Being a first time foster parent can be quite intimidating, but as challenging as your new role may seem, fostering can be highly rewarding as you are providing a home for a child in need and may even help to turn their life around.
For us, foster parents are “parents plus”: not only do they provide a shelter, food, love and care that a regular parent would to their own child, they also have to deal with and manage the specific circumstances of foster children.
We would like to give the following fostering advice to those who are accommodating a child for the first time. The first few days or weeks can seem quite daunting, but the following tips aim to ease any worries that you may have, and to show that fostering is in fact very similar to traditional parenting.
The first thing to do is to show your foster child that you are approachable: be friendly and keep positive body language so that they know that they can always come to you if they have questions or need help with anything. If you are fostering a small child, remember that you are very tall to them and therefore can be quite intimidating: smile and kneel down to meet them at eye level.
Be sensitive: if your foster child moves in to hug you, respond with warmth as this is a scary time for them. Upon arrival, you may feel an urge to hug your new foster child, however, if they do not show signs of wanting to hug you themselves, stop yourself, as some children are sensitive to touch. Remember that you are still a stranger, and trust will build over time, meaning that both parties will naturally become more affectionate – make sure that you do not try to force it straight away.
Holding a family meeting in the first few days can be a great way to make children feel included in your home. Here you can decide on house rules, the consequences for breaking them (children love structure, do not be afraid to establish rules). It’s also a great opportunity both you and your foster child to explain your likes and dislikes, which helps both parties to establish their boundaries and get to know each other.
There is often a tendency for foster parents to want to be the “cool” new parent to be liked. Do not be afraid to be a “real” parent: children need boundaries so you will need to meet their needs (emotional, physical and educational), as well as setting rules.
During the family meeting, it’s also a good idea to establish a new family routine (going to school, homework, dinner time etc.): foster children very often lack stability in their daily life, routines are vital as children thrive on them and as they concretely help in creating a sense of normalcy in their new life with you.
Patience is absolutely crucial in the first few weeks of fostering, children adapt at their own pace, particularly those with disruptive pasts. The first few weeks that they spend in a new home can be quite traumatic (particularly if they have been in a few), so remain patient and do not be afraid to repeat yourself.
Now for the fun part! Make sure that you take the time to plan activities together: bonding is crucial at this stage. These activities will depend entirely on the age of the children, but rather than leaving them to their own devices, or in front of the TV, make sure to do things together. You can discuss this during the family meeting so that you get an idea of what kind of things they like to do, and plan some great days out to get to know each other.
This fostering guide may seem like common sense, but that’s really what fostering is: if you’ve made the decision to foster a child, you are already what they need in their life, these tips merely act as reassurance and a reminder if things get tricky.
For more information on fostering, or for any additional support and advice on how to become a foster carer, please don’t hesitate to get in touch or call us on 0345 057 3845.