So without further ado ... here's our Welcome Book ...
Finally: the long-awaited-for post about our Welcome Book for foster children. For a while now I've wanted to create a book for welcoming new kids to our home. I kept over-thinking it and it never happened. So finally when I came across a cute binder on sale at Target I snatched it up and sat down that very day to fill it up with some pictures and info about our home and family. My number-one tip when creating your own Welcome Book: do it! My number-two tip: Don't over-think it. Something is better than nothing. As you'll see here, my Welcome Book isn't anything fancy.
So without further ado ... here's our Welcome Book ...
I used slide-in sheet protectors and colorful paper to paste photographs and write a few notes about our home and family. That's it! It took me wayyyy longer to get around to writing this blog post than it ever did to create the welcome book. If you have more time and feel so-inclined you could use an online photo book creator like Shutterfly or Snapfish to create a more polished book. However, I kind of like that it's easy to make changes to my homemade book. As kids move in or out of our house, or as I redecorate rooms or move furniture around it's easy to take a quick picture with my phone, send it to Walgreens for printing, and swap out the page of the book for an updated one.
After a difficult past year with lots of ups and downs, the dust has finally settled a bit. After much discussion we've decided to open up another spot in our home for fostering. We let our agency know and we're back on the "availability list," this time for a school-aged child. Knowing that the call could come at any time, we've been doing a bit of "foster parent nesting" to get ready for our new addition. Here are some of the things we've been preparing, ready to welcome a new addition:
The Welcome Book
We assembled a binder with pictures and brief information to welcome any new kids. The binder features photos of each room in our house along with a few notes about what we call each room and what we do in that room. It also has pictures of each family member (along with names) and a list of general house rules. Look for a post coming soon with more details about the Welcome book.
Part of our family's safety plan is that our current children won't share a bedroom with any new kid(s). This helps provide a sense of safety and stability for our current children (who happily make many concessions in other areas of their lives as foster siblings), and hopefully will help any new children feel that they have their own safe space in our home. We believe very much in keeping the bedrooms calm, serene environments. One rule in our house is that bedrooms are for "sleeping and dressing only." Food and toys are not allowed in the bedrooms. I've tried to purchase mostly gender-neutral bedding and decor, and I also have a few extra sets of drapes and bedding that can be easily swapped out to accommodate a child's specific taste.
Our one exception to the no toys or food in bedrooms rule is books. Books are welcome everywhere in our house! Right now I have a stack of books as a placeholder on the bedroom dresser. But when a new child arrives I'll welcome him or her to choose books from our family bookshelf.
We have a photo frame in each of the kids' bedrooms where I keep a collage of pictures of some of their favorite people, including birth parents and siblings as appropriate. This was a cheap and easy project - I just took some old empty 8x10 frames and put colorful printed paper in the back. When a new child arrives I will try to get pictures of his or her birth family as quickly as possible to tape into this frame. I can usually get pictures by sending a camera with them to visits, or by driving the child myself to the visit to take some pictures (I usually try to attend the first visit to meet their birth parents in person anyway). You can also try looking on Facebook or other social media sites for pictures of the birth family. Obviously you'll want to make sure pictures will help the child and not be a trigger - with older children you can explain what the frame is for and ask an open-ended question about whose pictures they might like to display in their room. For younger kids you can ask the caseworker his or her opinion given the case history.
Most of the kids we've fostered have been afraid of the dark. We put several small plug-in night lights in their bedroom, and also have a small personal battery-operated lantern or flashlight waiting in their bedroom. The light helps the kids feels safe, the flashlight gives them a sense of control over their new environment.
This isn't so much about "welcoming" a new child, as it is about me feeling ready and prepared. Many of the children we've fostered have had issues with bed-wetting so I now invite any new kids wear pull-on style absorbent products (big-kid diapers) to bed - at least for the first few nights. This approach can be controversial, so I urge parents to figure out what works for you, your kids, and your home. I have found that many kids in foster care are very accustomed to sleeping in filthy conditions. Sleeping in urine-soaked sheets doesn't phase them and thus isn't a natural deterrent to bed-wetting. The diapers help the kids gradually learn a new normal - one where clean, dry, good-smelling sheets become associated with safety and happiness. The diapers also reduce my stress level as I don't have to deal with extra laundry. On my list of priorities, bed-wetting comes after physical safety, attachment, and self-esteem. We'll get around to dealing with the bed-wetting, but it's not a top priority. The diapers help us manage until we get to that point.
Easy Comfort Foods
We always keep pre-made cookie dough and frozen pizzas on hand. I put the cookies in the oven when a new child is on his way over. I'm not sure, but I hope that the blow of moving into a new home and family is softened just a bit by the smell of fresh-baked cookies in the air. I have the kids eat the warm cookies together while I chat with the caseworker. Then, I make the frozen pizza for dinner. I haven't met a child yet who didn't like pizza, and it's a quick and easy dinner when I'm stressed out and trying to help a new child settle into the house. We usually eat very healthy, but there's time for that later. The first couple days with a new kiddo are all about comfort and convenience.
Seasoned foster parents ... how do YOU welcome new kids into your home??
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In response to a previous post about preparing your home for fostering, reader Emylee asked the following:
I have a question, my husband and I are interested in taking up to 3 children in at one time ages 0-6. Does that mean we need three cribs, three toddler beds, and three twin sized beds? How do you know what to get ready for?
My first piece of advice is to ask your licensing worker. That's what they're there for! We all seem to start out afraid to ruffle feathers or ask too many questions, but the licensing worker is going to be the best person to answer these kinds of questions.
Rules vary depending on the agency, state, and county. I believe in most areas you have to have an empty bed for each spot on your license. In some areas you can count toddler beds, in some areas you can't. In some areas if you're licensed for an infant you are required to have a crib set-up, in some areas you aren't. So before you do anything, find out what your rules specify.
In our situation we got licensed for three spots, and we had two twin beds and a portable crib set up. Our original parameters were actually exactly the same as this reader's. Originally we said that if we were taking in three kids they would be siblings (rather than taking in three un-related children). We figured if we had three siblings 0-6 years old, at least one of them would still be in a crib. We didn't want to invest in a crib because where we live when babies first come into foster care you get a voucher to buy equipment. We already had a lot of baby equipment, so we figured we could use the voucher to buy a crib. Amazingly, in the foster world where nothing ever goes as planned, all of these plans actually worked out for us! Our first placement was three siblings, the youngest of whom was still in a crib, and they were brand new into the foster care system so we got a voucher to buy the crib.
If you need to have beds for all three spots I'd recommend getting two twin beds and a convertible crib (that converts from a crib to a toddler bed). But make sure you verify with your licensing worker that the crib/toddler bed will count as a bed!
Thanks for the question!
We've found that waiting to become foster parents feels a whole lot like the waiting period when you're pregnant. You know that your life is about to change in every possible way, and you want to do everything possible to prepare for that change. Yet, at the end of the day, it always feels like you should be doing something more.Here are some of our recommendations for preparing your house for fostering. It should help keep you busy for a little while.
Happy lady. Busy mom (biological, foster, adoptive). Awesome wife. Writer. Public speaker. Previous (and hopefully future) world traveler. Gentle parenting advocate. Tree-hugger and all-around do-gooder. Follow me at www.Facebook.com/Jasmine.Dee23.
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Everything on this site is based on the experiences of one foster family, and stories we've heard from other foster parents. Your experiences may be vastly different. Please remember that rules and regulations vary greatly from area to area, so always check the laws that pertain to your unique situation.