It is a privilege when we can learn from someone who has lived an experience we are trying to understand. Over the years, has had the privilege to listen to many different foster alumni. They’ve shared candidly about their experiences in the foster care system. We’ve compiled a list of suggestions and advice from former foster youth to help foster and kinship parents consider what their children need and want as they grow.

This list of “in their own words” tips can help you today with who this child is now. But they can also help you think about the adults your foster and kinship kids can become. You will find that their insights are an excellent combination of practical tips, attachment-focused advice, and future-minded suggestions.

We’ve organized their tips into a few broad categories to help you think through what applies to your foster and kinship family and plan your implementation.

Tips to Prepare To Be a Foster & Kinship Parent

  • Educate yourself about foster and kinship caregiving, trauma, and attachment.
  • Consider what self-work will help you understand your triggers and attachment style. This preparation will help you learn how to stay regulated and safe even if the child is challenging you or struggling to express themselves.
  • Learn the tenants of attachment-focused parenting. Your goal is to focus on the relationship with the child — to build trust and connection. Their healing and safety will come in the context of a relationship.
  • Practice using emotional language that narrates and identifies the feelings you and your child might struggle to express.
  • Create a support network for you (and your partner if you have one). As one of our panelists mentioned, not only do your foster/kinship kids need a village, you do too.

Tips for Your Physical Spaces

  • Create a space for the foster child that feels warm, safe, and welcoming. Try to decorate it in a way that feels harmonious with the rest of the children’s spaces to reduce a feeling of “othering.”
  • Consider how to welcome a foster/kinship child and how you perceive the differences between hosting a guest and welcoming a family member.
  • Include your foster & kinship children’s pictures on the walls, in frames, and on the fridge as you have done for your resident children.

Understanding attachment styles

Tips for Running Your Home

  • Keep the house rules very simple, especially at the start of your relationship. Don’t overwhelm them when they come to your home with an explanation of the routine, rules, and expectations. Tread gently and ease them into how you function as a family.
  • Establish a steady, consistent routine that they can depend on, especially in the early weeks with your family. Scaffold them by preparing them in advance when there is a significant schedule change. There will be time enough later for easing off routine or being more spontaneous if that is important to your family.
  • Where appropriate, give your foster or kinship kids a voice and a choice in daily activities. You can offer simple decisions like, “Take out tonight, or cook together?” But you can also include more significant options, such as which regular chores they can be responsible for around the house.
  • Teach them how to do simple household tasks that contribute to the family rhythm and equip them to live as independent adults later.

Tips for Building Secure Attachment

  • Listen to the child with more than your ears. Key into body language and observe the emotions that may be under their words. Respond to the child in ways that communicate safety, like level voices, direct eye contact, and expressing curiosity rather than reacting strongly.
  • Build their confidence and trust by asking their opinion and showing that you value it. Your foster and kinship kids may need scaffolding from you to convey the message that they matter and that their voice has value.
  • Look for opportunities to applaud their growth and successes. Expose them to new hobbies, opportunities to learn new skills, and following interests they have.
  • Remember, foster kids usually have more risk factors for vulnerabilities and developmental delays due to trauma. Therefore, they will likely behave younger than their chronological age.
  • Separate the child from the trauma – and the behavior. Remember that behavior is an expression of a need, so look under their behaviors for the needs they may not be able to put into words.
  • Use observation language or conversation starters to build their emotional vocabulary. Give them the words to express their feelings: “I see that you seem to be feeling very angry. I wonder what happened that brought your anger to the surface today?”
  • Model for them and practice the coping skills they need to regulate. Narrate your own emotions and the steps you take to self-regulate.
  • Be present in their dysregulation and practice co-regulation to help them learn self-regulation.

Ask A Foster or Kinship Alum About What Didn’t Work

If you are in a relationship with a former foster or kinship person, consider listening to what worked well in their journey. But also be willing to hear what maybe didn’t work as well. It requires our vulnerability to listen to it. However, when we can sit with the uncomfortable of what didn’t work well, we often learn the most about how to do it better. We are confident there are many other insights your foster or kinship kids might offer from their own experiences. If they are now adults and can look back on the things that supported them well along the way, we’d love to hear them.

Please share additional tips and insights from your foster and kinship youth!

Image Credits: Kindel Media; Ketut Subiyanto; Ron Lach