Becoming a foster parent is a very special calling. You are giving a child a place to call home. The uncertainty of the past means that a safe, stable, and nurturing environment are key requirements for foster children to adjust to their new normal.
Though a child’s past is beyond your control, you can help change their present and future. Here are a few ways to ensure that your home environment is an area of healing for a foster child.
You are a Part of a Team
Foster parents, natural parents, social workers, case workers, teachers, and other parties all make up a unit that should ideally operate together, with the child’s best interest in mind.
You don’t get to choose the team. You can’t control the behavior of other parts of the team. But you can choose to be an example of openness and cooperation that may help others do the same.
Most importantly, the foster child will see this as well and have an example of positive collaboration and emotional regulation in their life. The stability you provide begins within your home but this collaboration is important in order to extend it outside the home as well.
Unification is the goal of a fostering situation. Sometimes that means reuniting families, but even when it doesn’t, a unified team better serves the immediate and long-term needs of the child as they progress toward their ultimate goal of reconciliation and/or recovery. Whether you are moving towards reunification or adoption through foster care, getting there as a team is vital.
Act from Empathy
Foster children have been exposed to a great deal of instability. At best, they have been separated from their natural families, changed schools, and come to live with strangers in an unfamiliar home. They have experienced trauma. Remember this as you navigate a child’s seemingly unpredictable behavior.
Try to understand where behaviors are coming from and focus on the child behind them. When you remember that seemingly challenging behavior isn’t a personal attack, it is far easier to remain calm and find the need that caused the behavior.
When you project calmness, you are prioritizing three valuable things for the child:
- Building trust that you see them and not their behavior
- Showing them that they have a stable supporter, regardless of how they act that day
- Providing an example of how to emotionally regulate, without saying a word
Remember that this empathy is important towards the natural parents as well. They are often hurting and likely didn’t choose or want the involvement of a foster parent. Show empathy for their pain and keep them on the child’s team.
Be a Constant
When life becomes predictable, children look for confidence and trust. You can provide that stable, constant environment as a foster parent.
Foster children will feel secure when they:
- Can predict how you will react.
- Know you are on their side.
- Know you will stand up for them.
- Know you will be there. (birthdays, holidays, school conferences, extra curricular activities, court hearings)
You become at least one thing in life that they can depend on.
All Debra Corn Foster Care families are also asked to keep a “lifebook” for each child in placement for this reason. Every time life events and milestones happen the foster parent ensures they are recorded. This is a stable reminder of special moments and those who care and it can follow the child into less stable environments, providing continuity between past, present, and future.
Open Your Worldview
Foster children may come from any background. Accept them exactly as they are to build trust and confidence and take the necessary steps to understand and support their religion, culture, physical and mental abilities, needs, and behaviors — even when they differ from your own.
Adapt your life to theirs accordingly, rather than expecting them to adapt to your way of doing things. They are already adapting to change constantly.
Support Them Everywhere
This goes hand in hand with being the constant in their life but children need to see you support them everywhere.
True support is there no matter what. Children need to know you are behind them whether you are at home alone, in a school conference, at a court hearing, or at the grocery store. Your patience with and advocacy for your child as he or she transitions through change and developmental milestones should extend well beyond your home.
What you say about them to others matters so much. Let them hear you say all the good things to as many people as possible. Eventually they will start to believe them.
As you learn about the child – their likes and dislikes, triggers, preferences, etc – share it openly with everyone. Not everyone will spend as much time with the child as you do. As you learn, give others the cheat sheet and let the child witness you explaining how they are more than their behavior.
In this way you become a trusted advocate. You also begin to make advocates of those you share the information with. The child will start to see themselves as worthy of this support and their confidence in themselves, you, and others, will grow.
When You Need Support, We’re Here.
Creating a safe, stable, nurturing home for a foster child is a beautiful thing– but it isn’t easy. There are an abundance of resources to help you from people who have been there. When you need help, reach out to Debra Corn Foster Care. We are always a phone call or email away.
Together we can support foster children in their journey to reconciliation and recovery.