The arrival of a foster child into your home is an anxious time for everyone involved. For a child/young person moving into a new home and meeting the family for the first time, it may cause many mixed emotions and us at Sunbeam Fostering want to make this transition as positive as we can.
Top Tips for Foster Carers Welcoming a Child into their Home
Preparing a Welcome Book/Folder
This is an extension of your fostering family profile which you would have compiled with your Social Worker to assist the Placement Team with their matching process. This book should contain photographs and some text about you as a family, significant others (who have regular contact with your family), the home (definitely a photo of the child’s bedroom), the garden and the surrounding area. If you have other children living with you, it’s nice to get them involved. They could write about themselves, what they like to do and sharing information they feel a child would be interested to know about. The book should also contain information such as names of pets, the families’ interests/hobbies, the jobs they do, food they like, type of holidays they enjoy etc. Ideally, this book should be given to a child prior to a placement move, but if not possible, lovely for them to receive on the day.
A Welcome Box
Ideally, you will know about the child’s interests, likes, dislikes prior to placement and can prepare a Welcome Box for their arrival (if not make up a box of the things you think the child would enjoy!). This should include Sunbeam’s Children’s Handbook, with writing and drawing materials. If a child has any worries or questions, they may choose to scribble down their thoughts/questions and these can be discussed with them later. Other items to include in the box to reflect their interests should include games, toys, soft toys, books, magazines, a pack of sweets etc.
Even if a child has received a Welcome Book and has been informed about you as a family, it is important to recognise that it is a lot of information to take in. Be mindful that you may need to remind them of names of family members and friends. Allow the child to settle into their new home before inviting too many new people over to meet them. Contact with their own family and significant others will probably be an important issue for the foster child. Contact issues should be discussed, understood and agreed prior to placement and confirmed at the Placement Planning Meeting.
Provisions should be made to meet the child’s dietary requirements. If known, to prepare their favourite meal for their first meal with you. Food is a significant area for children and they should be included in discussions about food choices at an early stage. This will ensure they have a preferred breakfast choice, pack-ups can be catered for and meals can be enjoyed. If an unplanned move, then a variety of food choices should be catered for to offer choice to the child.
Refreshments should be offered to the child as soon as they arrive. Inform children shortly after their arrival arrangements for accessing food and refreshments. An age appropriate guide pinned up in the kitchen to highlight where drinks, cups, certain foods are located may benefit a child during the settling-in period. Involving children in compiling a shopping list or going shopping with you is a worthwhile activity to do to ensure their preferences are catered for. Food and drink can be a significant area of anxiety for children (feeling thirsty or hungry and not feeling confident enough to ask), so should be considered carefully.
Meal times can be a tense time for children and it is important to ascertain what has been their experience of meal times and do all you can to make mealtimes a positive time for all present. This may mean a period of time educating them around ‘rules around meal times’, but as with other house rules, these should be introduced sensitively and the child (and the rest of the family) is given opportunity (if they would prefer) to eat in a more relaxed way (i.e. sat with food in front of the television) on certain occasions.
A tour of the house and garden soon after arrival should be facilitated as soon as possible. This is a lovely activity to get birth children or other foster children involved with. The new addition to the family will have the opportunity to ask questions while familiarising themselves with their new home. Also, the family are able to share some house rules and specific information along the way (i.e. this is our bedroom, please knock on the door if you need anything, point out where the bathroom is and other important things like where the light is for the bathroom, which is the hot & cold tap, how to use the shower, where the toilet rolls, towels are located etc). Another important aspect for children, especially older children is the use of the phones, access to Wi-Fi codes and rules around such devices. Important to establish upfront house rules around the use of such items. Writing your address, phone numbers and WiFi codes down for a child may also be helpful.
It is important that foster carers remember that children come from many diverse backgrounds and their experiences of life may be completely different from anything that you as a fostering family have experienced. The fostering family must respect and value differences in relation to race, religion, culture, disability, heritage, experiences, values and views. A fostering family must never respond to issues in relation to a child’s birth family in a negative way. Though ensure you are available to listen should a child need to talk about their thoughts and feelings in relation to their family or their experiences (and record and pass on information appropriately).
It is important to listen to a child’s views and wishes in respect to how they feel comfortable to live in your home and do all you can to accommodate reasonable requests i.e. celebrating special events in a way that a child chooses. Be sensitive to the child being overloaded with information, so record relevant information where appropriate for the child to access when required. Don’t ask too many questions as the child can quickly feel overwhelmed, but remind them that you are available, should they need to talk or ask something.
The best start to any foster placement is when it is planned and the foster carer can prepare for the child’s arrival. This isn’t always the case however and on those occasions as long as you consider the child’s views, wishes and feelings, you will welcome the child into your home in a therapeutic way, which will assist a child to feel secure in their new home.