Everyone can relate to an overwhelming experience of being brought somewhere new as a child, like a first day of school. Although we think we know how it feels to be a foster child coming into a new home, in reality, we don’t unless we’ve experienced fostering first hand.
Welcoming a foster child into your home can be a daunting prospect for both a new foster carer and the placement they are taking in. Whilst most placements are planned, and in some cases foster carers have the opportunity to meet with the child, sometimes this isn’t possible.
Finding out about their hobbies, interests and favourite food is a great place to start in advance of their arrival, so that you can customise their room and have a meal prepared. But, what other things can you do to help them settle in?
Helping them to understand
Some foster carers have found that writing a booklet tailored to each child helps them to know what is expected in their new home. By giving this to the child’s social worker, they can read through it before their arrival, helping them to identify key members of the family, pets and the house layout.
One suggestion would be to hide a picture of an animal in one of your photo frames. This will help to engage the child in the process on their first visit, and makes it all the more exciting when they find it!
Stories about you and your family will help them to learn more before their visit. Perhaps you have a pet with a particularly funny personality – write things like this in your booklet!
Being transparent with your schedule
Understandably, some children will come from homes where schedules weren’t always kept. Meals might not always have been a guarantee, so one way of reassuring them and letting them know what is expected of them is to have a whiteboard with times and activities.
Make it clear and easy to read – show them what time dinner is served, what time they are going to school, and even what is offered at meal times so that they feel included and considered. If your child is too young to read, then why not draw pictures of your meals instead? This can be fun for all involved!
Fitting in with your foster family
Many things can make a foster child feel anxious when settling in. Where will they sit at the dinner table? Where is the bathroom? Who should they ask when they’d like a drink?
Make them feel included by having name places at the dinner table so that they know where to sit. If you have a sibling group, perhaps ask them to take it in turns to set the table so that they can choose where to sit.
If your child agrees, why not include their photographs in with yours? This is a great way to spark new conversations if you are unsure who or what is going on in the photo. They can also start to learn more about your family as you start to make memories together.
Making the dark less scary
Night lights or glow in the dark footprints work well for little ones that are worried about going to the toilet in the night. Have a clear path from the bedroom to the bathroom so they know where to go.
Establishing a bedtime routine
Whilst you will have new pyjamas ready for their arrival, they may be attached to their existing set so be sensitive to this. Establish a good bedtime routine to settle them in, and make sure that they know where they can find you if they need you in the night.
Do you have questions about fostering? Check out our Can I Foster? page.