Welcome back to our new foster parent series! Looking for more? Check out How to Choose a Foster Care Agency and Questions You Should Ask When You Get Your First Placement Call. Be sure to check out The Forgotten Podcast as well!
There is so much going through your mind as you prepare for the start of a foster care placement. Whether you have the whole day to prepare or just a couple of hours after receiving the call, the questions run through your mind:
What will they be like?
Do I have what I need?
What do I need to be prepared for?
Is my family ready for this?
How can we best be a loving and supportive presence for them?
If you’ve talked to another foster parent, or if this isn’t your first placement, you know that there’s really no way to be fully prepared. In fact, the name of the game often is getting as comfortable as you can with the not-knowing and the flexibility needed as everyone is adjusting to a new normal. Even so, the first week of a foster care placement can be tough, and there are some practical things that may help during this initial period with the child(ren) placed in your home.
So I thought back to my own experience as a foster parent, and sourced some tips from around our team. Our hope is that these tips will not only help you on the practical side, but will also help you intentionally prepare your heart and mind.
Here are 10 tips for the first week of a foster care placement:
#1: Be flexible.
You may feel like you’ve heard this a lot, and it’s true. It’s important to have a ton of grace for the whole house as you all adjust to a new normal. Be patient as it will likely take time to find your footing as a household.
Beyond that, it’s important to be flexible with the amount of information you have the first week as well. It’s not uncommon to not have any access to some information you need in the first week of a placement. Be sure to ask for placement paperwork or any information during the initial placement, but then be flexible enough to recognize that you might not know a whole lot for a little while.
This leads right into the second one:
#2: As much as you can, let go of expectations.
Even if we try not to, it’s so easy to have a picture in our heads of what we imagine it’s going to be like when a child is placed in our home. (It’s usually a pretty neat and tidy picture, too.) I want to encourage you to let go of as much of that picture as you can, particularly for this first week.
To be clear: This isn’t because it’s going to be a bad experience, but this is to give you room not to get stuck in disappointment.
You will probably have to adjust some of the rhythms your family is used to. You may have to change some of the things you had planned. The child(ren) may not like the things you imagined they would like. It may take more time than you anticipated to connect with them. You may not get what you were expecting to from the agency. It may take longer than you anticipated to set-up daycare or to figure out their transportation to school.
Letting go of as many expectations as you can as you’re getting started will allow you to carry a steadiness as you get started on your foster care journey.
#3: Clear your schedule as much as possible.
This isn’t always possible, and that’s okay. However, if it’s possible for you and your work, try to clear your schedule for a good portion of the first week. (Even if the child goes to school.)
There are so many different things happening that first week as you’re making extra trips to the store, making phone calls, scheduling a visit, taking time to connect with the child, etc. It will feel valuable to you to have as much space in your schedule as you can get to limit some of that stress of figuring out some of the details.
#4: Choose connection.
This child’s greatest need is to be safe and to feel safe in your home—a complete stranger’s home. Like I mentioned above, there are plenty of things that need to be done—like lining up daycare and making all the appointments—but don’t miss the moments of connection in those first few days.
Listen. Observe. Be present. Get to know this child. Get to know their likes, dislikes, preferences, and favorites as much as you can.
This time is often called the “honeymoon period” as everyone in the home is getting used to each other. Don’t let that title persuade you that the opportunity for connection during this time isn’t real. This is the time to really lay a foundation of trust for however long that child will be in your home.
#5: Accept and ask for help.
Community is so important in foster care! When people reach out to help, try to accept the help as much as possible. Whether they’re offering to bring dinner, a bed you can use, clothes, or anything else, the support of those around you goes such a long way. (And it’s a really good reminder that you’re not alone.)
Want a pro tip? In this area, it can be helpful to ask for someone else to help you with asking for help. Seriously!
You may receive some offers of support, or questions like “What do you need?,” and it can honestly be overwhelming to know what you need at first. It’s okay to also say to a close friend: “Can you help me figure out what I need? Lots of people have reached out wanting to help but I’m feeling overwhelmed with the best way to direct them.”
On your own or with a friend, you can take inventory of what you have now that the child is in your home, to help you make a list of items that you need the most.
#6: Begin making the calls you need to make.
I mentioned this above, but on the practical side, it is important during this first week to begin making calls to set up daycare, school, or any other of the regularly scheduled programming that may be necessary. (From an expectation perspective, it’s valuable to know ahead of time that this will typically all be your responsibility as the foster parent.)
If the child is able to stay at the school they went to before, it is valuable to keep teachers or administration in the general loop of information, so they can be an effective part of the overall team in continuing to support the child in your care. Daycares sometimes have a waiting period, or it can be tough to find one with openings at certain times of the year, so the earlier you can get that process started, the better.
#7: Make food as easy as possible.
Especially during the first week, as you’re figuring out what a child likes and dislikes, work to remain flexible. They may love a nice homecooked meal, or they may prefer something more simple. For some children, mealtime can even be pretty overwhelming.
This may not work for every family, but one member of our team almost always says yes to food-related requests during the first week. Foods that may not be the most healthy are almost always a yes for that first week to build up safety and trust.
Putting out a “yes” bin is another valuable recommendation, especially for children who have experienced food insecurity. This bin can have food that can always be seen and that is allowed to be grabbed at anytime without needing special permission.
If the child in your care is older, it can be valuable to bring them to the store with you so they can see and pick out the snacks or foods that they like the most. Before there is trust in place, asking a child what they want you to get at the store may not be received openly. (That can be overwhelming if they haven’t had that choice before.)
#8: Ask if there is a parent or previous caregiver you could contact.
This may not always be possible that first week, but when it’s possible and safe, it can be valuable to schedule a phone call, Google Meet, etc. with biological family or a previous care giver to help them know that the child is safe and doing okay and to help you get to know their likes, dislikes, or routines.
As a foster parent, your first responsibility is to the safety and care of the child in your care. This is a good time to remember, however, that the goal of this placement is reunification. Whether you are able to speak to their biological family early in the case or not, being a champion for them is so important.
#9: Create a system for documentation.
In the craziness of the first week of a new placement, it can be easy to forget this one, which is why I wanted to be sure to mention it. It’s important to keep general documentation throughout the placement, including medical appointments, behaviors or incidents in the home or at school, milestones and celebrations, what a child says, etc.
Solid documentation allows you to partner with your agency worker in getting the child what they need, and supports the worker’s own documentation. Beyond that, in the event that the case goes on for a long time, it can be really tough to remember some of the events and challenges that were experienced in months or years prior. Having them written down is really valuable.
Whether you keep a notebook, a printed file folder, a note on your phone, or anything else that works for you, this first week is a great time to implement that system so you don’t forget to document information during those early days.
#10: Trust God.
Here’s the most important part of this list. Above all else, remember that God is walking this journey with you. He has not left you alone for a minute, and He sees your family, the child in your care, the agency workers, and that child’s biological family.
As you enter into this work, and the unknown that inherently comes with it, you can rest in the trustworthiness and steadfastness of our God.
In the moments that you feel overwhelmed, the Lord is so faithful to provide just what you need for another day. And that is all we can do. Take one day at a time.
You’ve got this, and our whole team here at The Forgotten Initiative is cheering you on!
Looking for resources tailored to children in foster care? Check out our book series:
Growing up with foster siblings, Sarah was exposed in small doses to the realities of foster care. As an adult, Sarah and her husband Jonah felt a desire to be foster parents and had their eyes opened to the world of child welfare. She is passionate about caring for families in need and bringing awareness to her church and community. Sarah enjoys exploring new places, trying new restaurants, volunteering at church, and spending time with family and friends.
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