Q: [Parents] My wife and I recently took in a foster child, and we already have two of our own. What are some pointers on assimilating this child into our family?
A: Foster children tend to have lengthy histories of being in unhealthy or unstable environments, and have experienced at least one trauma when they were removed from their families. They then enter the foster care process feeling a significant amount of loss. Recognition and appreciation of such themes for the child helps set up a positive environment. Foster children have unique stories that often include adult experiences and themes, and can be challenging for kids to comprehend. It’s important to help your kids understand the complexity of being a foster child using age-appropriate language.
Once empathy is built and a good level of understanding is established within your original family unit, you can best welcome this foster child into your home. The most important factor when fostering a child is providing them with predictable stability and nurturing in a way that fits their needs. Remember, the course of events (i.e. visitation with biological parent, and working toward reunification) that will occur for each foster child varies, so the objective is not assimilating into your family, but instead to provide a safe, sharing and nurturing environment.
As a foster parent, it’s vital that you work closely with the foster child’s caseworker. Remember that a team approach is the best approach for a foster child. The team involves the foster parents, caseworker, social worker, therapist, doctor, teacher, etc. It’s the joint job of the caseworker and foster parents to ensure the well-being of the foster child and help the child meet their emotional, medical, dental and educational needs. As a foster parent, it’s best to be proactive and responsive to the needs of the foster child.
All in all, it’s suggested that you keep expectations reasonable and model healthy responses and reactions as a foster parent. Take time for yourself and your relationship with your wife so to model positive self-care and relational care. Help the foster child and your biological children find common interests and then support exploration of those areas. The more open and transparent you are, the easier it is to establish a good level of rapport with the foster child.
Lori Aleknavicius, Psy.D. is a Clinical Psychologist specializing in child, family and couples therapy in Newport Beach. www.innerfokus.com