Being a foster carer is rewarding, and bringing children into your home can change their lives and yours. Beginnings are not always smooth, though, and sometimes foster children have trouble adjusting to a new home. Coming out of a traumatic situation and being suddenly thrust into a completely unfamiliar environment can be overwhelming, and it’s understandable that a child might struggle in the beginning. You, as the foster carer, play an important role in helping foster children adjust to your home, and we’d like to offer some suggestions to make it easier.
Create a welcoming environment
If this is a planned placement, you will have plenty of time to prepare and set up the perfect bedroom for your foster child. If it’s an emergency placement, you will probably not have much information, but it’s still important to provide a bedroom that is a safe haven for the child. Make it child-friendly and comfortable, decorated with calming colours and soft lighting. It can be helpful to create a welcome pack for your foster child, with things like toys, new pyjamas, clothes, arts and crafts, games, books, and so on. Include a heartfelt welcome note, expressing how much you’re looking forward to having the child stay with you, and providing some information about your family. You can even give the child a sheet to fill out, with likes, dislikes, favourite foods, toys, movies, and hobbies or special interests, so that you can get to know your foster child better. While you might be tempted to greet your child with a welcoming hug, this could be off-putting. It’s better to approach the child with a friendly smile, and for younger children, kneeling down to be on the child’s level when you speak.
Your new foster child will probably be nervous and frightened, so be prepared for a wide range of behaviour. If the child seems to settle in quickly, be aware that this doesn’t mean he or she is not still frightened and overwhelmed. Be sensitive to the child’s needs and background, making sure to be welcoming but not overbearing. Be aware that no two children are the same, and children’s circumstances, along with their temperaments and personalities, will come into play during this adjustment period. The first few weeks will probably be the most difficult, so be prepared to repeat yourself, and be gentle. Ask your foster child what you can do to make the stay more comfortable.
Set clear expectations
Give the child a tour of your home, and discuss rules and expectations. Be clear, but don’t be overly strict, remaining flexible and being realistic with your expectations for behaviour. Be prepared to adjust; if the child is used to eating meals on the couch, let the family eat in the living room for a while. If he or she only wants to eat certain foods, allow it during the adjustment period. It’s important for your expectations to be clear, but it’s also important to make the child feel comfortable and accepted.
Talk to them about their feelings
Children need to feel valued, and listening to what they have to say can go a long way towards accomplishing this. Your foster children are not likely to open up immediately, but if you let them know you’re open and listening, they will know they can come to you when they need to talk to someone. In addition to being available, check in from time to time, asking how they’re feeling and giving them the opportunity to get things off their chests. Be careful not to speak ill of the child’s family, even if you are upset about what the child has experienced. Children love their parents, no matter what, and you don’t want your foster child to feel conflicted in terms of loyalty.
Be consistent with behaviour and discipline
Let your child know your house rules, and establish yourself as the caregiver. Be clear on routines, and keep your house running the way it normally does, so that the atmosphere does not become tense. Older children may believe that by following your house rules, which may be very different to those experienced in the birth family, that you are being disloyal to their parents. Reassure children that all families work differently and while they cannot be with their own family, you want them to be part of yours and this is how this family works. Getting children into a settled routine will provide a sense of normalcy, which is very important in helping foster children adjust to a new home. For more help with this, read our blog on dealing with behavioural issues in foster children.
Be their support system
More than anything else, foster children need a soft place to land. You can provide this safe space, with calm, consistent support. As mentioned, do not speak ill of the family of origin, because creating an “us vs them” atmosphere is counterproductive. Be there to answer questions, and if you don’t know the answer, be honest about that and offer to find the answers. Your focus should be on listening and being empathetic, demonstrating your care and concern for the child.
Get help if you need it
When you participate in foster care, help is available to you through your fostering agency. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your foster child, because it’s natural for this transition to be difficult on you as well as the child. No one expects you to have all the answers, and your agency is there to provide you with support. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, taking time to do something for yourself when you need to, like taking a walk, meditating, or doing something you enjoy, like a hobby. You need to manage your own stress in order to be an effective foster carer for the children in your care.
Are you interested in becoming a Foster Carer?
At Acorn Fostering Services, we provide good quality foster placements for children and young people, and we are always looking for foster carers who can offer children sensitivity and care. An Ofsted approved and registered independent fostering agency, we are based in Leicester and provide fostering agency services throughout the East and West Midlands and surrounding Counties. If you think you have the life experience and qualities that would help you care for children of all types and you want to learn more about foster caring, call us on 0116 216 6040, or contact us through our website.