Imagine that your family just surprised you with a vacation. Wow! Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? You just found out about this vacation and don’t yet know where you are going or when. Surprises can be fun, right? But before you’ve had a chance to plan anything else or even pack your suitcases, you are told that you must leave immediately, you can’t take anything with you, your family isn’t coming with you, and you might never get to come back home. In fact, it’s not really a vacation, you are being sent away to a complete stranger’s house. Now imagine that you are just a child. How do you feel? Welcome!
We were asked to imagine a similar scenario in one of our foster parent classes and it really helped me to try and see things from the children’s perspective. When welcoming any foster child into your home it’s important to remember what they have been through and why they are there. They are most likely scared, and missing their family. They didn’t ask to be removed from their home. They didn’t choose to come to your house. This is not a vacation for them.
“When welcoming any foster child into your home it’s important to remember what they have been through and why they are there”
I know I was excited to receive our first foster care placement. My husband and I were extremely impatient waiting on that first phone call. After all, we had waited years to become parents. We couldn’t wait to start taking care of children, to love them, have fun with them, and just do all the family type stuff together. When the call finally came and our first foster child was on their way I had to stop and try to contain my excitement. I had to remind myself that, as excited as I was to be welcoming a child, the child would not be excited to be coming. The very fact that a child needed me meant that they had experienced something traumatic and a tragedy that no child should have to face. With that realization, I stopped being selfish and started focusing on the child. My job now was to help this child feel welcome and safe in our home.
“My job now was to help this child feel welcome and safe in our home”
My first instinct when a new child is placed with us is to invite everyone I know over to meet this adorable little child! I mean look at them they are so cute! But again, I must refrain myself and put the child’s best interests above my own. We usually end up staying home the first few days or even up to a week depending on the child and their needs. We try to keep things simple and low key to allow the child time to adjust and for us to get to know each other. We want to avoid making the child feel overwhelmed and certainly don’t want to make them feel like they are an object to show off. We usually end up doing the same with the infants as well. Even though they are so young and not necessarily aware of everything that is going on, I believe the infants can still be overwhelmed easily with too much stimulation especially depending on their medical needs. The time alone together also helps us bond with the kids.
“I remind myself that to the child I am still a stranger”
I can honestly say I have loved all these children from the moment they have entered my home and sometimes even before I met them, but I remind myself that to the child I am still a stranger. As much as I want to wrap them up in my arms right away, smother them with hugs and kisses, and tell them how much I love them, I try to tone it down and follow the child’s lead. Sometimes I knew it was okay to hug them right away, other times I knew they would feel safer with just a high-five. Sometimes they will take my hand and want to sit with me while other times they need space. Every child is different but they all need to know that they are wanted and that they are safe. I always introduce myself and let them know that this is a safe place, we care about them and we will do everything we can to take care of them for as long as they need.
Most of our placements have arrived in the evening and there’s always plenty of paperwork to do with the caseworker. I’ve found it’s usually easiest to get the child a snack or meal while we go over all the paperwork. Most of the time the children are hungry when they arrive. I suggest always having some easily prepared snacks/meals available when you are expecting a new foster child.
We’ve also found that introducing the children to our pets has been a good way to break the ice as long as they are not afraid of animals. We usually leave the dogs on the opposite side of the baby gate at first until we are sure that everyone is comfortable with each other. The dogs seem to provide comfort to the children and provide enough distraction to help put the children at ease. If there are other children in the home, they may enjoy playing together also.
Once the caseworkers have left and we’ve given the children a tour of their new home, we try to find a gentle and non-offensive way to wash their clothing/belongings if they were able to bring any with them and have them shower or take a bath. I certainly don’t want to make them feel ashamed or that they are dirty. I make it more of a matter of routine such as, “Well, it’s bath night so here we go.” It’s a good idea to have fun bath soaps, bubbles, and bath toys to help make the children feel more comfortable.
“In my opinion, when welcoming new children, bedtime has been by far the hardest experience”
We have spent many nights holding and rocking children to sleep as they cry for their families. Watching these innocent babies be so sad and scared just breaks my heart. With our first placement, I remember just being overwhelmed that first night when our foster son cried for such a long time. I sat with him and held him for what seemed like forever. I read him stories, sang to him, and prayed with him. When he finally fell asleep, I went to my room and just cried because it hurt so much to see him hurting. Each night did get better. I suggest having extra soft cuddly blankets and stuffed animals available for the children to sleep with, as well as some good bedtime stories to help calm and distract them at bedtime. One of our favorite bedtime stories has been Goodnight Teddy by Francesca Ferri. This book is a soft book with a removable teddy bear that the child can hold as you read the story. The child helps get the teddy bear ready for bed by giving him supper, giving him a bath, brushing his teeth, reading him a bedtime story, and then giving him hugs and kisses. Because this book is interactive, it really seems to help the children focus on the book and momentarily distract them from everything else.
After the children are finally asleep that first night, either my husband or I make a run to the nearest store to get any essentials needed for the next day such as clothes, car seat, diapers, formula, etc. There’s almost always something that is needed immediately. Then I breathe a big sigh of relief that we made it through the first day. Hopefully each day will be a little easier than the day before.
Welcoming a new foster child into your home can seem scary but it doesn’t usually end up being nearly as scary as we imagined. And I guarantee you that it is far scarier for the child than it is for us. I remember being nervous and wondering what will they think of me, what should I wear, and what should I say. All that really matters though is to be open and honest with them. When we are genuine and show love and compassion to these children, they will hopefully feel safe and loved in their new home.
In the comments, please share any tips you have for welcoming foster children into your home.
Is there anything you do differently to welcome older kids or teenagers?