Creating a Home for Foster-to-Adopt
When starting to foster, your home is an important ingredient in making a child feel at home. Whether taking in children under the age of five, or a little older, you’ll want to create a personal sanctuary for them when entering a new place. Here are a few ways to make your house, their home, in a few easy steps.
How Foster Placement Affects Children
While you may have just started the foster care process (or have been in it for a while), it’s important to know that foster placement over the years can cause stress on a child. Foster children can be placed in homes from the time they’re born to the age of 18. This means that it’s common for there to be trauma that needs to be addressed. This could be loss of family, abuse, or any number of things.
Understanding how foster placement affects children is the first step to creating a safe home for fostering, and potentially adopting later on. Every effort to create a positive family home environment should be made to ensure not just a healthy mental state, but also a healing and educational one.
Typically, foster children may go through a series of reactions to a new home: moving toward, moving away, and moving against. They may start by being cooperative, something similar to a “honeymoon phase”. This can potentially end and children may go through a period of withdrawal, followed by anger and resentment towards you and your family—especially if you have children of your own.
It’s important to maintain patience and understanding during these periods, as it may be a day-to-day change. Your job isn’t just to be a family member, loving parent, and friend, it’s also to be supportive in times of struggle.
Creating Their Own Space: The Bedroom
While most states don’t have bedroom size requirements, dedicating one they can call their own is crucial. This room should be one where you spend the most time preparing, as it’s the most personal space they’ll have in your home. Make sure to decorate based on age, but allow room for growth.
Keep neutral tones when first designing this space. This will leave room for them to be creative post-move-in. Place neutral furniture items here as well, such as a desk, bed, and bookcase that all have lighter stains to go with whatever design they may choose going forward.
For younger children, including coloring books, storybooks, and toys, leaving room for anything they may want to add in the future or that they have with them. If the child is growing into their teens, adding in a TV, full-sized desk, or video games may be more apt. A small desk with a hutch allows them to have space for personal knick-knacks, such as family photos, gifts, or other items they’ve brought with them. This will also give them space to work in private and with some quiet, away from the rest of the house. This becomes especially important if there are more siblings in the house of different ages.
Most kids want a space they can make their own; their bedroom is a place for independence. You also want to make sure that this space is reflective of the rest of their siblings as well if they’ll have any. All bedrooms should be created equal, in a sense. Make sure they feel comfortable in their space, but that they match the surrounding rooms as well. If one teen has a TV, make sure that is reciprocated in another.
This is a great place to store essentials and other supplies that foster children may not bring with them when they enter your home. This can include clothing, hygiene products, face wash, tissues, etc., for the time being until they start living with you.
If you plan on fostering more than one child, it may be best to invest in some storage bins for clothing. Emergency placements can happen very suddenly, so having extra clothes they can change into in the middle of the night is critical. This may not happen often, but it’s good to have on hand in case it does.
Sharing a Bathroom with New Siblings
This can be one of the hardest adjustments in a new space. Not only are they in a vulnerable space in the home, but it’s a place that has to be somewhat personalized for comfort. No matter the age of the children you foster, it’s important to make this space one you focus on preparing.
Because secondary bathrooms tend to be smaller, it will be worth it to update to maximize the space before their arrival! If the current layout doesn’t have a lot of countertop space, consider updating to a double sink vanity to provide ample room for storage as well as an extra sink for use. This will ease the getting ready for school process as well as provide them with a place to store their own personal items. Having the counter and drawer space for their own belongings will also create a permanent and private section of the bathroom that they don’t have to worry about sharing with others.
Not every secondary bathroom has linen storage, so a vanity with extra drawers allows personal hygiene items like tampons, tissues, lotions, etc., to be stored where they are used, instead of out of sight. This is a great place for them to put their personal items they arrive with too. Not only does it provide foster children with their own sink and drawers, but it truly becomes their own. If they haven’t been potty trained yet due to age, a personalized bathroom will make it easier to toilet train while getting adjusted to a new home.
A lot of foster children will be looking for a space they can escape. It’s not necessarily about being the “perfect” home, it’s about creating an environment where they feel safe. Having their own storage space in places like the bathroom will integrate them into the family, as well as let them have their personal belongings in a place dedicated to them. It may seem minor but can go a long way.
Consider adding a theme to your bathroom, or keep it neutral-toned. Update the shower curtain, bath mats, wall art, etc., to be either more gender-neutral or more specific. Adding smaller items like toothbrush holders and wall hooks for towels can go a long way. If they’re younger, consider animal-themed hooks and design.
Reorganize Your Home
A messy and cluttered house might give your new foster child the wrong impression as they enter your home. It’s said that a cluttered space creates a cluttered mind; avoid this by getting rid of what you don’t need, and organizing the family spaces.
Keep items that are family-friendly and easily accessible. This goes for games and books, but also items in your fridge and pantry. Your child shouldn’t feel like a guest in their own home, and they should be comfortable. They’ll want to be able to find things without asking for permission or where things are.
All of this said, don’t organize and clean to a point of no return. They shouldn’t feel like the living spaces are stiff environments that they can’t move around in.
Consider purchasing more general food items before they arrive to avoid any picky eating; buy a variety of snacks until you know what their preferences are. After joining your home, feel free to ask them what they might like, to then begin adding those items into your pantries.
Make sure that medications and other potentially dangerous items are also out of reach. This can be in locked medical cabinets, higher shelving, or in your bedroom to avoid confusion. Some foster and adoption agencies suggest a locked medicine box, but this won’t necessarily hold everything you might have. An RFID cabinet lock is accessible by phone and can easily attach to existing cabinetry to lock items away.
Retain Family Time, and Adjust Routines
If you already have children, it’s important that you aren’t making crazy adjustments to your family routines. While your foster child may not want to participate in everyday activities your family already does, keep this family time present. If you can, make time for each child.
If your current kids have extracurricular activities they’re a part of, don’t feel the need to change this. These should stay the same. Instead, ask your foster child if they’d be interested in joining, or if they have other interests they would want to pursue. No matter their age, having them engage in activities outside the house is a great way to get them acclimated to their new school and social environment.
Plan meals around foods they like, along with your own. Don’t get rid of Meatless Mondays and Friday Night Pizza, but instead incorporate things they like! Let them pick out the movie after Friday dinner, or if they want to participate in the meal prep, encourage it. This will be a quick way to integrate them into family time without putting too much pressure on them to be there.
Adjusting for a new family member can be tough. But, with a few easy steps, you can make your house seem more like a home for them. The transition is the toughest part, and the rest does, eventually come naturally. Maintain patience, support, and understanding through the first few months to create a home they feel comfortable in.
To learn more about how you can become a Foster Parent in Central Texas and to see a list of upcoming information sessions in your area, visit Foster Community for more information