Parents come to the decision to do foster care from many different places. Sometimes, they already have children by birth or by adoption when they decide to foster. Blending children by foster care, birth and/or adoption is a pretty common practice, especially if your family is already involved in the world of adoption.
Whatever brings you to this point in your family’s unique path, it’s important to think through the special issues that can arise when you blend kids by foster care, birth, and/or adoption. All of these children can thrive, but it helps for prospective and new foster parents to be prepared.
Here are our Top 10 Tips for Blending Children by Foster Care, Birth And/Or Adoption. We hope these will set the stage for your whole family’s success.
- Get as much information as you can about your foster or prospective foster child’s history. This will help you prepare yourself and your existing children.
- Help your existing children anticipate the behaviors your new foster child might exhibit (clinging, tantrums, anxiety, crying, food hoarding, inability to share, to name a few possibilities). Together, read some of Creating a Family’s recommended Books for Kids in Foster Care early in your process to help them understand what you are explaining,
- Talk to your existing children about how or why some kids (or particularly your new foster child if you already have the information) came to need the safe place of foster care in your home. In age appropriate ways, talk about why the birth parent(s) cannot care for the child right now. Even if they don’t ask they will be curious and others might question them. If you have to include private/sensitive information in order for your existing children to understand, be sure to also stress the importance of not sharing that information outside of the family.
- If your foster child is of a different race, prepare your family for receiving more attention out in public. Creating a Family has a list of Books on Transracial Adoption for Adoptive Parents that has some very applicable resources for fostering a child of another race.
- Explain to your children already in the home that they will be getting less of your attention than in the past, particularly during the early days or weeks of helping the new foster child settle into family life. Let them know that they can ask for more attention and brainstorm with them before the child arrives if you can, how you can plan for time together.
- If at all possible, enlist the caseworker to create a slow transition into your family for the new foster child. If that is not possible, arrange with the caseworkers for time to spend getting acquainted with your new foster child prior to bringing him home.
- If this foster child is disrupting the existing birth order, pay particular attention to the child that is being displaced as either the eldest or youngest in the family. Creating a Family has resources on disrupting birth order to will help you prepare for common issues.
- Get extra help around the house if possible. Anticipate being much busier, especially in the first 6 months. Cut back on the “shoulds” of your life – free up as much time as possible to focus on all of you adjusting to the new family dynamic. Some families do a form of “cocooning” when they bring new children into their home. Creating a Family has a “letter” that you can modify and share with friends about the changes you are making when you are transitioning a foster child into your family. Keep in mind that the child’s story is not yours to tell and should be guarded on their behalf.
- Expect your new foster child to act younger than his/her chronological age. Expect your existing children to regress developmentally in response to the change as well. Not every family will experience that but it’s a good idea to be prepared for it.
- It is not necessary or even possible to treat all children equally, but it is important to treat them fairly according to their needs. A good relationship with the child’s caseworker, with clear communication between you before and during the placement will help you both tune in to and stay informed of those needs.