Welcoming a new member into your home and potentially your family forever can be a daunting task. The changes for you, your family, as well as the foster child can be hard to understand and can make for a difficult adjustment.
The home that you welcome a foster child into can play a critical role in the overall access of the placement. From the items you place in your family room to the way you design their bedroom, designing for foster children requires a different eye rather than simply what looks good.
This guide is going to walk you through how to help prepare your home for foster care:
Prepping the House
Prepping your house to welcome foster children involves a few very important steps.
Declutter any items that aren’t actively meeting a need or serving a purpose. A few sentimental things are to be expected, but try to limit additional items. Too many things on shelves, in bins, and in cabinets can be overwhelming for any newcomer joining your home.
Decluttering makes it easier for foster children to understand the flow of the space and where they might fit into the mix.
Of the items that are left, organize them in a way that is clear and makes sense. This will make it easier for children to find the things that they’re looking for. Along with this note, I must also mention to be careful not to take this too far.
Too much organization may make it difficult for the child to know where things are supposed to go. It may also make them fearful to get something out if they are unsure about how to put the item back.
3. Safe Storage
For transitioning foster children, sometimes they can be a threat to themselves. In the interest of safety, take this time to put away any fragile items or things that are overly sentimental.
During the adjustment phase of any foster situation, there may be times when tensions run high and things accidentally get broken. Do you self a favor now and put away any item that you’re not willing to lose.
4. Leave room for their mark
In the midst of decluttering, organizing, and storing try and leave room for your future foster child to leave their own mark. Make them a cozy reading nook or get out a basket just for their favorite toys. Leaving spares for your foster child to fill in themselves helps to ease the transition during this consuming and sometimes difficult time.
Below we’ve listed detailed resources that can help with specific house preparation tasks:
- How to organize your study space – a University of Texas at El Paso study on the benefits of organization.
- How to organize and manage time – a University of Leicester study on how to organize time. Provides a simple and informative guide.
- Decorating Kids Rooms – Designer Dan Vickery discusses ideas for decorating kids rooms.
- Declutter your life and improve your health – Brief summary of 2011 research by the Princeton Neuroscience Institute on the value of decluttering your life and its impact on health.
Prepping Their Bedroom
Prepping the child’s bedroom takes many of the same steps as prepping the rest of the house. First and foremost, focus on creating a safe space with simple design elements.
1. Keep it simple
Try to resist overdesigning the room, designing around a theme, or anything that would be too custom. If you’re painting the walls, choose a gender neutral color that is not too specific. Soft grays, blue-greens or warm taupes make great colors for bedrooms. You can bring in fun colors with accents on the walls, bedding or other accessories.
2. Be patient
Instead of rushing to have a “finished room” as soon as they arrive, try to wait for the child to get settled. Once they’re feeling more at home you can begin to learn about the things that they like.
With a little creativity, you can start to incorporate some of their favorite interests into their new room.
3. Ask questions
Engage with the child about things that they like and don’t like in their room and figure out how to make it special for them. Here’s a list of some questions you can ask to learn more about your foster child:
- What do you like to play for fun?
- Do you enjoy outdoor games or indoor games more?
- Do you have a favorite book or character?
- What is your favorite color?
- Do you like to play pretend?
Asking questions about the child’s interest can help to identify things that they like, which you can include in their new room to make it feel like their own special place.
4. Make it fun
Provide opportunities for the child to pick out something unique and special for their special place. Take their interests and bud off that. Learning about their hobbies can be a fun ice breaker and help to make their room feel unique to them.
Color pictures together to help discover what they like, play games, and (like mentioned above), ask questions!
Prepping the Family
Prepping the family in anticipation of the new foster child is another important step towards a smoother transition for everyone. While change can be difficult, especially for younger children, there are a few tips you can keep in mind.
1. Retain quality time
Sometimes the presence of foster children can make other children feel neglected or ignored. Of course this is not the case, but it is not uncommon for children to have trouble adjusting to unfamiliar faces.
To make this adjustment a little easier, try to carve out some special quality time for each child. This helps to ensure that each child is getting the one-on-one time and affection that they may need.
2. Prepare for change
Be sure to be honest about the expectation when it comes to welcoming in a new foster child. There likely will need to be changes before they arrive and even more changes after they arrive.
These changes could be as simple as setting an additional setting at the dinner table, or as great as sharing clothes, toys, and family living space.
Be expectant. Be prepared. Be honest.
3. Protect from outbursts
Occasionally, foster children may have outburst as they adjust to their new life. This is not entirely uncommon so make sure to have a plan. Putting away breakables and limiting exposure to potential environmental triggers is a great place to start.
If you have existing children in your home, help carve out a safe place for them to go and feel secure. This could be a simple cozy reading nook in their room or another special place in the house that’s just for them.
Below we’ve included additional resources on how the family can best be prepared:
- Foster Care transition toolkit – extensive 66 page PDF with a complete transition plan.
- Support students in foster care – a description of the type of individualized support that foster children need to be successful in school.
- Earlier foster care – summary of a 2000 Standard study on the value of matching children with foster families earlier in life
- Recruiting Other for Foster Care – extensive handbook with guidelines for foster parent recruitment and outreach.
- Child Safety “Go to Guide” – this one stop shop is a comprehensive guide developed and maintained by the Ariziona Department of Child Safety
From a more scientific perspective on how to prepare your home, take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This pyramid was derived by Abraham Maslow, a famous American psychologist who developed a pyramid of needs that people require to operate at peak psychological health.
The way the pyramid works, you can’t develop or meet the needs at the top of the pyramid until the needs at the bottom have been met.
The needs are as follows, from bottom up:
This includes basic needs like food, water, warmth, and rest. When prepping your home for a foster placement, make sure there is sufficient area and resources to meet these needs.
This includes basic needs like security and safety. In the home, this could as physical as a roof over their head or a cozy spot that feels safe. For younger children, security blankets may also play a role here.
Belonging and Love
As foster placements progress, they may begin to seek out the next level of the pyramid—belonging and love. If you have a long-term foster child, try to seek out opportunities for the child to make friends and have deeper relationships with family, siblings, or others who they interact with on a regular basis.
In many cases, meeting esteem needs can be difficult in a foster situation because the child may not be at the home long enough to really dive into this. Nevertheless, esteem needs are an important step to reaching peak psychological health. Esteem needs includes prestige and the feeling of accomplishment.
Find an activity that they are interested in that has a beginning and an end and help the child work through the project until it is complete. It could be building a Lego house, writing a story, or making a goal at next weekend’s soccer game.
Self-actualization is based on the need for self-fulfillment. This need feels the least relevant to foster situations because it is generally a temporary placement. That being said, try to provide opportunities for creative activities that promote development and self-achievement.
For further reading and research please list the list of resources below:
- Maslow’s Theory Revisited – editorial remarks by Berkeley University on Maslow’s theories.
- Abraham Maslow – extensive curated biography.
- Maslow’s Hierarchy Reworked – an argument by Arizona State University that the hierarchy of needs to be reworked and updated.
- The Theory of Self-Actualization – an extensive explanation of Psychology Today
Overall, welcoming a foster child into your home can be an extremely rewarding and noble task that can change the course of a foster child’s life. Whether the placement is 6 days, weeks, months, years, or a permanent adoption, the impact your can provide to a foster child is great.
With a little planning, you can prepare your home and family to take on a foster child. Making arrangements ahead of time, helps to avoid potential triggers that could cause issues after the child moves in, making it a smoother transition for everyone.