Living With a Child in Foster Care

Matching the child and the foster home

In placing a child in a foster home, agency staff try to find a home that best suits the child’s needs. A successful match between the child and the foster home will make all the difference in a child’s life during an extremely difficult period. It may be helpful to you as a foster parent to know what factors are considered when a child is placed in your home:

Relatives: Are relatives available who would be willing to provide a safe and suitable placement for the child? This should be the first consideration, and options are to be reviewed with the relatives as to whether becoming relative foster parents or assuming direct custody of the child is preferred.

Previous foster home: If the child was previously placed in foster care, is it appropriate to return to the same foster home? This question must be considered before looking for another foster home.

Placing siblings together: If the child already has sisters or brothers in foster care, can the child be placed in the same home, if appropriate? If several children need placement, can a home be found where they can live together? Placing siblings together is mandated by state law, except when deemed to not be in the child’s best interest.

Religious background: Has the parent expressed a religious preference in regard to placement of the child? Where practicable and in the best interests of the child, the preference regarding religion of a parent will be honored.

Native American identity: Can a Native American home be found? The child’s tribe must be notified when placing a Native American child.

Neighborhood and school: Can a home be found in the same school district so that the child does not have to change schools?

Special Needs: Does the child have special physical, psychological, or medical needs that require a foster home that is equipped and trained to handle them? Has the foster home been approved to care for a child with special needs?

Emotional considerations: If the child has specific emotional needs, can a foster home be found that would best meet those needs?

Other children in the home: If the foster home already has other children (biological or foster), is this placement an appropriate one?

Agencies may not routinely consider race, cultural or ethnic origin in making placement decisions. These factors may be considered only on an individualized basis where special circumstances exist.

How placement affects children: Children can feel severe personal loss when separated from their families. They have lost the most important people in their lives – their parents, brothers, and sisters. They have lost their familiar pattern of living. They have lost their homes and the places that make up their own worlds.

Children’s reactions to separation vary. Their emotional development is interrupted. They often feel abandoned and helpless, worthless, and even responsible for the family’s breakup. They may try to punish themselves. In general, the adjustment period for foster children typically follows a pattern that includes:

  • Moving toward the foster family (a honeymoon period, during which the child is cooperative and well behaved but feels numb or anxious).
  • Moving away from the foster family (a period of withdrawal, during which the child is hesitant, feels depressed and distrustful, and seeks solitude).
  • Moving against the foster family (during which the child is rebellious and demanding, expressing anger and hostility).

Welcoming a child into your home

The child who comes into your home will need to adjust to many things. Everything is new. There are new parents, perhaps new sisters and brothers, a new house, new foods, new rules and expectations, a new neighborhood, and possibly a new school.

It is hard for children to leave their homes and find themselves in strange new surroundings. To deal with this, children may fantasize about the positive qualities of their own parents, their own home, and their neighborhood. They may not want to get involved in a foster family’s routine and activities out of a sense of loyalty to their own family. Outbursts of angry, aggressive language or behavior may occur, such as cursing or slamming doors. Even if they show no emotion, many questions, fears, and anxieties about the future may fill their thoughts and dreams. The child needs your understanding, patience, and support when settling into your home.

What is the foster parent’s role with the birth parents of a child? As a foster parent, you are a member of a team with the caseworker, the child’s parents (if possible) and/or other relatives, and the child’s law guardian, along with service providers and health care providers. This means that you are not alone in caring for the child. You have support.

It also means that you meet with the child’s family in visits and case conferences and you keep the caseworker up-to-date on how the child is doing.

Below are examples of what some foster parents have done to help create and maintain a working relationship with their foster child’s parents:

  • Praise and recognize decisions and activities related to positive parenting.
  • Make scrapbooks or photo albums containing mementos for the child.
  • Construct a family tree or a “Life Book” with the child.
  • Send parents a birthday or holiday card.
  • Some suggested topics for discussions between foster parents and birth parents include:
  • School conferences, school functions, and PTA meetings.
  • The child’s clothing and shopping plans.
  • The child’s health, behavior, or school experience.
  • The child’s social activities, relationships (including siblings), social development, and special needs.
  • The child’s visits to the doctor and dentist.
  • Plans for holidays that are special to the child (e.g. birthday parties, graduations, and holiday celebrations).

What if I decide to adopt a foster child?

Some parents are certain that they want to adopt the child in their care. Others are not so sure. Such an important decision should be made on a rational basis, not on emotions alone. Even if you feel clear about your decision, answering the following questions may help you find out whether you are ready or not:

  • Can I accept the child unconditionally? Can I accept the child’s past?
  • Can we make a lifetime commitment?
  • Have I realistically evaluated the child’s needs and problems?
  • Do we have the abilities, resources, and energy to meet those needs and face those problems?
  • Are other members of the household positive about the idea of adopting?
  • What effect will adoption have on our family?
  • Should age and health (of both foster parents and child) be taken into account? If so, who will care for the child if we die or become disabled?
  • Does the child have siblings who are also freed for adoption?
  • What, if any, will be the child’s connection to the birth family?

If you choose not to adopt, the agency will begin looking for an appropriate adoptive family for the child. During this time, you can help prepare the child for the change. Such preparation generally improves the chances that adoption will be successful.

Next Steps: