10 Top Tips when Welcoming a Foster Child into your Home

Dr. John DeGarmo
7 min readJan 5, 2024

The first impression you create with your child from foster care is often vitally important to how the next few days and weeks will transpire. This will probably not be the sweet little child who rushes into your waiting arms, laughing delightfully, as you might imagine. It is highly likely that the child placed in your home will be scared and frightened, full of anxiety. He may have left his family moments ago, and is now told that you are his family, for the time being. Without a doubt, he is full of questions, as emotions swirl within him. Along with this, he has lost his familiar pattern of living, his home, his friends, and all that made up his own personal world. Although it is impossible to predict how he will react when he first meets you, it is important that you approach this time with caution and care.

It helps to be prepared in advance for welcoming a foster child into your home. Here are 10 tips to make this difficult time a little easier.

  1. Gather Information

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for the arrival of a child in foster care is to educate yourself with as much background information and history as you can about the child. Do not be concerned if you have a large number of questions for your caseworker when you are first approached about of a placement of a child in your house. While the caseworker may not have all the answers, you will find valuable information by asking. Get as many answers to questions as you can about the child, what happened to bring them into care, and past history of abuse and neglect. If possible, get this information before the child comes to your house.

2. Prepare your Family

The addition of a child from foster care to your household is sure to bring changes in your family dynamics. Many adjustments will have to be made in your home. Take some time to sit down with your children and remind them why you chose to be a foster parent. Share with them the information they need to know about your new foster child. If they are too young to understand why a child might be in foster care, do not burden or confuse them with this information, they will simply not need more information or details. Your own children may have concerns. Perhaps they are worried that they will have to share you with their new foster sibling. They may resent that there is a new person joining their family. Ask them to share their feelings with you, and listen to what they have to say. Reassure your own children that you will always be there for them.

3. Introduce Yourself

When the caseworker pulls into your driveway, if possible, go out to the car and welcome the caseworker and child, introducing yourself immediately, with a warm smile and soft voice. Inform your foster child who you are and the role you will now play in his life. He may very well not understand the foster care system, or what foster parents do. Do not insist that your new child call you mom or dad. In fact, it is wise that you never insist upon this. The word “mom” may refer to the person who beat him. “Dad” may be the person who left his family. Allow your child from foster care to call you by your first names, if you feel comfortable with this, or by whatever name he feels comfortable in calling you.

4. Tour the Home

After all introductions to the entire family have been made, take him on a tour of your house, his new home. Show him where he will sleep, and where his clothes will be kept. Have a nightlight already on in the room, if the room is dark. The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies is always a welcome one in any home, particularly for children. Ask if he is hungry, and offer him some food. If he doesn’t want any food, do not insist upon it. He will eat when he is ready and hungry.

5. Be Prepared for Difficulties

As your child from foster care will need time to adjust to his new home and environment, he will require time and patience from you. To him, everything is new; new home, new food, new “parents,” and “brothers and sisters”, and new rules and expectations. Perhaps, even a new school, along with students and teachers, as well, if he has moved from another school system. As a result, he may act out in a variety of ways. He may exhibit sudden outbursts of anger and aggressive behavior, extreme bouts of sadness and depression or even imaginative stories about his birth family. He may even express no emotions, at all. It is important that you do not take his behavior personally, as he attempts to understand his feelings, and cope the best way he can.

6. Time and Trust

The best gift you can give the child placed in your home is the gift of time. He will need time to grieve the loss of his family; time to fully understand why he is in your home; time to learn your rules and expectations. He will need time to adjust to a new home, new family, and new school. He will also need time from you; time for someone to listen to him, to guide him, and time to instruct and teach him. It will also be very important for his mental well being if you give him the time to laugh, to play, and most importantly, time to be cared for and loved. This time often leads to the beginnings of trust.

7. Provide Emotional Support

Your child from foster care needs your help, your support, and most importantly, your unconditional love. As many of these children are coming from homes and environments where they have experienced abuse and neglect, as well as a host of other problems, they may be resistant to your help, and to your love. Do not be discouraged, as this is quite normal with foster children. Remember, they have been taken from their homes and their families, and are now living with strangers. No matter how poorly they have been treated, no matter how much abuse they have suffered, they still want to be with their family members, as it may be the only love they have experienced.

8. Establish Rules and Expectations

As soon as possible, take some time to sit down with him, and discuss the rules of your home, as well as your expectations of him. Listen to him, and encourage him to ask questions. This is an important time for your family, as you begin to form a relationship with your foster child. All families have some sort of routine and patterns of behavior that exist within their home. Your own family may have a routine that you follow on a daily or regular basis. Depending upon the type of household your foster child came from, he may not be familiar with your day to day routine. Indeed, he may come from a home that had no set routine or schedule. Even more, he may have lived in a home where there were no expectations of him, and no rules for him to follow. It is important that you include your child from foster care into your family, and into your routine.

9. Be Flexible

Flexibility is so very important, especially within the first few weeks a new child from foster care is placed in your home. The child’s world is in considerable turmoil, with plenty of confusion, and you will have less information and control than you may want. Prepare for this by lowering expectations, while at the same time being flexible.

10. Celebrate Special Moments

Children need a cheerleader. They need to know that someone believes in them. They need to know that what they do matters. When you tell a child that you are proud of him, it only encourages them to work even harder. There is a good likely hood that the child placed in your home has never had any words of encouragement said to him, no one to celebrate his successes. Celebrate each little success a child has, no matter how small it might be.

Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. Dr. John is the founder and director of The Foster Care Institute. He and his wife have had over 60 children from foster care come through their home. He is an international consultant to schools, legal firms, and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer for schools, child welfare, businesses, and non profit organizations. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Parenting Manual, and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN, FOX News, Good Morning, America, ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS stations across the nation. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail.com, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo Foster Care Expert, or at The Foster Care Institute.



Dr. John DeGarmo

Leading foster care expert and international empowerment speaker