If you’re new to fostering, you’re probably feeling a whole host of emotions, from excitement to a little bit of anxiety. That’s perfectly normal, but you’ve no need to worry. You were selected for a reason – and there is lots of support out there.
As with any big life adjustment, knowing what to expect and being ready for it makes the process much easier. Keen to know more? Read on for our top tips on how to prepare for your first foster child.
Take every training opportunity
One of first things you should do when preparing to be a foster carer, is undertake relevant training. At Olive Branch Fostering, we are firm believers that: “We never stop learning, because life never stops teaching.” In other words, no matter how experienced you are, there’s always more to learn and ways to improve.
With that in mind, we provide each of our foster carers with regular training and support. This will help you stay up to date with current statutory requirements, learn new techniques to meet the needs of the children in your care and share ideas as a team in order to grow together.
Make your home feel welcoming
When preparing your home for foster care, you need to make it as welcoming as possible. The child coming to stay with you will be unfamiliar with their surroundings, and a clean and tidy home will feel much safer than a chaotic, messy one.
In terms of preparing a bedroom for your foster child, you should furnish a cosy, neutral room suitable for either gender. You can then add personal touches when they arrive and getting them involved in picking out posters and soft furnishings will help them feel more settled and at home.
You could also prepare a family book, to help introduce your foster child to people they are likely to meet. They can then refer back to it if they forget who someone is.
Find out as much as possible
Although it may not always be possible (due to short notice), you should try to find out as much as possible about the child coming to stay with you before they arrive. When you accept a referral, you’ll usually receive a pack containing information about that young person, including their age, gender, background and reason they’re in foster care.
You should also speak to your social worker to get a better understanding of their likes, dislikes, character and behaviour. These details can be useful when preparing your home for foster care and can help you build a bond with the child. Remember, small gestures matter! For example, cooking their favourite meal will show you care.
Have child-friendly items ready
Leading on from the last couple of points, it’s key to have child-friendly items ready, particularly if you don’t have children of your own or this is your first foster child.
For younger children, stock some child-friendly foods in the freezer like chicken nuggets and fish fingers and make sure you have some toys and books to keep them entertained. Also, remember to lock away medications and anything fragile to prevent accidents. For older teens, magazines or a TV in their room often goes down well.
You’ll also need some basic clothing and toiletries for your foster child, like a toothbrush and hair brush. It might be nice to buy a few little welcome gifts such as pyjamas, slippers and maybe a cuddly toy too, as some children will arrive with only what they’re wearing. They can then pick out some clothes for themselves later.
Prepare your own family
Just as fostering is new to you, it’s also going to be new to your children and potentially many of your relatives too. For this reason, we suggest sitting your family down and explaining exactly what fostering is, why you feel it’s important and want to do it and address any concerns or questions.
Keeping conversations going throughout the process can help your children understand what’s going on. It also gives you chance to establish new rules and prepare them for your new arrival. When you accept a referral, you should also feedback key information such as their likes, interests and any behavioural issues to your family, so they know what to expect and can get to know them more easily.
Try to behave normally
Although becoming a foster carer is a big lifestyle change, it’s important that you try to act normal when they arrive. Having a routine will help your foster child settle in and get used to their new surroundings. That means doing your usual activities and eating your usual meals when you normally would.
Be sure to involve them in everyday tasks like walking the dog, going shopping or visiting relatives, so they feel like part of the family. You also don’t want to lose sight of the things that you and your family enjoy, so make sure you keep doing them with your foster child.
Know your boundaries and stick to them
One of the hardest parts about becoming a foster carer is learning when to say no. You get the call and want to help that child. After all, that’s what you signed up for. However, sometimes a placement just isn’t suitable for you and your family and as much as you want to help out, you need to be aware of your limits and stick by them.
Maybe you haven’t got the space to take in multiple siblings or you’re not equipped to provide care to a child with complex medical needs. Perhaps the child goes to a school where the commute wouldn’t be practical for you, or maybe you just need a break right now. Whatever the reason for your refusal, try not to feel guilty – you’re just doing what’s right by you and your family, and there’s plenty more children out there you can help.
Looking for further support?
At Olive Branch, we understand that happy foster carers means happy children. As such, we have a friendly and supportive team of professionals on hand to help you every step of the journey.
For more help and advice on how to prepare to be a foster carer or to enquire about our training sessions, feel free to email us at [email protected] or give us a call on 01706 558910 to discuss your individual needs.