirs. Over time, we fill our living spaces with our favorite things and mementos. This is what makes a house a home. When a child enters foster care, they’re walking into a blank slate. Personalizing the space can help give them a sense of belonging.
If you know a little about their background, such as a favorite color, animal or sport, you can prepare in advance. You can also label certain items with their name (such as sign for “Jason’s Room”). Once the child moves in, let them choose the paint color or what to hang on the walls. As you get to know them better, you can personalize the living space even more, like hanging report cards on the fridge and displaying new family photos on the coffee table.
- Give them a tour. This may sound obvious, but plan to show your child around the home soon after they arrive. This gesture not only makes them feel welcome, but helps them focus on the “new,” rather than their past living situations. Be sure to point out the bedrooms (yours and theirs), bathroom(s), play/TV area and where you keep healthy snacks. Assure them they can help themselves to toys or food (within reason, depending on their age) and to come find you at any time if they need you.
- Go through their belongings together. Sometimes but not always, a child comes to foster care toting a bag or suitcase of personal items. You may be tempted to sort through the contents yourself, but it’s important to make this a shared activity. Determine which belongings can be washed with their permission, keeping in mind that an item’s sentimental value may not be obvious to you. Find a special place for everything. Again, communicate: “This is now your home.” Soon you can take them shopping for clothes and toiletries they may need, which is a great way to start learning their likes and dislikes.
- Set expectations. The first day is a good time to share what it’s going to be like living in your household. What are the house rules, from bedtimes to screentime? Where should they hang their backpack after school? What chores will they be expected to perform? Also share your family routine, from weekly religious services to Friday movie night. Don’t expect that the child will take to everything right away — this home experience could be very different from what they are used to.
- Let them decide what to call you. Should the child in your care call you “Mom” or “Dad”? “Mr.” or “Mrs.”? Your first name, even? This seemingly complicated question has a very simple answer: Let them decide. Insisting that they call you “Mom” or “Dad” only stands to confuse a child if their biological parents are still involved in their lives. Empower them to choose instead, and the same goes for what to call other people living in the household.
- Bring out their lifebook. Lifebooks are an important tool for documenting a child’s milestones while in foster care. Over time you can help your child fill these scrapbooks with notes, photos, artwork and more. In a quiet moment, bring out the lifebook you have started for them. It may be rather empty at first, but you can look forward to filling it with special memories in the very near future. If they have brought a lifebook from a previous foster home, ask if they would like to share it with you.
- Offer comfort. Understandably, being placed in foster care can come with feelings of grief, anger and uncertainty. On top of a history of trauma, this child has had to say goodbye to the only family and home they have ever known. Give them quiet time to be with their thoughts — and if they are on the older side, some privacy, too. Children of almost any age can find comfort in “fidget” toys or other calming items. Night lights and weighted blankets can be good solutions for nighttime as well. Above all, assure them the situation is not their fault. They are safe with you, and you are on their side.
Welcoming a child into your foster home is going to be a big change for both of you. As the parent, you can set a welcoming tone for this transition. Some steps can be taken right away, while others take more time — and that’s okay.
Give your child a foster home where they can feel like they belong, and you’ll be on your way to forming a positive, authentic relationship.