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.
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??