The First Night With A New Foster Child

The three children stood in front of my wife and me.  The four year old girl, here two year old sister, and one year old brother were so filled with fear, they would not look us in the eye, and were trying to hide their faces from us. It was quite clear that they were frightened, and I clearly understood why.  These three children were scared of us, their new so called “parents”; their foster parents.
The three siblings had been placed into our home for reasons of sexual abuse, neglect, and abandonment.  Those that proclaimed to love them the most, their birth parents, had committed horrific crimes of abuse upon these three innocent and defenseless children. 
Yet, we were strangers to them.  And they were scared.
Imagine, if you will, being taken away from your mother and your father, without any warning at all.  Imagine being taken away from your siblings, your pets, your stuffed animals and toys.  Imagine being taken away from your bedroom, house, yard, and neighborhood.  Imagine, too, being taken from all of your relatives, friends, classmates, and everything you knew.   In addition, after all of this, imagine if you were suddenly thrust into a strange house, with strangers, and informed that this was your new home and new family for the time being. It is a very frightening time; one filled with fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. It is a time where even the bravest of children become scared.
“I wanna go home,” the four year old said.
“I know you do,” my wife responded, bending down to her and looking at her at eye level.  Taking the little one in her arms, my wife tried to give the child a hug.  Instead, the four year old pushed her away, with tears streaming down her cheeks.

When a child is placed into your home, it can be a time of anxiety for not just the child, but for your family, as well. The first impression you create with your foster child is often vitally important to how the next few days and weeks will transpire.  This will probably not be the sweet little child who rushes into your waiting arms, laughing delightfully, as you might imagine. It is highly likely that your foster child will be scared and frightened, full of anxiety. He may have left his family moments ago, and is now told that you are his family, for the time being.  Without a doubt, he is full of questions, as emotions swirl within him.
As caseworkers remove a child from a home suddenly, most are unprepared.  Foster children leave their home with a quick goodbye, leaving behind most of their belongings, with a few clothing and perhaps a prized possession hurriedly stuffed into a plastic bag.  Before they know it, they are standing in front of you, strangers, people they have never met before.
After a tour of the home, and some milk and homemade chocolate chip cookies, the children seemed to find a little more peace; they seemed a little less anxious.  Milk and cookies often do that to a child.  My wife sat down with the three children on the blue sofa.  The one year old boy sat in her lap, while the other two little girls sat either side of her.  Then, as she always does, my wife read the three children a book.  More specifically, she read them a children’s book about being in foster care.  As it has happened several times in the past with many of the other young children placed in our home, I noticed the three children find some level in comfort with my wife.  As she read to them, some of their anxieties lessened, and each of the three snuggled into my wife’s arms.  Perhaps, just perhaps, they were beginning to understand that they were safe.
Make no mistake; we both knew that the days ahead would be difficult, and full of emotional challenges.  The children were sure to have plenty of questions and concerns, and there were likely some tear filled nights and days ahead of us. 
It takes great patience, understanding, and compassion to be a foster parent.  During the first few nights of placement of a child into a foster home, it also takes a great deal of love. May you continue to love your foster child, and may we all continue to comfort them as they experience the loss of their own family when they move to ours.

-Dr. John 

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