No matter how long you’ve been a foster caregiver, preparing for every possible situation in a foster placement can be challenging. Regardless of how long a child is in your care, there will always be a mix of emotions, a healthy dose of scheduling chaos and plenty of unexpected events.
As you prepare to host a child in your home, it is essential to understand the reality of foster care for each child varies significantly. Each child in foster care is unique, with their own varied stories, goals and interests, just like every foster parent is also unique, with their own lived experiences.
As much as KVC Missouri is confident in our expertise on this topic, we’re also confident that the truest experts are the children themselves. Above all else, we encourage you to communicate with the child in foster care to best serve their needs. This guide can act as a suggested roadmap as you venture into caregiving that will still help you think through some of the ups and downs you’re most likely to encounter in the first seven days with a new foster placement.
Preparing for Foster Placement Ahead of Time
Regardless of the age of the child you are caring for, some items can be prepared ahead of time to save yourself a little bit of chaos on placement day. These items include a comfortable, safe place to sleep with clean sheets and age-specific hygiene supplies. Some books and toys can also help add a sense of comfort and normalcy for the child.
Some foster parents find it helpful to keep a small snack selection on hand, while others always start placements with a grocery trip so each child can self-select their comfort snacks. This decision is entirely up to you, but one that’s worth considering!
The Unexpected Will Happen
A lot can change in the hours between the first placement notice and the child arriving at your home. It’s actually very common that the circumstances change and the child no longer needs your care!
Being flexible is key for any caregiver expecting a potential placement. Emergency placements may happen in the middle of the night or children may prefer to get to know their new foster home before going into the local community. As always, the child is the expert on their care, and every situation will be unique.
Shopping for the Necessities
Every child in care arrives at a new foster home with a different set of personal items. But it’s also common for children to need new items, including clothing and hygiene essentials. Organizations in your community may offer free clothes to children specifically in foster care.
Keeping a small stock of clothing on hand can be helpful, but with the vast differences in size and style preferences, it may be easier to make a clothes shopping trip on a case-by-case basis.
Don’t be Surprised by Limited Information
When a child first comes into your care, the accompanying social worker should give you important paperwork about the child. However, these details may be limited if this is an emergency placement. If nothing else, ensure you get the social worker’s name, direct phone number and supervisor’s name before they leave you in care of the child. With all the new information, it can be helpful to have a dedicated place to keep important documents and files, so you can follow up later if needed.
While you may be surprised by limited information, remember that the child in your care likely has their own questions and worries. Make sure the child in your care knows they can come to you with any questions, understands that you’re a safe person for them to share big feelings — and feels confident that you’ll try your best to help.
New Daily Schedules
Court dates, case worker visits, medical check-ups, therapy appointments and court-ordered birth parent visits are a few new to-do items that can appear on your calendar in the first seven days.
Depending on state regulations and the child’s age, you will need to carve out time to enroll the child in school, update contact information at their current school or get them situated in daycare or other childcare. Getting to know the child’s teachers can be helpful too in the transition.
A Rollercoaster of Child Behavior
Some children may find it challenging to sleep in new surroundings after being removed from somewhere familiar, while others may thrive with a new bedtime routine. Some may seem reserved while they adjust to a new home, while others may act out immediately to express any challenging emotions they’re facing.
Regardless of who else is in the home, preparing all other household members for these realities can be very beneficial. If you have other children, intentional conversations in an age-appropriate way can help with expectations.
Lean on your Support System
If there’s one thing you can count on in the first week with a new placement, there is a potential to feel overwhelmed. First, know that it is okay to feel a rollercoaster of emotions, overwhelm included! Welcoming someone new into your home is a big adjustment.
In these instances, make a point to connect with your support system. Ask trusted friends to pick up supplies, bring groceries, go for a walk or assist with anything that can allow you time to process your own feelings too. Especially if you have other children in the home, extra support for them may be helpful as you dedicate more time to the child in foster care. And KVC is always here to offer support, ideas and suggestions too.
Understandably, much of your attention will be dedicated to the new child in your home. Remember that this is also a huge transition for you — and as much as you may have prepared for this moment, it can still be very overwhelming.
Seeking Additional Foster Support?
To continue providing the best resources to foster parents in Missouri, we’ve recently started offering preventative family-strengthening services, children’s mental health treatment, educational academies and other mental health and family services from twenty Missouri locations.
Our connected system of care couldn’t run without the support of every Missouri foster parent who works day in and day out to help ensure every child in foster care has a home. Learn more about starting your own journey toward becoming a foster parent.