tips for foster carers


5 Big, Useful Tips for New Foster Carers

Author: Jamie McCreghan   In: Becoming a Carer
tips for foster carers

Are you looking forward to welcoming your first young person into your foster home?

It can be a nerve-wracking time but if there’s one thing that all new foster carers have in common, it’s wanting to make your first foster child feel welcome in your home.

In this article, Lika’s Supervising Social Worker Gina Johnson — herself a foster carer — will share her tips and advice not just to help a young person feel welcome, but to help them settle in and give yourself the best possible chance of a successful placement.

Got Questions?

If you want to know more about becoming a foster carer in London, ask our team here

cultural heritage
As young people get older, they become more accountable for their behaviours.

Preparing your home for your first foster placement

You’ll know already that a young person must have a room to call their own, as having a spare room is a prerequisite for fostering. But there are rooms and there are rooms!

“Make sure the room feels really friendly—that it’s a really cosy and warm place for the child to come into,” Gina said. “You’ll need to have all the practical things in there, such as storage for clothes, a desk and safety considerations like smoke detectors and window locks are important, but the room needs to feel welcoming. It needs to feel like it’s the child’s space. They’re coming from a place of trauma; they’ve been taken from their homes and they may not really understand what’s going on.”

tip prepare your home
Make the room a relatively neutral space at first and give the young person the opportunity to personalise it.

Tip: Make the room a relatively neutral space at first and give the young person the opportunity to personalise it. Offer to take them shopping for a new bedspread, toys or for pictures for the wall—something that lets them feel ownership of the space and makes it feel like home.

Thinking ahead about the things your young person will need

A great way to ensure your young person feels welcome is to demonstrate that you were thinking about them before their arrival. Little things, like having a toothbrush and other toiletries and perhaps a dressing gown or nightwear, can help a young person feel comfortable.

“They might not feel they can ask you for anything, so if we can be forward-thinking and get in the things they’re going to need, it will help them understand that this is a home where they can feel comfortable,” Gina said.

Tip: Ask the child’s social worker about the young person’s likes or dislikes before the placement starts. Gina said this opens up opportunities like helping them feel comfortable by cooking their favourite food, or bonding over shared interests, like sport or music.

Welcoming your first foster child into your home

Once a placement has been decided, things move quite quickly. You’ll soon have a young person standing in your hallway, trying to make sense of both you and of their new surroundings.

welcome foster child
Show your young person around the house and demonstrate that you’ve made room for them in your life.

“Then it’s about having that initial conversation with them, introducing them to your family, showing them around their new home and welcoming them to be a part of the household,” Gina said.

“It’s about ensuring they feel a sense of ownership of their space showing them that ‘this is your room; this is your bed; this is where you’re going to be staying’.

This is a good time to invite them to personalise their space, by offering to change the duvet cover, or other personal touches. It’s also the point at which Gina recommends showing your young person around the house and demonstrating that you’ve made room for them in your life.

“It’s reassuring them that they’re welcome to use the bathroom whenever they want to, showing them the bathroom, showing them where essential items are kept such as toothbrushes and towels.

“It’s letting them know that they are welcome to join in household activities such as watching TV if they want, asking about their bedtime routines and preferences for sleeping arrangements such as whether they need the door open, or prefer it closed, or do they need a night light, or do they prefer to sleep in the dark?”

Explaining who you are

Building your relationship with your young person starts right away. Gina said in those first few hours you’re not just showing your young person the household, you’re also introducing them to who you are as a carer.

“It’s about sharing a bit about yourself,” she said. “I think that comes through having a conversation, explaining your role and identity, and giving them the option of how they’d like to refer to you—perhaps by your name or by titles such as ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.

“This initial conversation is really important. It’s got to be warm, nurturing and understanding. I think if you can build that up in that first conversation and make the young person feel like, ‘okay, you’re not the enemy here; you’re here to help’, that can encourage them open up”.

Tip: Gina says, “Give them space to express themselves. They may not feel like talking initially but, as a carer it’s important to offer that reassurance. You can say, ‘you might not want to talk right now; maybe we can talk later. Being open, honest, and attentive is key. Ask a few open questions or gentle prompts if they’re not ready to engage in a conversation yet.”

two foster kids
Building your relationship with your young person starts right away.

Setting some boundaries with your young person

It’s important to set some boundaries early, as these help the young person understand their new setting and the expectations around them. So go through the house rules. These might be things like:

  • Wake up times, bedtimes, and other routines
  • Cleanliness (both personal and household)
  • Chores and responsibilities
  • Internet and device use
  • Respecting personal and physical spaces
  • Manners, language, and other polite behaviour.

“It’s just showing them, ‘these are our expectations and boundaries in the home,” Gina said. “It’s saying ‘these are the routines here’. It’s about setting those boundaries, but very gently to help create a sense of structure and security for the young person.”

Not being too hard on yourself

Young people who come into foster care have experienced and are dealing with the effects of their trauma, so it’s understandable that things don’t run smoothly all the time in a foster placement. It’s important to remember that if you’re struggling, at Lika you’re never alone—you have both your professional team and a network of fellow foster carers you can lean on for advice. You can also ask Lika for any training you feel you need at any time. Our goal is for our foster carers to never feel like they’re on their own.

But Gina says it’s also important not to be too hard on yourself. It might feel like you’ve not had “a breakthrough moment” but, in reality, progress often comes little by little, rather than in one big flash.

“You might think you’re not being effective in that relationship but, actually, some children are very hard to reach, and they may need time to build trust,” she said. “So, a breakthrough could be something as simple as the child coming up to you for a hug, and you’ll recognise that as a change.”

Tip: “Look at the small wins, the little progress that the young person might be making,” Gina said. “It could be something so small as a child coming home on time, which might suggest they’ve finally understood the importance of safety and the conversations you’ve been having around that.”

foster carer tips
It might feel like you’ve not had “a breakthrough moment” but, in reality, progress often comes little by little, rather than in one big flash.

Working well with professionals

Being a foster carer doesn’t just mean welcoming a young person into your life. It means working closely with a range of professionals, for example:

    • The young person’s social worker
    • Your supervising social worker
    • The Lika team
    • Health professionals (doctors, therapists)
    • Your young person’s teachers, headmaster and school safeguarding lead
    • Independent Reviewing Officers
    • CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

“It’s always helpful to build a good relationship with your young person’s social worker,” Gina said. “It’s not always smooth sailing because you may have different ideas from the social worker. As a foster carer, you will have unique insights into the child’s needs and known them best, so sometimes you may need to advocate strongly on behalf of that child. It’s about being able to have open conversations in the child’s best interest. This is an important one because the social worker will be the one seeing the child frequently.

Tip: Gina said it’s important to remember that as the foster carer you must be able to advocate on behalf of the child in the school environment. “It’s working together with the professionals to make sure the child can get the best out of their education and that can also be tricky because schools may have different ideas and may not understand trauma behaviours and what the child is going through.”

london southbank
Being a foster carer means working closely with a range of professionals.

A little bit more about Lika

Lika is a therapeutic fostering agency, rated Outstanding by Ofsted. Every decision we take is based on Systemic Family Therapy principles. That means relationships, openness and honesty are at the heart of everything we do. All Lika foster carers receive extensive training in Systemic Family Therapy principles and therapeutic parenting techniques.

It’s similar to the training a newly qualified social worker receives (although not quite as technical) — so you’ll be fully prepared for your first placement and be viewed as a professional foster carer in your own right.

Being a Lika foster carer means always receiving specialised and consistent support from our expert team of professionals.

Your support will include:

    • 1 to 4 weekly supervisions with your supervising social worker to talk through and understand the needs of your young person
    • 24/7 out-of-hours access to one of the Lika team, so you’re never unsupported if things feel difficult
    • Access to Lika’s team of skilled and knowledgeable Systemic Psychotherapist Consultants and Systemic Social Work Practitioners, who are never stuck for ideas on how to support
    • Virtual monthly foster carers support meeting, led and chaired by experienced foster carers
    • Virtual fortnightly Therapeutic Family Consultations, facilitated by one of our psychotherapists and open to all our agency’s foster carers
    • Membership to the National Association of Therapeutic Parents and The Fostering Network
    • Life coaching for foster children, birth children and foster carers
    • Our Mentor Support Scheme, which partners new foster carers with more experienced foster carers
    • Free training for fostering support networks. (Your family and friends are welcome to join any of the training Lika offers.)
    • Access to Lika’s support workers, depending on the level of need for the young person
    • Access to Lika’s Educational Consultant, who can offer ideas and advocacy in supporting young people to achieve in education
    • Help from Lika’s Systemic Social Work Practitioners/Therapists, who can undertake skilled direct work without waiting lists for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)
    • 14 to 21 days of paid respite (depending on complexity) to recharge your batteries and have some space for self-care.

Thinking about becoming a foster carer?

If you’re in south or east London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.

We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea,We’re currently in Barking and Dagenham, Barnet, Brent, Bexley, Bromley, Camden, City of London, Croydon, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing, Haringey, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth, Westminster, Enfield, Harrow, Havering, Hillingdon, Kingston upon Thames, Richmond upon Thames, Waltham Forest, Harrow, Essex, Nuneaton, and Tameside.

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