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Easing the transition for newly arrived foster children

Plan one or two “icebreakers” for the first day.

We — two brothers, a sister and I arrived at our foster home two weeks before Halloween. On the ride from the orphanage, the social worker stopped by to refresh us with a glass of cider. When we expressed interest in them, she bought each of us our choice of Halloween masks, what we then called “fake faces” and a large pumpkin. Being anxious and shy, we asked if we could wear the masks around the house to scare our new foster parents. Somehow, without any kind of planning, they and we were suddenly playing hide and seek with the masks in which, when they found us, we would ask them: “Who am I?” and our new adoptive parents had to name us. If they got our name right, we had to take off our masks. If they didn’t, we could still wear our masks and hide again. But that was the last unplanned activity for the first few weeks of adjusting to our new home.

Our foster mother had arranged for a boy my age to play with me and my siblings. He and his father arrived with two large boxes of toys and games that entertained us until dinner time when the four of us talked at once (the rule in the orphanage was silence at meals) and ate vigorously. After dinner, during our first family project, we carved a pumpkin at the kitchen table. We loved dipping our hands into the soft center of the pumpkin to remove the pulp and gave our new foster dad lots of tips as he carved the pumpkin. After we all had a bath (four at a time in one big tub!) and changed into new pajamas, our foster dad placed and lit a candle in the pumpkin that he carried into the hallway outside our room. For the first few weeks, the four of us slept together in beds in a single room, after which Janey, the youngest at four, was moved into her own room next to our new foster parents’.

Introduce the children to their new surroundings through an “Orientation Week.”

Our first week was carefully planned. The morning after we arrived, a Saturday, my new mother walked me to a grocery store to buy my first birthday dinner the following Monday. Then we all walked to our new school where we met the art teacher and principal, toured the school, and borrowed books from the library.

For the rest of our orientation week, our after-school activities included a walk around the college campus a few blocks from our house, a visit to the tree nursery where we would develop a large vegetable garden, a tour of the church we would attend. , our first physical by the family doctor, and a visit to the apple farm owned by family friends, where we pick apples and black walnuts. On our second Saturday we all marched to the main street of the city to buy new clothes and shoes and got our first haircut at a real hair salon. These were institutions and activities that would be important in our lives.

Introduce children to the rules, schedules, and routines of their new home and culture during the first week.

Our journey began that first week and forever in the kitchen with a tablespoon of cod liver oil washed down with fresh-squeezed orange juice, a luxury our foster mother considered important for regaining health. They gave us napkins and our own napkin rings, a novelty for us, and taught us how to use them. We were introduced to the schedules and routines of our foster home. Meal times, bedtimes, daily bath times, and, when not at school, nap times were set. Each day had its own rhythm. Monday, for example, was laundry day. Tuesday was cleaning day. We spent Sunday mornings in church. Predictable schedules and routines are an important means of restoring physical health and fostering emotional safety in injured children and will contribute to their own mental health.

Involve children early in clearly defined household chores.

Introduce children to household chores during the first month. Every four days was our day. That day we were responsible for setting and clearing the table for dinner and, with the help of mom or dad, doing the dishes for the night. We made our own beds every day and picked up our rooms. We participate in lawn care and major clean-up projects, usually family affairs on Saturdays.

Plan some fun family activities for the first few weeks.

In addition to trips to an apple orchard and a tree farm, we enjoyed trips to two state parks in the area for the first few weeks where we were allowed to run free through the fields and woods, a joy not allowed at the orphanage. strictly regimented from which we had come. In today’s world there are many other possibilities for family outings. The important thing is that everyone participates, that the children really enjoy the activity, and especially if they are boys, that the activity be vigorously physical. Provide appropriate sports equipment for children immediately and locate a nearby park or place where they can use it. Use them if you can! More generally, keep them busy, challenged, and fully engaged whenever possible in creative pursuits.

Involve your extended family and friends.

If you have one within your reach, involve your extended family in your foster project. Just as our adoptive mother became our mother in her language and her actions the afternoon we arrived, our extended family immediately accepted us and would eventually embrace all four of us. They made us feel like we were part of the clan. Also involve your close friends and your communities, religious or not, in raising children. No child can have too many adults interested in their welfare.


The children will probably arrive with personal treasures. Mine were a green fountain pen that my biological father gave me the last time I saw him at the age of five, and a picture of my beloved maternal grandparents.

Help them protect their treasures. They will like you for it. Treasures are an important element to leave the past behind.

Document the first few weeks.

Keep your camera ready and try to spend a few moments in your now very busy lives documenting those early days. They go by fast and won’t be back. My mother kept a journal for our first ten days together, so I am able to write about our own transition in such detail.

Expect the first few months to be exciting and exhausting. As the Luches put it in a letter to family and friends, “The first month was a little hard on the elderly and we suppose even harder on the children.” But a year later, Mom wrote to family and friends again: “Well, we’ve come to the end of the happiest year of our lives! We never realized how far we were until we had the kids.”


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