Throughout your fostering journey, you are likely to experience a range of emotions. One of the most common is a sense of anxiety over whether or not you will be able to connect with the child or young person in your care and form a positive relationship. It's normal for Foster Carers to experience this, regardless of how long they have been in the role.
It’s important to understand that bonds with a child you foster need to be gradual and at the child’s pace. . There may be a number of different reasons as to why the child in your care might be finding things difficult, which can have an impact on their ability to trust in and engage with others. We will help you to make sense of this and suggest ways of building up your relationship with the child. These tips can help you to start thinking about how you might forge a positive connection with the children in your care.
It is common for children and young people to feel anxious and worried about coming to live with a new family, especially during the first few weeks Having a spare bedroom for the child is a key requirement for Foster Carers, as it ensures the child or young person in their care has their privacy and personal space where they can feel safe and secure.
Helping them to personalise their own space can be hugely empowering for child/ren and can start to help them to feel a sense of belonging Talking with them about what they would like their room to look like, taking them shopping for paint, furnishings and a few comfort items such as toys/games will help them begin to feel welcome and settled in their new home.
Allowing the child in your care to have their say on r day-to-day decisions can help to establish greater trust, as it shows you respect their opinions and helps them to develop their self-confidence and decision-making skills.
This can relate to activities such as deciding what to have for dinner, eg. Pizza Night, Pasta Night, choosing specific items while you are out shopping, or (depending on their age) Having a Movie theme, or making plans for the weekend is a good way to involve the child and help them feel part of the family/. For children who are older discussing friendships, subject choices or future career paths can also help them to establish a stronger sense of identity and purpose.
For children, security is closely tied to a sense of structure and routine. You can help to establish and reinforce this in a number of ways. Setting a daily schedule can be helpful for things like time-keeping (especially when there is a busy school run to make) - while having set meals and bedtimes helps to promote good health and wellbeing in addition to teaching key organisational skills.
For children and young people who might struggle with retaining information, a picture chart can be a great way to plan out their week eg clubs and activities, family visits, school.
A sense of structure can also come from establishing boundaries around acceptable behaviour. As part of your preparation training to become a Foster Carer, you may encounter some challenging behaviours, which can be related to previous experiences.
It may also be the case that your child has a health condition that affects their emotional and behavioural responses. Whatever the case, setting clear boundaries from a place of understanding and compassion can be helpful in connecting with children or young people in your care.
Part of this sense of security will come from reassurance. You can help a child or young person feel more supported and included by showing your appreciation for them through positive words and actions that let them know they are welcome and safe in your home.
In some cases, where a child in your care shows more challenging behaviour, they may experience fear of rejection or punishment as a result -In those situations your response must be calm, nurturing and provide reassurance to the child that everything can be resolved.
As with any other relationship, it helps to approach a new relationship with the child with an inquiring and open mind. Most children tend to have specific interests and hobbies, so as a way to engage with them, you can try asking one or two questions about this.
Listen to them talk - and keep them talking. Showing genuine curiosity about the things they are passionate about shows that you care and can help to build trust and connection.
Spending quality time together on shared activities, whether one-to-one or with the whole family can be a great way to create a sense of connectedness and bonding.
Food preparation and meal times can be a great opportunity to involve the whole family and spark conversations that help to strengthen bonds. Try to have one of these at the same time each day - or it’s a challenge to get everyone together, try to arrange one or two days a week where this happens.
Regular sit-down meals also offer a chance to plan some fun activities as a group. Outdoor play is essential for children as it gives them the opportunity to exercise and let off some steam in the process. Depending on your foster child’s age, you could take them to the local play park, or you could go for a walk in the countryside. If you are part of a large family, you could even form teams and play a game such as a football.
Play doesn’t always have to be outdoors: great rainy-day activities include having a movie night, playing a board game, or (again, depending on their age and preferences) engaging in imaginative play using dolls, puppets or a dress-up box. These are just a few ideas.
The words you use can have an impact, so wherever possible, use inclusive language that refers to shared situations or things - so that rather than feeling like a visitor in someone’s house, they know they are in “their” home with “our” things (unless it’s an item that belongs to someone specifically).
You can also show your care through words of encouragement and praise. This not only helps to reinforce positive behaviour - but it also helps to boost self-confidence and can strengthen a positive connection.
Allow them to decide what they would prefer to call you - this creates a sense of empowerment and also establishes a level of familiarity as they begin to find their bearings in their new home.
Some children might prefer first-name terms, while others might like to refer to you as Auntie/Uncle...
It’s not uncommon for children and young people in foster care to come from backgrounds where trust in others has been negatively affected - so if it takes some time for you to bond, try not to take any rejections or initial coolness personally. Instead, try to see it from their perspective.
Building trust can be as simple as having everyday conversations such as asking about their day at school. If they mention something difficult or challenging, it might be tempting to immediately come to the rescue with a solution - but above all, it’s important to listen to children and to allow them to share their feelings without fear of being judged or talked over.
In the process of fostering, it is likely that you will learn a lot about the whole range of emotions and how to express them in a healthy, constructive way. This in turn can enable you to teach these skills to the child or young person in your care - helping to strengthen trust and familiarity.
Emotional availability is a key part of this. Showing that all emotions are valid - even ones usually viewed as negative, such as frustration or sadness - can help children to feel more comfortable with expressing their own emotions and can teach them how to cope with difficult feelings if they arise.
Children in foster placements may have had differing experiences of touch - some may have been deprived or neglected, while others may be suffering trauma as a result of abuse.
Where topics such as hugging are concerned, it’s important to understand the child’s experience and to be sensitive to their individual needs. This is something your Supervising Social Worker can support you with - so ask them how best to approach this.
Above all, it’s important to acknowledge that building trust and a sense of connection happens gradually - not overnight. Each child is unique, with their own personal history and range of experiences, so it’s important to take this into account and to work with the rest of your fostering team to ensure that the child or young person in your care can develop the independence, emotional resources and sense of security they need to form positive, healthy relationships with others.