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How do we make a foster child feel at home?

By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

How do we make a foster child feel at home?

We have signed up to be foster parents, and our first child will be arriving soon. How do we make a foster child feel at home?

My sister-in-law and her husband began their experience as foster parents by opening their home to a family of two boys and two girls. After those children went to live with an aunt, Gloria and Mike cared for six more children; four children went back with their mother and two were raised by their grandmother. Mutual attachments were formed during foster care and the children’s families remained in touch. Providing a nurturing home to these children was a blessing for all!

Set realistic expectations. Children in foster care have experienced life circumstances that threaten their well-being. By providing stability and predictability, you help them feel at home. Plan effective responses to emotional/behavioral challenges that you are likely to encounter based on the background of your child. In the majority of U.S. states, prospective foster parents complete training to promote effective foster parenting. Review the PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education) materials or other resources periodically and connect with experienced foster parents for support.

Encourage interactive activities. Get to know your child through age-appropriate activities. For example, making homemade playdough together requires measuring ingredients, choosing food colors and kneading the dough. This provides a non-threatening interaction that promotes a context for natural conversations. Spring planting is another opportunity for engagement. Your project can be as simple as growing a sweet potato in a glass jar with the help of a few toothpicks or as elaborate as working on an outdoor garden plot together. Use your imagination rather than encouraging activities such as watching TV or playing video games which involve less sharing.

Nurture the goal of the placement. Issues of attachment to the birth family and grief regarding the separation will be part of your child’s experiences. Awareness of these feelings should be addressed in your responses to the foster child. Respect the cultural traditions and faith practices of the child’s family, remembering that the goal is usually reunification. By attending ongoing training and workshops, you can obtain valuable input on challenges that arise as your foster child adapts to living with you. See if your parish has established a way to connect to other foster parents for support; if not, ask if a potluck could be held one Sunday after Mass for those interested in foster care.

Our catechism notes that, “The family should live in such a way that its members learn to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor. There are many families who are at times incapable of providing this help. It devolves then on other persons, other families, and, in a subsidiary way, society to provide for their needs …” (CCC #2208) By becoming foster parents, you are responding to a family that cannot care for a child at this time. Pray for wisdom as you begin this journey: "For I am the LORD your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, 'Do not fear, I will help you.'"(Is 41:13)