- Latest News , Press
- August 24, 2017
Dr. John DeGarmo, foster care expert, guides our Let It Be Us audience on ways to handle the delicate situation of welcoming a child in foster care into your home and family. We welcome Dr. DeGarmo as a featured guest blogger.
In all areas of life, preparation beforehand is wise. The placement of a new foster child in your life will certainly change your lifestyle and family environment in some way. Often, preparation beforehand is the key to a successful foster parent/child relationship. Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for the arrival of a foster child is to educate yourself with as much background information and history as you can about the child. Do not be concerned if you have a large number of questions for your caseworker when you are first approached about of a placement of a child in your house. While the caseworker may not have all the answers, you will find valuable information by asking.
Getting a house ready for a foster child can be quite extensive. Your home must be one that offers a feeling of security, as well as one that is welcoming to your new foster child. The first impression you create with your foster child is often vitally important to how the next few days and weeks will transpire. It is highly likely that your foster child will be scared and frightened, full of anxiety. Without a doubt, he is full of questions, as emotions swirl within him. No matter how much this child has been abused, whether it is physically or emotionally, your foster child will want to their mother and father back. After all, these people have been the most important people in his life. Along with this, he has lost his familiar pattern of living, his home, his friends, and all that made up his own personal world.
Each child’s placement is different. Some may come to you with a head full of lice, while some might be some might be covered in dirt, and the few possessions they own, if any, carried in a black plastic bag. In fact, they may only have the clothes on their back. Others may come to stay with you clean, healthy, and with a suitcase full of clothing, a box of possessions, and some money in their wallet. What is important is that you do not judge your foster child based on his arrival and appearance. When the caseworker pulls into your driveway, if possible, go out to the car and welcome the caseworker and child, introducing yourself immediately, with a warm smile and soft voice. Inform your foster child who you are and the role you will now play in his life. He may very well not understand the foster care system, or what foster parents do. Do not insist that your new child call you mom or dad. In fact, it is wise that you never insist upon this. The word “mom” may refer to the person who beat him. “Dad” may be the person who left his family. Allow your foster child to call you by your first names, if you feel comfortable with this, or by whatever name he feels comfortable in calling you. As the child may be scared, do not insist that he react to you right away. This is a time of extreme difficulty, and your foster child may be in a state of shock. To be sure, this is not a time to have a “Welcome Home” party of any kind, and invite friends and family members over. As you help him inside with his possessions, take him by the hand, if he is a little one, or place a soft hand upon his shoulder, if he is a teenager. Actions like these can be reassuring that all will be okay, that he is in a safe and caring home. Do not insist upon hugging, as he may be too embarrassed or hurt to do so.
After all introductions to the entire family have been made, take him on a tour of your house, his new home. Show him where he will sleep, and where his clothes will be kept. Have a nightlight already on in the room, if the room is dark.
As your foster child will need time to adjust to his new home and environment, he will require time and patience from you. To him, everything is new; new home, new food, new “parents,” and “brothers and sisters”, and new rules and expectations. Perhaps, even a new school, along with students and teachers, as well, if he has moved from another school system. As a result, he may act out in a variety of ways. Your foster child may exhibit sudden outbursts of anger and aggressive behavior, extreme bouts of sadness and depression or even imaginative stories about his birth family. He may even express no emotions, at all. It is important that you do not take his behavior personally, as he attempts to understand his feelings, and cope the best way he can.
How long will the child remain in the foster home? When will the child see the parents next? How often can he visit with his family members? These are questions that will weigh heavy on your child’s mind. Make sure you answer each question as honestly as you can. If you are unsure of an answer, let him know it, and reassure him that you will attempt to find out and let him know.
As soon as possible, take some time to sit down with your new foster child, and discuss the rules of your home, as well as your expectations of him. Listen to him, and encourage him to ask questions. This is an important time for your family, as you begin to form a relationship with your foster child. Spend time with him, and try to get to know him; his likes and dislikes, his fears and concerns, his hopes and dreams. If he wants, allow him to speak about his family. He may wish to brag about them to you.
As children in foster care are often behind academically, as well as struggle with the fact that they are coming from outside school districts with different expectations, teachers in your child’s school need to be conscious of this fact. Foster children struggle with many personal and emotional issues while in the foster home, and homework is often not the main objective while in the home each evening. Instead, the emotional issues your child faces may take center stage on a particular evening. Teachers need to assign homework with this in mind, being sensitive to their issues. Let your child’s teacher know this, and ask that they cooperate with you on this. Meet with the teachers, the school counselor, and perhaps even an administrator of the school when you enroll your foster child, and explain these concerns to them.
The best gift you can give your foster child is the gift of time. He will need time to grieve the loss of his family; time to fully understand why he is in your home; time to learn your rules and expectations. He will need time to adjust to a new home, new family, and new school. He will also need time from you; time for someone to listen to him, to guide him, and time to instruct and teach him. It will also be very important for his mental well being if you give him the time to laugh, to play, and most importantly, time to be cared for and loved.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent since 2003, and he and his wife have had over 50 children come through their home. He is an leading expert in foster care, and is the director of The Foster Care Institute. Dr. John is an international speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the world delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic, and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several foster care books, including the highly acclaimed Faith and Foster Care: How We Impact God’s Kingdom, as well as The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe, and Stable Home. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.
Interested in becoming a foster parent or an adoptive parent? In Illinois, you must be a foster parent for six months to a child before you may adopt him or her. Attend a Let It Be Us Finding Forever Families Event to learn about the waiting children and to speak with licensing and child placing agencies. Let It Be Us is a registered 501(c)(3) with the mission of adoption and education of children in Illinois foster care.