How to Make Initial Placements Easier
by Rochelle Johnson •
The initial placement of a child in our home is often an exciting time. For many of us, it is the first introduction to a young person that will be living with us for days, months, or sometimes years. In a perfect world, the logistics of welcoming that child into our family would be clearly presented and carefully organized so we could focus on the important goal of making the child’s transition as easy and smooth as possible.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Initial placements can be rocky, hurried, and filled with informational gaps about a child’s history, basic necessities, and emotional needs. Here are a few tips and tools to help alleviate stress on foster parents, with the ultimate goal of helping you focus on what we as foster parents have all set out to do: provide kids with a nurturing and safe environment to help them grow and heal.
1. Use standardized forms to gather information
A big goal of ours at Fostering Families is to standardize some of the systems in the fostering experience that cause foster families stress. The initial placement experience was one of the first topics we tackled. Visit our Resources page at www.fosteringfam.org to find:
Questions to Ask When Receiving a Placement: There are things you should ask to determine if a child will be well suited for your home. Refer to this list of initial questions to make sure you are getting as much information as possible.
Placement Information Forms: These documents will help you gather a wide range of details, from social worker contacts, to favorite foods, to evening routines, to shoe size. Click here to see a form for children ages 6-18.
Speak with the child’s social worker and other contacts to fill out the form. Once complete, send it to the child’s social worker and your licensing worker. Having this information will hopefully make the child’s transition easier and put useful information at your fingertips!
2. Advocate for yourself
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, whether it be time to prepare for a child’s arrival, an opportunity to meet the child, information about the child that is outlined in the resources above, etc. Foster parents are often asked to meet the needs of others, but they have needs as well. It should be OK to express them. For example, if a child who has previously been in care is being placed with you, it is your agency’s responsibility to connect you with as many people as possible who have information about that child—their social worker, previous foster parents, teachers, daycare caregivers, etc. Ask to speak with those people. If you do not get what you need, ask again.
3. Ask for support
There are extra tasks and emotional energy demands that come with the initial placement period. Giving yourself paths to support will ultimately benefit the children you are seeking to help. Support can come in different forms:
- Post in your local or statewide foster parenting Facebook group about your placement, with a call for any tips/advice/needs. If you do this, make sure you are not divulging any confidential information about the child, of course!
- Send out an email on your neighborhood listserv if you have any equipment needs. Perhaps someone would like to donate.
- Make sure to have a few people approved for babysitting and respite care and don’t forget to use them.
- Ask if friends or families would like to drop off a meal one night.
- If you don’t have house cleaning services, consider splurging on a house cleaning.
4. Create a “Welcome Book”
Sending a “Welcome Book” before the child is placed in your home can help ease anxieties as they transition to a new place. Many Welcome Books have pictures of the family members, pets, the child’s room, the family room, and kitchen. Other details to include could be handwritten welcome notes, details about the neighborhood and nearby activities, and family members’ favorite activities, foods, books, and movies.
5. Be patient
Transition and healing processes can be slow. Be patient, and be prepared for emotional connection to take time, both for yourself and your child.
Rochelle Johnson is Co-Chair of Fostering Families (www.fosteringfam.org).