Have you wondered what the first day of a foster care placement is like – for the foster parents or the child? The feeling comes close to the first day in a new school, but more intense.
The First-Day Feelings
Both the youth and foster parent are trying to understand their role and grasp an understanding of the other. Feelings of intimidation and doubt, and reservations of stepping on someone’s toes fill the house. For the youth, their mind starts swirling when they get in the car on the way to their new home – wondering what they did wrong, what’s ahead, will they be welcome...
As foster parents, the worries arise as they are preparing a room for the new child they received a brief description of. They ask themselves: how do we ensure they feel supported; what resources will they need on days like this; how can we ease the stress they might feel; how do we create a welcoming environment and create a positive transition?
At times, when a child walks into a new home, their expectations may be low or non-existent as part of their coping skills. Therefore, vulnerable conversations that uncover truths behind their trauma, expectations, and needs can aid with roles and level of care they want and need. As they walk into their new home, various questions arise, such as: is this home safe; is this a safe place for me to express my emotions; how would I get along with this family; how would they treat/help me when I’m having a bad day? These questions can be answered as time passes, through actions, or when challenges arise.
Acclimating into a new, unknown environment can be challenging in terms of patience and navigating uncertainties. Creating a space that provides openness, patience, and understanding is key in this phase. Conversations that are intentional are important to show genuine interest in understanding who the youth is in depth, but they must know the balance within the child’s comfortability. Asking questions like “What’s your favorite color/favorite movie?” can lighten the tension, while a question like “What are your expectations from us as your foster parents?” can create the tone of placement, roles, and rigidity.
Take It Easy
Some of the things a foster family can do to make the first day easier are providing personal necessities, a toy or blanket they can keep for their comfort, and a journal to express themselves. When navigating through introductions and house tours, information and interactions may be overwhelming. Giving the child some space and time to take in their environment and adjust can ease the overwhelming sensation. Remembering that this can be their home for a while means the “let’s get to know each other” questions don’t have to be crammed in one day but rather spread throughout the days or weeks.
When it seems like they’ve adjusted a little, share some information about you first, let them get to know you as a person and not as a foster parent. This can help shift the gears toward the child more naturally; when we show vulnerability, it’s easier for others to do the same. Topics that cover their favorite food, show, movies, their pet peeves, hobbies, and topics/activities that excites them can help find some common interests to bond together.
Bonding together is an important piece when it comes to welcoming a child into a new home or maintaining a relationship. It can create a sense of belonging and trust. Helping them decorate their space/room, doing their hobbies together, going to the park, playing outside, doing arts, or having a movie night can help them practice expressing themselves freely.
In the end, the small efforts, vulnerable conversations, and time spent together can create a drift in their perspective, sense of belonging, and plant seeds for their future relationships. As the relationships grow, they do too. All it truly takes to provide a positive transition is the willingness to learn and understanding where they are coming from and persistency in making an impact in their life.
This blog article was contributed by Angel Manabat, Nexus Family Healing Intern and council member of the North Dakota YOUth Leadership Board.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.