Welcoming a youth in foster care into your home is an exciting journey that will fill your life with happiness and gratitude. You give a youth a safe, loving environment in which they can thrive, and you open yourself up to personal growth. While there are so many wonderful things that come with being a foster parent, we know there are also complexities you must navigate. One of the biggest topics we are often asked about is tips for foster parents on how to best welcome a youth into their home.
We know this first meeting can be nerve-racking for both the foster family and the youth. As a foster parent, you want to make the youth feel comfortable and show them how special they are, but you also don’t want to overwhelm them. You might be asking yourself questions like “Should my whole family be present when the youth arrives?” or “When is the right time to bring up some basic house rules?” Providing a home to a youth in foster care is never one-size-fits-all and there isn’t just one “right way” to connect with youth as each youth and their situation are unique.
We sat down with Becki Schindler, Foster Care Recruitment Coordinator at KVC Nebraska to put together tips for foster parents. Becki shares ways you can help a youth feel comfortable when they first arrive at your home as well as ideas for how to make a youth feel extra special. Read below for Becki’s tips for foster parents, and you’re sure to have a successful first meeting with a youth as they join your home.
Tips for Foster Parents: The First Meeting
- Get on their level: You’ll know the youth’s age prior to their arrival. Use this information to prepare how you will introduce yourself and interact with them. Ask the Admissions Liaisons if they have information regarding the types of things the youth likes. Then you can have it on hand when they arrive at your home to ensure they know they are special.
- Be welcoming, not overwhelming: This is a huge transition for both your family and the youth. Help the youth joining your family stay at ease by having only one or two people greet them at the door. Introduce yourself and allow them to spend a minute getting comfortable before you introduce them to other family members. Also, don’t invite extended family or friends over for the first day or two. Let the youth get settled in and comfortable with your family before they’re introduced to more new people.
- Be accommodating: Ask them if they want anything to eat or drink or if they need to use the restroom. While this seems obvious, it can be easy to forget.
- Give them a tour: On their day of arrival, show them where to find basic things such as where the cups are or where they get grab a snack. Also, be sure to show them their personal space and where they can put their belongings.
- Get to know them, don’t interview them: Have a casual conversation where both you and the youth ask each other questions in a light-hearted manner. Once you can sense they’re comfortable with you, ask if there’s anything you can do to make their personal space more comfortable (i.e. Do they need a night light?).
- Give them choices: Ask them if they would like help unpacking their belongings or if they prefer to do it alone. What would they like to eat for dinner? Find out if they want some alone time in their personal space – and if they do, that’s OK. Allow them space while also checking on them to ensure they know you’re there for them if they need anything.
- Don’t rush your expectations: Don’t immediately start talking about the household rules and your expectations. While it’s important to set boundaries, give them time to adjust to the new environment and way of living.
- Be honest: Be open when answering all of their questions – this starts building trust. If you don’t know the answer to something or need to think about it more before you answer, tell them that.
- Show your commitment to their family’s reunification, if that is the case plan goal: Connection between biological parent(s) and foster parent(s) is an important part of the success of both parent and child. Make phone contact with their biological parent(s) within 24 hours of their arrival to let them know their youth is with you in a safe and supportive place. While on the phone, allow the youth to talk to them if approved by their caseworker. By doing this, it helps you start building a relationship and trust with both the youth and their biological parent(s), and it shows you’re supportive of helping them safely reunify.
Tips for Foster Parent: Going the Extra Mile
Depending on the age of the child, make them feel extra special by giving them a “Welcome Book” to help ease their transition into your family’s home. Personalize the outside of a binder with different things the youth is interested in to show you want to relate. Inside you can include pictures of everyone in the family, along with their names and ages, as well as pictures and names of your family’s pets.
You can include pictures and names of each room to help them get familiar with your home, as well as a list of general household rules and expectations. List your family’s favorite hobbies, activities and traditions. Also, leave space for the youth to add their own picture, interests, and additional notes they want to share with your family.
For more information and tips for foster parents, read our blog “7 Questions Foster Parents Have About Their First Placement.”