Welcoming a foster child into your home for the first time can bring a mix of emotions, like anxiety and excitement. The foster child or children coming to stay with you may have even stronger emotions. They may be confused, upset and angry about why they’ve been taken away from home, or worried that they’re starting afresh with a new foster family so soon after settling in with their previous one.
If you do have time before your first foster child’s arrival – take some time to make sure it’s a safe and friendly environment. Here are some practical tips on preparing your home for a foster child, including clever ways to make them feel welcome, health and safety advice, and essentials you’ll need for their first night.
Make your home feel welcoming
To you, your home feels like home, but to a child or young person it will feel strange and alien, particularly during the first few days and weeks after moving in. There are, however, things you can do to make your home a welcoming place from the moment they arrive.
Clean and tidy up
While foster children won’t be inspecting your tabletops for dust, they’re likely to feel more at home stepping into a clean and tidy home rather than a messy one. Mess and clutter can suggest chaos and disorder, and may not help the child to feel safe and at home.
A warm, clean and welcoming space can reassure a child so make sure your home is tidy.
Set up their bedroom
The child’s bedroom is the most important room to get right as this is where they’ll probably be spending a lot of time during the first few days and weeks of living with you. It needs to feel like a homely and secure place where they can enjoy time alone in privacy, while also having everything they need to feel settled, organised and rested.
While there’s no need to fully redecorate a room before they move in, adding touches here and there depending on their age and gender will help the space to feel more homely from the outset.
For young children, add toys and books that will provide a welcome distraction, while things like a TV and magazines are a good fit for teenagers.
Find out as much as you can about them
If you are given notice before your foster child arrives, it’s a good idea to learn about their background and current situation.
Liaising with your social worker, try to find out as much as you can about the child before they arrive. Aside from the basics like age, gender and behavioural issues, ask the placement team to describe their character and what they’re interested in, as well as information about their background.
Getting a good idea of what the child or young person is like before they arrive will not only help put you at ease, it can be useful in preparing your home. For instance, if it’s a young child you may like to get some toys for them to play with, while for an older child, you may want to arrange their bedroom in a way that reflects their age.
Learning small details like this are also a useful way to bond and find common ground when they first move in and will show them that you’re committed to their welfare.
It is important to note, however, that sometimes children are placed within a day, so there may not be much time to learn about them before they arrive.
Health and Safety Advice
If no other children currently live in your home, there are some things you’ll need to change and adapt to make sure the space is safe and comfortable. Here, we cover essential health and safety tips which could help prevent accidents when you’re welcoming a child into your home.
Put medications and chemicals under lock and key
From your cleaning cupboard to your first aid drawer, you’ll need to lock away any chemicals and medications that are a risk to young children.
Younger children are often quite inquisitive and may want to explore your home when they are unsupervised. This means it’s vital that dangerous cleaning products and medications are kept out of reach and securely locked up.
Here are some examples of items you should remember to keep somewhere safe:
- Laundry detergent and pods
- Washing up liquid and cleaning products
- Brightly-coloured soaps and other toiletries
- Medications, such as painkillers and allergy tablets
- Garden and outdoor maintenance products, including plant food and car screenwash
These are just a few examples of things that are easy to overlook around the home, but present a real danger to young children. Obviously, common sense is key here, and you’ll know what needs keeping out of reach.
Pack away things of sentimental value
We’d recommend packing away fragile items of sentimental value when looking after very young children, as well as any other non-essentials that are irreplaceable or worth a lot of money. In short, your home should be a functional and welcoming space where children can feel free to play without fear of breaking anything or causing damage.
Check your smoke and fire alarms
While we hope you check them regularly anyway, it’s important to get into the habit of routinely checking your smoke alarms when a foster child is due to arrive at your home.
Secure windows and doors
If you have very young children moving into your home, you may need to adapt windows and doors, so they can’t be easily opened. Most modern windows feature a child safety catch which only lets them open so far, while front and back doors should be kept locked at all times to ensure their safety.
Don’t overlook window blinds
Blinds are among the most dangerous items around the home and present a very real choking risk to young children. If you have Venetian, roller or any other blinds with a pull-cord system, you need to make sure this is adapted with the right safety features before children move in. Blind cords should be wound tight around wall hooks when not in use, and kept well out of reach of children.
When everyone is adjusting to the new arrangement, the first night will be one of the most challenging for both of you. To make it pass as smoothly as possible, and to help them feel safe, secure and welcome, there are a few essentials you should have around the home that will make all the difference to their first night under your roof.
Here, we list essential items you should have for your foster child’s first evening in your home.
- A good choice of food – Without knowing their preferred food, preparing the right meal can be tricky when they first move in – so make sure your cupboards are well stocked with all the basics, so you can easily rustle something up.
- Toiletries – We’d recommend buying them a few personal toiletries and putting these in their room for when they first arrive. Things like deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrush, and face wipes will come in handy.
- Spare clothes – Depending on their circumstances, foster children may not have all that many clothes, the placement team or your SSW will advise if you need to purchase a few essentials.
- Toys, games and anything else age-appropriate – Whatever their age, a few things to help take their mind off the stress of the day will be a welcome addition to their bedroom. Just make sure they’re age-appropriate, and don’t go overboard.