Welcoming a foster child into your home is a life-changing event for everyone involved. While the combination of excitement and anticipation may feel a little like Christmas for the caring family, it can be very stressful for the child.
Remember, many foster children have complex histories and arrive at their most vulnerable. Walking into an unfamiliar environment is scary for anyone, let alone a child, and the conveyor belt of new faces often feels overwhelming.
Although the transition takes time, there are a few things you can do to welcome a new foster child and help them feel at home on their first day. Before exploring the suggestions, let’s briefly take a look at the needs of children in care.
Understanding the needs of foster children
Understanding the needs of foster children and why they enter care is the first step towards a warm welcome. It helps you see things from their perspective, and you’ll have more empathy if they seem distant or distressed.
Some of the reasons children enter the system include neglect, abuse and unsafe living environments. As a result, they may struggle to build trusting relationships and have a distorted perception of how families behave.
To remedy this, you should prioritise transparency, familiarity and structure from the offset. Don’t force your foster child to share before they’re ready, and let them know you’re always available for emotional support. When they arrive, greet them with their favourite toys, books and films. Lastly, introduce essential house rules gradually – it encourages children to integrate with the family while providing security.
Five ways to welcome a new foster child on their first day
Now you’ve done the preparatory work, it’s time to look at five simple things you can do to welcome a new foster child into your home and make them feel as comfortable as possible. At a glance, they include:
- Create a welcome book
- Give a house tour
- Keep creature comforts
- Ask questions (but don’t be overwhelming)
- Establish boundaries
We’ve been quite serious until now (and rightly so), but, above all else, the first meeting should be a happy occasion. It’s okay to smile and laugh – after all, you’re changing a child’s life for the better.
1. Create a welcome book
Creating a welcome book to give to your foster child on arrival is an easy way to build familiarity. Plus, it’s only fair – you already know so much about them, they’re entitled to the same.
When making the book, include plenty of personalised elements like their favourite colour, animals and hobbies to make it engaging to read. There should be photos of every family member alongside names and a friendly profile to kickstart relationships. Then, you might jot down practicalities such as house rules, local hangouts and school information.
By doing this, your foster child has a point of reference (it’s easy to forget details in the whirlwind of entering a new home), and it also helps birth children feel more connected with the process.
2. Give them a house tour
Nobody wants to feel like a stranger in their own home, which is why it’s essential to show your foster child around on their first day. During the tour, give them plenty of reassurance to move and use objects freely – they shouldn’t feel hesitant to turn on the TV or computer.
Every foster child needs their own bedroom and you may want to add a personal touch to be extra accommodating. Having a private space full of creature comforts (more on this next) is incredibly grounding and therapeutic, offering children a safe haven to study, play and sleep.
3. Keep creature comforts
In emergencies, a foster child might arrive with nothing but the clothes on their back. Therefore, it’s best to plan for short notice situations by keeping a collection of creature comforts to hand, including toys, books, toiletries and outfits.
Even if you have longer to prepare (which is usually the case), supplementing a welcome book with a basket of goodies is a lovely gesture. Not only does it show you care, but it improves a child’s self-esteem.
4. Ask questions (but don’t be overwhelming)
It’s good to show an interest in your foster child by asking questions, but it should be progressive rather than crammed into the first few hours. They’ve just been through an enormous upheaval and the last thing they need is too much talking.
Once your foster child has settled, check in to see how they’re feeling and whether there’s anything else they need. Let them know you’re always available for emotional support, even if they don’t feel like sharing right now.
The line between being interested and overpowering is fine, and it’s human to make mistakes along the way (the only crime is caring too much). Our best advice is to promote open discussion while letting your foster child lead the conversation.
5. Establish boundaries
Of course, we’re not suggesting an authoritarian stance, but slowly introducing boundaries creates structure, and structure equals safety for children from chaotic backgrounds. Moreover, rules mean rewards and repercussions – children learn that every behaviour has a proportionate outcome, rather than living in fear of explosive unpredictability.
When it feels appropriate, involve your foster child in household chores. Sure, they might moan, but it’s a brilliant way to dismantle otherness – they’re just like any other kid bickering over who’s washing the dishes!
Are you ready to start your fostering journey?
Welcoming a foster child can feel scary at first, and there might be a little hesitancy during the first few weeks. However, small loving gestures go a long way to easing a child’s discomfort – it’s the simple things in life that matter most.
Most importantly, you’re never alone as a foster carer. At Olive Branch Fostering, we offer lots of support, including 24/7 advice lines and ongoing training to help you and your family with the transition.
If you’re ready to embark on the journey of a lifetime, contact our friendly team or call us on 01706 558910. There’s no obligation to go any further, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have.