If you’re already a mum, fostering another child will undoubtedly shift your family dynamic. However, with a little listening and compassion, you can easily be a parental figure to a foster child and your biological one
You’re a mum. You know that loving a child – and being loved back – is the most wonderful feeling. And for some women it makes perfect sense to share that mother’s love around by fostering.
Adding another child to your family – even temporarily – has to be handled sensitivity. The last thing you need is resentment towards the foster child from your own kids or a foster child left feeling unhappy or vulnerable.
By making sure you follow some simply guidelines, there’s no reason why both children can’t become great friends and the whole experience be rewarding for everyone involved.
Involve your child
Your own child will play a huge part in making a foster child feel welcome at home, so it’s important that he is happy with it all going ahead.
‘Dependent upon his age and understanding, your own child will be involved in the fostering assessment process,’ says Alan Wood, director of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. ‘Really listen to how he feels about the idea of having a foster child living with you, as you don’t want to risk permanently upsetting him.’
Try asking your child questions such as “Is it OK if mummy looks after another child?” and “Why do you think having another child to stay will be fun?”
His responses will help you gauge if he just needs some time to adjust and can see the fun side of having another family member or if he really won’t be able to handle the change at this point in time.
Plan and prepare
Thinking ahead and using your organisational skills are important for making fostering a child go as smoothly as possible when it comes to the kids you already have.
Ask your child to draw or write down his questions and feelings
Your child will probably have lots of questions such as, ‘What if I don’t like him/her?’, ‘how much pocket money will he get’ and ‘what if they shout at you?’
‘Ask your child to draw or write down his questions and feelings,’ says Alan. ‘This is a good way for him to explain what he’s thinking without worrying about upsetting you. You can then talk to him about what he’s written.’ Remember that it’s your child’s home as well as yours.
Give your child someone to talk to
Looked after children have often experienced a lot of upset, which can mean that some of the behaviour they show is difficult for your own child to understand.
‘It’s important that your own child feels safe and has someone to talk to,’ says Alan. As the parental figure, you need to remain impartial, and so introducing a support group can be beneficial – many fostering agencies have support groups for birth children of foster carers.
Don’t leave the foster child out
The foster child will be permanently reminded that he isn’t the same as his foster brother or sister, as he will be in contact with a social worker frequently and may even still see his birth family.
‘Lots of children in care have been hurt by adults, so trust is a key issue,’ says Alan. ‘This means they can react to stressful situations in ways that seem out of step with their age. Some looked after children really benefit from living with children who are lucky enough to live in a safe caring environment with their own birth parent.’
Already being a mum has given you the groundwork you need to make being a foster carer work.
In time, both you and your child should notice the positive difference that another child makes to your family and relish in the love and personality of that child. It’s a big responsibility but an experience that can make all your lives richer.