10 Ways to Strengthen Foster Parent/Child Relationships

Dr. John DeGarmo
6 min readJun 11, 2024


For a child placed into foster care, it is often a very difficult time. It is highly likely that the child placed in your home will be scared and frightened, full of anxiety. In addition, there are many times issues of trust and attachment. Here are 10 ways you can help to build positive relationships with a child placed into your home.

1. Gift of Time

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.

2. 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.

3. Words of Praise and Encouragement

Children need a cheerleader. They need to know that someone believes in them. They need to know that what they do matters. This is especially true for children in foster care. When you tell a child placed in your home that you are proud of him, it only encourages them to work even harder. Celebrate each little success a child has, no matter how small it might be.

4. Words of Love

Sadly, I have found over the years as a foster parent that so many children have never heard these three important words. Yet, these three words are the most important words that they need to hear. Indeed, one can never say “I love you,” to a child enough times. They need to and deserve to hear it several times a day. “I love you,” reminds children that they are valuable, that they matter, and that someone truly cares for them.

5. The Power of Listening

The child placed into your home more than likely has gone through a great deal of trauma. Feelings and emotions are swirling up inside of him, and your child will need an outlet. Simply by putting all else aside at the time, sitting down, and listening, this will help him develop a better sense of self worth, as you validate your child’s thoughts, feeling, and emotions. As the child has had many experiences outside your own home, it is important to remember not to judge your him, or be critical as you listen. Simply let him talk, while you listen.

6. Quality Time

Nothing says you care for a child than spending quality time with that child. Spending time with your child from foster care and focusing on him is important for the mental health of the child. Including him in family activities is essential for the well being of your household. These might include going to the movies, parks, church, and faith based activities as a family. If he is interested in joining a local sports team, like a recreational or school baseball team, than encourage the child to try out, as well as attend the games he plays in. Learn what hobbies your foster child enjoys, and join in with them. Invite him to help you make dinner, and eat as a family together. Above all, be excited and enthusiastic about your child from foster care and what his interests are.

7.Encourage Good Behavior

Like all children, the child placed into your home wants to feel like he not only belongs to your family, but that he plays an important role in your household. If he does not believe that he contributes in a meaningful way in your home, he may seek someplace else to do so. This “someplace else” may not be the place where you want your child to be associated with. Thus, it is vital that you encourage good behavior in your home.

Find your child from foster care doing something well, and notice him for it. Tell him that you appreciate what he has done, thanking him for it. This can be as simple as cleaning up a room, taking the garbage out, playing quietly in a room, completing homework, hanging up a bath towel, or a number of small details that normally may go unnoticed. No matter how small the action is, it is essential to his well being that he feels recognized and that his actions are significant.

8. Empathy

Many of the situations and environments the child from foster care left before coming to live with you are distressing, troubling, and even heartbreaking. As a foster parent, you will be able to build a stronger relationship with your foster child by trying to understand their feelings from their perspective. By doing so, not only do you better appreciate their feelings and emotions, but also why they may act a certain way, behave in a particular manner, and say the things they do. Empathy also helps in breaking down the walls between you and the child, as you compassion and love for the child grows.

9. Building Trust

Trust can also be built by showing your child from foster care that you care for him. Building a trusting relationship means showing your him that you are concerned for his well being, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Showing compassion for him is an important part of building a healthy relationship, as he needs to know and feel that you care for him. After all, close relationships between children and adults is a central part of avoiding further risky behavior. Trust, though, does take time, and for some children placed in foster care, it may take a very long period of time. Remember, you are planting seeds, here, that you may never see come to fruition.

10. Saying “I’m Sorry”

As foster parents, when we make a mistake and when we disappoint or hurt a child in some way, it is important for us to say that “I’m sorry.” Pride should never get in the way of this. You should never be too proud to ask a child for forgiveness. Not only are we letting children know that we have accepted our own poor choices and mistakes, we are teaching children that it is important to take ownership of our mistakes.

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