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Welcoming a child into your home is a joyous occasion. For foster, adoptive, and birth parents alike, the opportunity to love and care for a child is one that comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. After all, a parent must be mentally, physically, and practically prepared to meet the needs of this little person while they are in their care.
Even though the responsibility is the same, the weeks, months, or years leading up to meeting their child can look drastically different for foster and adoptive parents than those of biological parents. While no one who has ever birthed a child would tell you the process is entirely straightforward, both fostering and adoption are characterized by the unknown. On top of the emotional and physical challenges of not knowing when your child or children will be joining you, how long they will stay, how old they will be, or what circumstances they may have been born into, there are also logistical challenges — like that of optimizing your home so the new addition(s) to your family feel safe, happy, and loved.
As obvious as it seems, making sure your home is safe for your child should be your top concern. In most cases, home visits by state agencies will include a safety checklist that must be completed in order for the home to be considered ready. Generally speaking, you should start with overall home safety precautions, like checking or installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, providing working fire extinguishers, and repairing any structural damages that may pose a risk of injury like loose railings. You’ll also need to address potential outdoor hazards like swimming pools, which should be surrounded by a fence with a locked gate.
For babies and young children, you’ll need to “baby proof” by installing gates at stairways, covering outlets, securing heavy furniture to walls, and keeping dangerous objects like knives and cleaning supplies out of reach. For older children and teens, it’s especially important to be cautious regarding substances like alcohol and prescription medications. These items, along with any guns and ammunition, should be stored in a locked cabinet or safe, and children should not be aware of how to access them. In addition to your home, you’ll need to be sure your vehicle is in good condition, insured, and up-to-date on its maintenance. Young children will require car safety seats or boosters.
A Space of His or Her Own
Your new child will need a space that is theirs and theirs alone. That doesn’t necessarily mean they need a room of their own. (Space requirements, room sharing rules, and the number of foster or adopted children you can care for at one time will vary depending on where you live.) Even if they will be sharing a bedroom with other siblings, it is possible to divide the space in a way that will give each child his or her own area. Bunk or loft beds can be used to free up usable floor space, room dividers or curtains can provide separation, and simply adding a canopy to the bed can provide privacy.
In addition to providing a place for your child to go when they are feeling overstimulated or just want to be alone, this dedicated space will allow your child to feel more independent. Allowing some control over this environment (like picking bedding or deciding which stuffed animals to have on the bed) lays the foundation for good decision-making and healthy self-esteem. Implementing rules about how they utilize the space (like leaving the door cracked at all times or keeping the room tidy) will teach responsibility and provide them an opportunity to earn praise.
Room to Play
It’s great if you have the space for a dedicated playroom. If not, a corner of the living room with a small box of age-appropriate toys, books, puzzles, and blocks works just as well for a young child. Play is especially important for foster or adopted children who have experienced any form of developmental trauma, like neglect or abuse. This trauma can have a negative impact on everything from a child’s motor skills to their ability to speak to their social skills. Creative play, however, is one of the main ways children develop these same skills, so it should be planned for and encouraged.
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While play looks different for older kids, it helps them learn and grow in many of the same ways as it does younger children. Board games, art supplies, and multimedia like movies and music are generally a good place to start for this age group, but you may want to ask your social worker for more information about your child, or even wait until they arrive and get their input. Unlike young children, older children and teenagers will likely already have a defined set of interests and hobbies. For example, if they love to read, a corner of the living room with a comfy chair will likely bring them a lot of joy. Building the space together can also be a great way to bond and build trust with an older child.
The Great Outdoors
Outdoor time is important for children of all ages. First, it promotes good health and physical fitness. Running, climbing, jumping, and all of the other things kids do outside strengthen their hearts, build muscles, and reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Beyond the physical benefits, outdoor play builds confidence, helps children learn to assess risks, and reduces stress.
Luckily, a parent doesn’t have to have a big space or fancy play equipment for their child to reap the rewards of playing outside. You should, however, create a safe place for your child to experience the outdoors and encourage them to spend time there. For infants, a blanket on the grass with a few picture books, blocks, and balls can be hours of fun. For toddlers and school-aged children, slides, swings, and sand boxes are all the rage. If you live in an apartment, keep a box of “outside toys” near the door stocked with bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and sports equipment to make it easy to grab and go. (Of course, nature-provided toys like sticks and rocks also work — just make sure they’re supervised.) Older children and teens may enjoy a bike, basketball goal, or skateboard. Having these items on hand and in place before your child arrives will make them more likely to utilize them.
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Keep an Open Mind
No matter how much time and effort you put into planning and preparing your home for your new child, you should always leave space (both literally and metaphorically) for your child’s unique interests, personality, and needs. The truth is, every child is different, and you won’t know exactly how to decorate, design, or fill your child’s space until you get to know him or her. For that reason, it’s important to set aside some time, space, and budget for personalizing and equipping your home after your child arrives and as they adjust to life with their new family.
Furthermore, if you realize something about the space you’ve created for your child isn’t working, don’t hesitate to change it. Simply moving the bed to the other side of the room or letting them pick out their own posters for their bedroom wall may help them feel more comfortable in their new home. Allowing your child a say in these decisions may also help them feel more in control during this exciting, but sometimes scary, time.
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Where the Heart Is
In the end, creating a warm, inviting space really has very little to do with what the space looks like. While preparing your house is important, preparing your heart and mind to embrace this new child are what really matters when it comes to making a home.