This content was originally published by Creating a Family, the national infertility education and support nonprofit.
Blending a foster child with children already in the home is one of the biggest challenges many foster parents face. Regardless whether the kids already in the home are by birth or adoption, the addition of a new foster child can be disruptive and parents need to be aware of some of the challenges.
Here are a few tips and links to resources that will help you prepare.
- Get as much information as possible on your new foster child’s life experiences before they join your family. This isn’t always possible but it can help you prepare your family for the first weeks and months.
- Set your own realistic expectations before the new foster child arrives, particularly educating yourself on issues related to welcoming an older child. Listen to these Creating a Family Radio Show/Podcasts: Physical and Emotional Health Issues Common With Foster Kids and Panel of Parents Adopting Older Kids: Surviving that 1st Year (although this interview panel was parents who adopted rather than fostered, the information on blending siblings is directly relevant).
- Read children’s books with your kids about foster care, especially if you have younger children. [Books] can help them understand why kids need your safe home, what foster care feels like from a child’s perspective, and what foster care is.
- Join an in-person or online support group, where you can freely ask advice of parents who have been down this road before. Creating a Family runs a very active Facebook Support Group that has a multitude of foster families participating.
- Role-play with your children specific situations that may cause problems. If this new foster placement will disrupt birth order, focus on situations where privileges have been tied to age or birth order, such as oldest child has always picked out the family-night movie first or oldest child gets to help dad mow the lawn. If you are fostering an older child who will be the youngest in your family, focus on problematic situations such as wanting to tag along with older siblings, getting into things, interrupting conversations, etc. Check out the Creating a Family resource page on disrupting birth order.
- Enlist your existing children to be your helpers in smoothing the transition for the new foster child. Have them brainstorm things they can do to help the new child adapt to life in your family.
- Schedule one on one time with each child. This may not be easy but do your best to have this time once a week with each child.
- Especially during the first few weeks or months of “growing” pains when these new dynamics may be intense, be intentional to catch each of the children cooperating or having fun together each day. Make a note of it in your mind because it is easy to miss these moments during all the chaos of life.
- Be aware of the natural tendency to “side with” the children who are already in the family and whom you already love. Make a point to try to see disputes from the viewpoint of the new child as well.
- If you know in advance that a prospective foster child has been sexually abused an/or has acted out sexually in the past, be extremely cautious about how you bring him or her into your family with younger children. Ask the child’s caseworker for as much information as they can furnish and for resources to help you proceed. This radio interview will help you think through what you need to do to parent the child well and safely. Make certain that the child who has been sexually abused is seeing a counselor.
- Talk with your children about good touch/bad touch – before, during and after the fostering placement.
- Take care of yourself and your marriage/partnership! All parents need a break from parenting, and parents who are in the trenches of foster care especially need a break!
- If after about 6 months life has not begun to settle down for all the kids or if you are feeling depressed or anxious, consider getting professional help. Ask your foster agency for support or seek out a therapist who specializes in foster care, adoption or family therapy. Creating a Family also has some helpful resources on post-adoption depression that apply to fostering as well.
Originally published 8/8/2018. By Tracy Whitney. See the original blog post here.