When you are preparing to become a licensed foster parent or educate yourself to welcome a kinship child, you digest a lot of information. Hopefully, you are learning foster care system procedures, connection and correction techniques, the impacts of trauma, abuse, or neglect, and more. But what about your kids who are already in the home (also called “resident kids”)? What should they know about foster care or kinship care? What do you think they want to know?
It’s a Big Change for Everyone.
Of course, your new foster or kinship child will be experiencing a huge transition when they join your family. However, it’s important to remember that your resident kids will be facing significant changes too. That much change for several children at once can be hard to manage. We often have parents ask what they can do to make the transition smoother for everyone. We have resources for how to welcome new foster or kinship kids here and here.
Preparing your resident kids for this significant change is just as crucial as easing the transition for the new child. The experiences of being a foster or kinship family will help mold who your children become throughout this experience and into adulthood. They deserve as much preparation and communication as you offer to the children you are welcoming into your family.
Talk About Your “Why.”
Sharing candid and open communication about why you are pursuing this significant change for your family is an excellent opener to the conversations. Your kids must understand your intentions and purpose, especially if none of you have had previous experience in the foster community. Discuss what you are learning and talk about how that may impact your family.
If your kids are feeling tentative about this new family venture, your efforts at open and honest communication along each step of the process will establish trust and safety between you and your resident kids.
Try These Conversation Starters.
The questions listed here are suggestions for conversation starters while your family prepares for the fostering or kinship experience. Experienced foster parents tell us that dinner table conversations about what they learned in their recent training spur great discussions about these topics:
- What is foster care? Why do some kids need foster families?
- Why are we doing foster care? How do you feel about being a foster family?
- Do you know what reunification means? What might it look like for our family during THIS placement experience (if applicable)?
- What do you want to know about foster kids (or about this specific child, pending placement)?
- What would you like a foster child to know about our family before they come to live here?
- What would you like a foster child to know about you before they come to live here?
- What are you looking forward to when we become a foster family?
- What makes you nervous or anxious about being a foster brother or sister?
- What can we do to help you feel less worried about that issue?
In their own words, What’s It Like to Be in Foster Care?
Keep the Conversations Going.
Periodically, as your family is continuing through the process of welcoming new foster or kinship children and as everyone is settling in, check in to gauge how everyone is adjusting. The check-ins can be dinner table conversations or one-to-one chats that are more private and personalized to each child’s needs.
You’ll be busy in those early days – monitoring the changes in your home and watching both resident and new kids for signs of struggle or stress. But keep at it, and make sure they know the conversations are always “fair game,” even if they don’t want to talk about it right now. As you learn your home’s new dynamics, you’ll also figure out which child needs more space or time to settle in and what your family can do together to help that process.
It will be helpful to remember that the answers to these questions are very fluid. Your children’s ages or developmental ability to process the conversations will lead your discussions. Your family’s relationships with previous foster or kinship placements will also impact how you all answer these questions. Your connections with other adoptive, foster, or kinship families in your circles can also affect how your kids process these topics.
Build Your Family Library.
CreatingaFamily.org has excellent curated book lists, broken down by age and stage, to help you bring to life the issues and complexities of foster and kinship care for your child.
There are great benefits in building a diverse library for your kids:
- Sitting together to read stories of foster and kinship children can build safety and trust between you and your resident child.
- Taking in the experiences of other children and engaging animals can build compassion and empathy in your child.
- Exposing your child to the challenging ideas of why families need foster care through storybook characters can ease them into experiences they might have down the road.
- Reading children’s books together gives them a touchpoint later when they experience the impact of another child’s trauma.
Bring Your Resident Kids with You to the Experience.
Your kids deserve to be an integral part of your family’s fostering or kinship experience. After all, they will be living it with the new children. Being a foster or kinship care family will impact their daily life and who they become when they are grown. They will become an extension of you to the foster or kinship kids who come to your home, regardless of how long the experience lasts. Your resident kids need you to prepare them and support them through this transition, along with your assurance that you are with them every step of the way.
Image Credits: 2C2K Photography; August de Richelieu; Neeta Lind