Friday, March 02, 2018


A reader, Ally, asks about the first few days of a placement; whether to stick to the family's usual activities or hunker down.

Good question Ally.

Your social worker will help you plan once you know who's coming. Every foster child is unique, they all have different needs, so it's an unknown. But you know who you are and you know your home; your place is a sanctuary that has been approved, so there can't be much wrong with your routines.
I guess there might be an unexpected wrinkle at home, say if someone is unwell and off work/school or if the boiler's playing up, but hey that's family life, and that's what the child probably needs most.

So for me, I think, most times it's best to carry on as normal, but with a new normal; an extra child. A frightened, lonely, upset child. A few little tweaks might help. You'll naturally be very aware of the new child, wanting to help her feel at home, so she'll be a new focal point, while at the same time the family are trying to avoid her feeling under the microscope.

Oh, and another thing to remember; make sure everyone else in the house feels as loved and important as before!

A new child will usually (but not always) put their best foot forward to begin with. Some fostering people call this the honeymoon period. It's slightly artificial but it gives the foster parent a window to get to know the best side of the child. As soon as the child discovers they can trust you, you'll be let in on their underlying feelings.

As to what tweaks to make to your usual activities; a lot depends on the shape of your new home (the home with the new child),  how many of you there are in the home and who the child is. You can't really plan for this until you start getting information about the child who is coming to you. 

One of our many good friends in fostering is a couple who have no children of their own in the house. He is divorced, two children by his ex-wife, he sees them every other weekend. His new partner was single until she met him. They decided against starting their own family and entered fostering.
Their first placement, a 12 year old lad, was sweetness itself for the first few days, then became himself and shifted the balance within their house. The foster parents are two gentle adults, the child was a bit more full-on. Their social worker explained that the child felt afraid of an uncontrollable world and sought to control some things to feel secure. The foster parents reclaimed authority, and the child - who is now grown-up and has a baby of his own - settled into being the child in the house and relaxed (gradually) once he gave up the responsibility of trying to organise everything around him.
This particular pair of (wonderful) foster parents currently have a long-term placement, only their second foster child. They always tell us how valuable was their first placement in teaching them about finding the child first, then finding the right approach.

Understanding your own household is job number one.

Understanding the new child is equally important, but more challenging.

A boy came to stay with us whose previous foster placement had broken down, it happens. He was fine, great even, for the first couple of weeks. Then; once he trusted us, he started trying to see how much he could push our boundaries. Nothing serious; coming home from school a bit later than we'd expected and diverting questions about why he was late home. Going to the toilet after midnight and flushing as a sign that he was still up and about after everyone else was asleep (trying to be).
His behaviour was mostly fine/normal - grumpy being driven to school, dismissive of his plate of tea, occasional use of fruity language.
One day his supervising social worker told me his problem was that he wasn't used to an un-chaotic house and he found it difficult to navigate around people who were (comparatively) organised and considerate. Obviously we stuck to our normal ways, but understood where he was coming from.

There is no way of telling who a new foster child is going to become after the honeymoon period is over.

Ally, (person who asked the question), what we do is to do our best for the child from day one without changing much in our house and home. Not until after the first few weeks, which is when we know what the child is dealing with; that's when we might try doing some things differently, depending on the child's needs. We never compromise our own children's needs, or the needs of any of the other foster children we might have.

We do compromise our own needs though, where necessary, sometimes a lot.

Giving up the right things for our foster children is what makes the job worthwhile.

And often - but not always - wonderfully successful for the children.


  1. Thank you so much! I kind of thought as much, it was child dependant as to how one tackles the first few weeks. Thanks again for your time and wisdom.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments, I've never been accused of wisdom before!

  2. We currently have a 5yo with a history of neglect and anger issues. She constantly wants one to one play but we can't maintain it all day. The snow days habe definitely burned us out trying to keep her happy. We have two much younger children also, so seeing to all their needs is a huge challenge. Obviously we have to set limits, but it's sad when you feel you can't spread yourself out enough. It's only been a couple of months but maybe we aren't the right fit for her?

  3. That does indeed sound like a handful, you poor guys, my heart goes out to you.
    The first thing that has to be said is that you have already done a fantastic job. When we accept a troubled child we kind of hope that we'll see some quick results from our love and care, but we have to be really, really observant to spot them.
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but my reading of your post is that you are thinking of ending the placement?
    It's a big matter, and I'm going to do a whole post about it.
    Meantime, stay well, look after your own selves and your own children as well as your foster daughter.