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Understanding the ‘honeymoon period’ of fostering a child

In fostering, we talk about the honeymoon period of a new fostering placement where everything’s going well and everyone’s getting along. Abruptly, something new happens – the foster child gets cheeky, gets into trouble at school or exhibits challenging behaviours. What went wrong?

The short answer is – nothing! In fact, the end of the honeymoon period can be seen as a positive milestone.

Charlotte Blackwell is a Supervising Social Worker for one of our independent fostering agencies (Fostering Solutions in Oundle). With more than 12 years’ experience working in fostering, her experiences shed light on the end of the honeymoon period.

Getting to know you

A foster carer’s responsibility is to provide a safe, stable family environment where their foster child can thrive.

“During the honeymoon period, everyone is on their best behaviour as they settle into routines and get to know each other,” said Charlotte.

“At some point, the foster child will start to relax and feel comfortable enough to show their emotions and vulnerabilities.

“I get calls from foster carers who say, ‘what happened? It was going so well!’ And I say, ‘this is great news! This is a good thing! They’re showing you that they trust you!’

“It’s on a subconscious level, but a change in their behaviour might be checking whether their love for you is reciprocated. You’re being tested to see if you care. It’s completely normal and shows you’re doing a great job.”

“This is great news! This is a good thing! They’re showing you that they trust you!”

Every situation is unique

“Children aren’t perfect and neither are we,” said Charlotte. “Let’s give ourselves a break. We’re all human, we don’t fit into a box. We’re all different and the situations are different.

“Some foster carers can effortlessly roll with it. Others might need more support from us for the first few weeks or during certain periods of time. Just like our foster children do! We’re a team.”

The emotional challenges foster children face

Charlotte explained it helps to try and put yourself into a foster child’s place. “Imagine this – you’ve been told you have to leave where you are – your home or another foster family. You don’t know where you’re going. You might experience feelings of being rejected, of uncertainty.

“You get to know your new foster family and you learn to trust them and like them. You might even love them. But one of the biggest emotional challenges for a foster child, in my opinion, is loyalty. They love their foster carers and they love their birth parents too.

“These conflicted feelings tend to emerge when the foster child starts to relax and feel safe and happy. They might feel guilty for feeling like this and they don’t want to upset their mum and dad.”

A child’s response can range from being a bit cheeky and pushing boundaries, to running away or other challenging behaviours. It can be a short-lived blip, it can be on-and-off, or it can run over a longer period.

“But this is how all children learn,” said Charlotte. “Yes, they are foster children, but it’s normal behaviour.”

“This is how all children learn. Yes, they are foster children, but it’s normal behaviour.”

How to help a foster child who is struggling with these emotions

Charlotte and the Oundle team are on hand to support the process. How they go about this depends on the needs of the child and the foster carer.

“We normalise the feelings, we say it’s OK,” said Charlotte. “It takes time, patience, love, and the reassurance that these feelings are normal.

“If a foster child reveals they’re feeling like this, I say, ‘that must be really hard’. They need to feel listened to and understood.

“One lad was lit up after an amazing day trip but he didn’t know whether he should tell his parents. He wanted to share it so badly! After talking it through with us, he decided to tell his dad everything but he played it down with his mum.

“Another foster child had her final hearing coming up and she didn’t know what to feel. She loved her foster parents but she lashed out because she was trying to process her feelings – because she was thinking of her mum’s feelings.

“It’s a terrible emotional conflict for a child. Eventually, with support, they do learn to balance it in their own minds.”

“If a foster child reveals they’re feeling like this, I say, ‘that must be really hard’. They need to feel listened to and understood.”

‘They should be so proud of themselves’

Charlotte started out as a fostering administrator at Fostering Solutions more than 12 years ago. It inspired her to change her career and return as a supervising social worker after qualifying.

She still works with some of the same foster carers from her administrator days – some have been with the agency for around 20 years. She’s known some of the children who have been in long term foster care for years too.

“I adore all of them,” she said. “Sometimes, I come away from seeing them and my face aches from smiling.

“Genuinely, they amaze me. They are still getting up in the morning, still getting on. The resilience of these children! They should be so proud of themselves.”

“Genuinely, they amaze me. They should be so proud of themselves.”

Fostering Solutions in Oundle supports foster carers in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. Even though it’s part of the UK-wide National Fostering Group, like all our agencies, it’s retained a family feel.

“We have so many resources to tap into for training and support,” said Charlotte. “But it still feels like a family situation.”

She’s currently looking forward to a trip to the zoo with their foster carers, foster children, birth children plus some of the team’s families too. “It allows everyone to get to know one another better,” she added.

Could you change a child’s life?

If you’re feeling inspired and wondering who can foster, here’s how it works.

We welcome applications to become a foster carer from people of all ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, physical abilities and the LGBT+ community. You can be single, married, a homeowner or a tenant. Your ability to care for and nurture a child is what really matters.

National Fostering Group provides fostering opportunities across all areas of the UK. To find out more or start your application, get in touch.

Fostering Solutions in Oundle

Our team in Oundle.

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