This is the second post in our Handy Guide to a Successful First Placement, sharing great advice from our experienced foster carers about important things to do on the first day with a foster child to help them feel settled.
The day you’ve been waiting for is finally here; you’re about to have your first foster child arrive at your home. You’ve read our advice on how to prepare for a foster child and are just waiting for your doorbell to ring.
But what important things you should do on the first day with a foster child to help them settle?
Greet Them with Warm Smiles
Never underestimate the power of a smile. Tell them how much you’ve been looking forward to meeting them and that if they need anything, they should just ask.
Plan a Quiet Day
Keep the first day quiet and give them a chance to explore the house and get to know you and your immediate family first. Depending on their school, you could perhaps plan something low key for the following day.
Give Them a Tour of Your Home
Firstly, show them where the toilet is, as after the drive to your home, they may need to go but are afraid to ask. Then you can show them around the rest of your home and let them see their bedroom.
Make sure you don’t miss some of the less important things that you may overlook; allow them to peek inside the kitchen cupboards and see all the food, point out the loft hatch and explain what’s up there and let them take a look in the cupboard underneath the stairs. We don’t always know what’s going on in a child’s mind and doing this may just help to reduce some of their anxiety.
Allow Them to Be Alone
The day is likely to have been very traumatic for the young person, so be understanding if they want to spend some time alone in their bedroom. Just make sure they know that they can come down whenever they’re ready and sit and chat, or even just watch tv together. It’s completely up to them.
Sometimes after a little alone time, encouraging them down with a drink and a snack or to watch a film, can help encourage them to join the family.
Be Sensitive About Their Possessions
Many children will arrive at your home with very little. Be conscious that a dirty old teddy bear may be one of the only things connecting them to the world they’ve just been taken away from. Don’t try to replace it, throw it away or even clean it – it’s the only constant in a world of unknown and will offer them some comfort.
Talk About Food
Food is very important to a child in care, particularly if there’s been a history of neglect. So, ask them about their favourite foods and whether there’s anything they don’t like. Don’t forget to reassure them that there is plenty of food for everyone.
Don’t Give Too Much Choice
Making a decision on things like what to eat, watch or play may be a skill that this young person hasn’t ever had to learn. Always keep choices to 2 or 3 things, so it’s not completely overwhelming.
Relax with the House Rules
If certain rules are in your home are important to you, such as taking outdoor shoes off at the front door, then you can share these rules with the young person but remember some children will not have had rules before, so this will all be very new for them.
On the first day, the child just needs to know that they can trust you. Long-term expectations can be discussed over time with yourself, the young person and maybe even your Supervising Social Worker.
Get Your Own Children or Grandchildren Involved
The first day can be very upsetting for the young person coming into your home. Something as simple as having another child in the house to show them around or play a quiet game with, can help reduce the stress of the day.
Don’t Force Them to Sit & Eat with You
If the child doesn’t want to sit around the table at mealtimes, that’s fine. Give them space and allow them to eat their meal alone. Over time, you’ll gain their trust and may find them wanting to sit with you at mealtimes.
Ask How They Prefer to Sleep
Before putting them to bed, ask how they like to sleep; you may find they’re scared of the dark and would like a night light switched on, or maybe prefer to sleep with the door open. Also, talk to them about any normal house noises to help settle any nerves.
We hope you’ve found our advice useful and feel more confident about your first foster placement. Remember, we’re here to support you every step of the way, so if you have any questions, please get in touch with your local team or Supervising Social Worker.
We previously shared advice on how to prepare for a foster child. Next in the series, we offer tips to help you support your own children when you start fostering.