The first moments when you meet a new child are critical. The first impression that the child has of you and your home can set the tone for the relationship that will be developed in the days and weeks to come. It doesn’t matter if it’s their first time in foster care of if they have been in multiple homes. It doesn’t matter if it’s your families first placement or 100th, the first steps should be the same. They’re not difficult, but they are easy to overlook.
The first thing that you should do when a child is placed in your home is to acknowledge them. As I said, it sounds simple but it’s often overlooked. When a new placement comes to your home, the caseworker usually wants to talk to you and will possibly have some paperwork for you to sign. They are very busy people, so they likely want to get what they need so they can leave. That means that the child is often sitting on a couch or standing there looking around while the adults are talking. After the caseworker is done, then they will say goodbye to the child and that’s usually when the foster parents will introduce themselves and show the child around.
This should be the other way around. When a child comes into your home, your first priority should be the child, not the paperwork. Introduce yourself and your family to the child. Offer them something to eat or drink. Show them their room and ask if there is anything that they need. These steps can go a long way towards what TBRI calls ‘felt safety’. Putting the child first will help them know that they are a priority to you and you are a person that cares about what they need more than paperwork. Feeling like they are important can help them get comfortable with you and your home faster.
Doing the paperwork first before showing them around the house sends a child the message that your home is a foster home, and they are like a package that needs to be signed for before it can be enjoyed. Especially for children who have experienced multiple placements, they can feel like it’s just another place where they are clearly different and less important than the paperwork and caseworker. I don’t think any foster parent would say that is true, but that’s how it can feel to a child if they have to sit on a couch in a strangers living room for 10 minutes before ever saying hello to your family.
If both foster parents are home when the child is dropped off, it’s easy for one of the parents to talk with the caseworker while the other meets the child and shows them around. This is a great chance to include your bio kids. If they’re old enough, they could lead the tour of the home and show them where important things like bathrooms and toys are. It’s a simple step that can make a big difference in the foster child’s experience with you and in your home.
To learn more about TBRI and the concept of felt safety, check out the Empowered to Connect conference coming up in April. We are hosting a simulcast on our campus and many other places are doing it as well. Check out the event information on our website or facebook page.