Transitioning Foster Children into a New Home: How to Help
May 16, 2023
National Foster Care Month, which is celebrated in May, is a time to honor and appreciate foster parents who have opened their homes to children and youth who temporarily cannot live with their biological families. Although children may be removed from the home for a variety of reasons, it is often unexpected. While this can be a confusing and traumatizing time, there are resources and tools to help make this life event less stressful to a child in need of foster care services.
First Impressions Matter
Consider creating a “Welcome Kit” for your home which could be filled with various items to help a child feel wanted and connected to your household. If possible, include new items to help the child feel special and considered.
Some “Welcome Kit” items may include:
Fidgets or sensory items
Stuffed animals, blankets, and other comfort items
Available snack options
For older children, providing photos with names of household members and pets can be helpful in the early stages while a child is learning who everyone is, especially if you have a large family. Be sure to include extended family members or others who may visit your home frequently.
It is important to show the child around the entire home, not just their living space. Informing the child where everyone else’s living space is and showing them how to ask for assistance, will help the child develop a sense of safety and security.
Engage the child by asking questions about their preferences and comfort needs. Answering will be easy for some children, but others may have a difficult time verbally expressing themselves. Having extra items on hand and providing options when possible allows the child to have a sense of control over their circumstances.
Be Flexible and Communicate
Although house rules are important, focusing on the basics of safety in the first few weeks should be the top priority. Setting appropriate boundaries and guidelines can come once the child becomes more adjusted.
It’s important to plan for downtime and allow the child to have personal space. If the child prefers to be alone in their bedroom, give them that opportunity in order to develop connection, trust, and respect.
Have a conversation about how the child would like to be referred to (i.e. son, foster son, nephew, etc.) and discuss how they would like to refer to you. Having a conversation that includes biological parents will ensure there won’t be any surprises during future interactions.
Biological and Foster Parents Can Be a Team
If permitted, work with the biological parents, as they are the experts when it comes to their child. Engage biological parents or previous caregivers in conversation to learn about the child’s medical needs, favorite meals, daily routines, preferred names, and other strategies to help comfort them. Establishing these positive relationships early on will help the child maintain a sense of identity and family history.
Acknowledge the “Getting to Know You” Phase
The child may appear to be adjusting well to your home, without any concerns for the first few weeks. As your family passes through this beginning phase, the child’s behaviors and needs may change. It takes communication, flexibility, and patience to support the child through these changes. Professional help is available to further support foster children when this occurs.
You’re Not Alone
Opening your home to a foster child can be an unfamiliar and difficult transition for both your family and the child. However, it could be a very rewarding and life-changing experience for all with the right resources and support.
Mandy Boetz, LISW-S is a Clinical Medical Social Worker at Fostering Connections Program at The Center for Family Safety and Healing. Mandy is a graduate from Ohio State University and has spent majority of her career working with the foster care population including case management, behavioral health treatment, and licensing foster parents.
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