A: Welcoming a child into your family is vital to setting the tone from the beginning. The age of the child as well as the trauma the child may have experienced must be considered as you determine how to best welcome the child. The smell of fresh baked cookies is always a win!! Introductions to family members home at the time are important but need to be done in a manner that is not overwhelming for the child. Let the child know he/she is not expected to remember names and that not remembering for awhile is OK. Take a short tour of the home to include the bathroom the child will use, the child’s bedroom, the kitchen and family/play room. Additional rooms can be toured when the child feels more comfortable. Offer a snack (the freshly baked cookies go over well) or a banana, etc. While enjoying the snack, talk a little about what will be happening the rest of the day so the child knows what to expect.
If the child is young, get on your knees so you can be at eye level with the child. Some children will accept an embrace but most would prefer a hand on their shoulder or something like that. Never tell the child how happy you are that they are there to live with you. They do not want to be there. They want their parent(s), siblings, etc. Let them know you know they miss their family and that you are going to do all you can to help them and their parent(s) be reunited and that while that work is being done, you and your family will do your very best to make sure the child is well cared for, safe and loved.
Older youth will set the tone for how the welcoming to the family goes. Respect their feelings and do not force information on them. Give them time to settle down and get to the point they can listen to what you have to say. The message is the same – you are there to help them and their parent(s) reunite and while you both work on that you will do your best to keep them safe, well and loved. For the older youth, family rules will need to be introduced as the youth is ready to hear what those rules are. Posting the rules sometimes help for the older youth so they don’t have to listen to you telling them what they can and cannot do while living with your family. Offer to assist with reading the rules if the child wants that from you. Some may not be able to read well and may be embarrassed to let you know. Give the youth time. Let them listen to music, play an electronic game, etc. Let them have time to acclimate.
Answer provided by Irene Clements, Executive Director of the National Foster Parent Association
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