Welcoming your foster child into your home isn’t going to be as easy as simply opening your door. You need to treat him like any other child but also consider the trauma he’s experienced. Your foster child may immediately embrace you, it may take time for him to warm up or he may never show how he feels at all. Every foster child’s reaction is going to be different. What may seem like a warm welcome to you could be a stressful situation to him. There are going to be times when it feels like making your foster child feel at home is a delicate balancing act. You need to step back, view it from his perspective and try to be flexible and understanding.
Your foster child’s first impression of his new home will likely form a lasting memory, so it’s important that you have as much as possible ready for his arrival. Even if it’s an emergency placement, there are simple things you can do to make the transition easier for him. While making your foster child feel at home may seem like a daunting task, it’s the little things you do that can make all the difference.
Making Your Foster Child Feel at Home
The Initial Meeting: When he arrives at your house, come out smiling and be one of the first welcoming faces he sees that day. Kneeling down to his eye level before introducing yourself will make you seem less intimidating and may ease some of the tension. Don’t insist on him calling you “mom” or “dad.” Instead, give him a few options to call you. Next, introduce the rest of your family. When walking him to your home, see if he’s open to you holding his hand if he’s younger, or placing your hand on his shoulder if he’s older, to start forming a bond and provide some much needed reassurance. He may not welcome your touch, especially if he’s been exposed to physical or sexual abuse, in which case you need to respect his space. If you notice that he seems hesitant or anxious, err on the side of caution and avoid making this day any more uncomfortable for him.
The Tour: Show him around the house. If you have other children, let them join you on the tour to help them start bonding. Explain to him that he shouldn’t feeling uncomfortable using different things around the house, such as the TV or computer, because he’s now part of your family. Doing so will give him a sense of belonging, which may be a first for him.
The Room: End the tour of the house with his room. If you have enough notice, you can ask his caseworker what your foster child likes so you can have it waiting for him, such as a poster of his favorite football team or a book he enjoys. You may also want to have a few new toys for him to play with. If he’s younger, consider having a nightlight plugged in to make the room feel safer. Let him know that you can help him rearrange his room if he would like. Be sure to give him plenty of time to check it out and get comfortable with his new surroundings.
The Book: Making a welcome book for him can help ease his transition into your family. Personalize the outside of a binder with different things he may be interested in to make it look friendlier. Inside you can place pictures of everyone in the family along with their names and the names of any pets. Also, include pictures and names of each room. In the book, include a list of general house rules. List your family’s favorite hobbies, activities and traditions. Leave space for him to add his own. FAFS offers a similar pre-composed book called a Life Book to licensed resource parents in New Jersey at no cost. These books contain areas to write your foster child’s family history, sections to fill in with life and school memories and room to attach pictures. These books can help your foster child hold on to positive memories.
The Basket: Preparing a welcome basket can be a nice surprise for your foster child on what’s likely an upsetting and scary day. You can fill the basket with new clothes, a blanket, toys, books and other things that interest him. Not only will a welcome basket show him that you care, but also that he’s worth getting a gift.
The Food: Put some cookies in the oven to fill your house with a welcoming scent. Once your family has greeted your foster child, put a pizza in the oven for him to eat after the tour. For dinner, find out what his favorite meal is and plan to make that in the future to create a greater sense of home.
The Ice Breaker: Once he’s had time to eat and get settled, you can gauge his feelings and see if he’s open to talking to you. If he’s willing to talk, you can start by asking questions to show that you’re truly interested in him, like asking if there’s anything you can do to make his room more comfortable. Let him know that if he ever has any questions he can feel comfortable coming to you. All of this will work towards building a bond. However, don’t think you did something wrong if he doesn’t want to talk. It’s likely been a very difficult day for him and he has a lot to process. On top of that, his experiences with adults may have led to him having trust issues. His unwillingness to talk could also be coming from the fear of being in a stranger’s house where he’s now expected to live. It’s important that you don’t force him; let him open up to you on his own terms.
Some of these points may seem too commonplace to make that much of a difference, but to your foster child, who’s coming from a situation that was anything but normal, they will. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t seem like he appreciates all that you’re doing. It may take him a few days, weeks, or even months to warm up to you as he adjusts, but with time and your love, he’ll start to feel less like an outsider and more like a member of the family. Even if he doesn’t embrace you the way you hoped, know that you laid very important groundwork that’s going to stay with him always.