When children enter your home, everyone and everything is strange to them. They are wondering what they did wrong to make them leave their parents. They are afraid and confused. In this situation, possible child behaviors can include crying, screaming, shaking, running away, cursing, defiance, silence, bed-wetting, and fear (e.g., of the dark, the bathroom, people in the home). Here’s what resource parents can do in this situation:
Call. Before the social worker leaves your home, get the parents’ phone number and permission to make phone contact. If permission is denied for the child to talk to the parents, get permission to talk to the parents yourself.
Have empathy. When they enter your home, children don’t need to see smiles and hear they are going to the zoo tomorrow. They need to hear you say that all of their feelings are okay here. You might say, “It must be scary being here. What can we do to make you less scared? You can ask us anything.” Then, listen. Most children will ask about their parents and when they will go home.
Make it clear you care about the child’s parents. Tell the child you will try and call his parents. “Your mom is upset too because she didn’t want you to leave her. You are here with us while other people are helping your mom so she can take care of you again. I am going to let her know that you miss her. I bet your mama knows what you need at bedtime to help you sleep and she knows your favorite food. You want me to ask her? Tell me about your mom. What does she do to make you laugh?”
Get permission for the child to talk to the parents. Hearing a parent’s voice will calm the child. True, the child may cry during or after the call, but the more he feels he can talk to his parents, the less upset he will be. In time, he won’t need to make as many calls because he knows he can contact them. The more he hears his birth and resource parents having calm discussions concerning him, the sooner he will feel secure and safe.
Offer comfort items. These can include a nightlight, sleeping bags, their own toiletries, a tour of the house. Prepare an album about your family, with photos listing names and descriptions of rooms, people, and other helpful information for the child to review.
Visits can be very emotional for children. Before and after visits you may find that children are defiant, crying, withdrawn, confused about which parents to align with, aggressive, disrupted in their eating and sleeping, etc. Here are some things that can help:
Before and during visits:
- Make a “Visit Box” with the child. The child puts in items he wants to share with his parents. When the visit is over, the parents encourage the child to find more things to bring to the next visit. The parents can bring to the visit a box with items from home.
- Take photos of the child with their birth family. Make a copy for the parents. The child’s copies can be placed in his life book and a copy framed for his room.
- With the parents, use a calendar to show the child when the next visit will be. The child can put a sticker on the calendar each day until the visit day.
- If the parents send clothes, dress the child for the visit in those clothes.
- Arrange for the child to talk to his parents by phone.
- The parents can share with the resource parent and social worker any of the close relationships the child has so they can be contacted. These people can continue their relationships with the child. Examples: extended family members, teachers, and neighbors.
- Ask the child to share his favorite parts of the visit.
- Be understanding. If the child doesn’t want to eat the next meal, have a light snack instead. The child may have eaten snacks at the visit or the child’s emotions may make him unable to eat.
Adapted from Donna Foster’s “Shared Parenting Can Reduce Disruptive Behaviors,” Fostering Perspectives Vol. 16, No. 1