Seeing Foster Care From The Child's Perspective

Date: November 11, 2021 l Author: Daniela Bolla, BSW

Imagine you are five years old. You had a good day at school, have just finished eating your favorite mac n’ cheese, and are watching cartoons on TV. All of a sudden, you hear a knock on the door. Two police officers are standing outside, wanting to talk to your mom. She comes out, and what starts as a normal conversation escalates into yelling and crying. One of the officers tells you to come with them, and you barely have time to grab your backpack or say goodbye to your mom as you are placed in the back of their police car. You have no idea why all this is happening.

Those next couple of hours are full of new faces and places— several different adults are completing paperwork on your behalf and giving you sympathetic glances. Eventually, you’re driven to your new foster home and told you’ll be “safe” there. It all looks so unfamiliar and scary.

This is the reality for many children when they first come into your foster home. Because of this, it’s important to keep in mind how we interact with them upon arrival. While you are busy showing them their new room, where to put their clothes, and how to use your guest bathroom, here are some questions a child might be asking themselves:

  • Are my parents okay?
  • Where are my brothers and sisters?
  • Did I do something wrong?
  • Am I going to see any of my stuff (toys, clothes, etc.) again?

As parents and caregivers, we have to remember that having a trauma-informed lens means we are constantly thinking about how trauma affects a child’s brain, and therefore their behaviors. So, if the foster child who has just entered our home is sullen, depressed, and quiet, we need to speak to their heart before we can connect with their minds. Before you start giving your new foster child a tour of the home or sitting them down at the dinner table to small talk, address the difficult day they’ve had.

Here are some things you can say to them in private:

  • I’m so sorry you are not with your family right now. I will do everything I can to make sure you can talk to them soon.
  • I know you’ve had a really hard day. I’m here to help, what do you need right now?
  • Can you tell me how you normally get ready for bed? I want to make sure you feel as comfortable as possible today.

During those first few days, it’s so important for you as a foster parent to not have any expectations for this new child you’re taking care of. Don’t forget— you might be the nicest, friendliest, most nurturing person, but in the end you are still a stranger to this child. You will have to earn their trust, and it will take time for them to truly be themselves around you. You may feel like you are not having any success connecting with the child at first, but don’t be discouraged! On top of whatever childhood abuse or neglect they may have experienced, being removed from their home is an additional trauma that you are helping them work through, even by just offering a warm meal and an inviting presence.

“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.” (Matthew 25:35)