Children removed from their homes and placed in foster care often feel confused, sad, scared and worried about their family. The move is usually unexpected, leaving them feeling traumatized and out of control. Often, they can’t understand why they had to leave their family and move in with strangers.
Every child is unique; therefore, every child will adjust differently. Even older children who may understand the reasons for placement will still struggle with adjustment and fear of the unknown. Being patient and trying to see the situation from the child’s point of view is fundamental to their adjustment.
Learn about the child
Before a child is placed in the home, someone from the county agency will share the information they know about the child. Please understand that in some circumstances, very little is known about the child at that time. Ask questions, be prepared for the unexpected, and take the time to get to know the child.
Simple gestures go a long way
Making children feel at home and including the entire family in this process can help ease anxiety. Show them around the house, show them the room where they will sleep, and ask questions about their preferences and comfort needs. Explain that they shouldn’t feel uncomfortable using things around the house because they are living there now.
Try to have some things especially for the child, such as their favorite snacks, a blanket, toys, books or other things that interest them. Hang a poster of their favorite team or singer in their room, create a comfortable sleeping space, get a night light or other comfort items to make the child feel at home in the new space.
Soon after the child is placed, take the child shopping for some new clothes. Your agency can help you through this process and may give you a voucher or purchase order. This can be a good opportunity to get to know the child’s likes and dislikes. Allow the child to have input into their clothing choices, as long as they are appropriate. This will help them have some control in their life at a time when they may feel they have none.
Create a lifebook
Every child in foster care should have a lifebook. This could be a photo album or scrapbook with information about the child and their family. Photos, school information, hobbies, medical information and placement history all should be included. The agency with custody of the child will check on the lifebook from time to time when they come to visit the child. Older children may enjoy helping to create pages and decorating it. It’s important to update the lifebook periodically with pictures and new information. This will help the child understand their history, talk about their feelings, and share their life story.
Birth family connections
Children will most likely miss their birth family. Speaking kindly of the birth family and allowing children to display pictures or mementos will make them feel like you’re on the same team, and that you value their feelings. Before visits with the family, talk to the child and help them prepare. Ask the child and family questions about traditions or events they’ve observed in the past and try to incorporate them into your own family. This can help children maintain pride in their identity while providing a comforting environment.
Be open and communicative
Most importantly, ask questions to show that you’re genuinely interested and care about the child. These can range from simple questions about the child’s interests to specifics about the home and what you can do to make them more comfortable.
Be patient and respectful if the child doesn’t want to open up to you. He or she is going through a traumatic experience. It may take days, weeks or even months to warm up to you and your family. Be consistent with your efforts and don’t get frustrated. Even if you never break through, you’ll be modeling how to build trust in relationships – a lesson the child can carry throughout life.