By Dr. John DeGarmo
When a child is suddenly taken from his home and family, and placed in a home against his will, there are bound to be issues of trust. Many children in foster care have never had adults in their lives who have not betrayed their trust. Why should they trust you? Indeed, when a child in foster care first moves into your home, he is bound to be suspicious, as he is now living in a stranger’s home. One way to combat this is to create a trusting and nurturing environment. Let your foster child know as early as possible that he is welcome in your house. Keep in mind that your home is very likely the last place he wants to be. Despite all the pain, difficulties and perhaps even abuse your foster child may have faced in his own home before coming to live with you, you are still not his family. He probably will want to be with his own family, and will resist opening up to you. Try to be as warm, compassionate and understanding as you possibly can. Your efforts will be recognized by your foster child, even if he does not show it.
Along with this, you will want to let your foster child know that your house is a safe one. Not only do you want to let your foster child know this when he joins your family, it is just as important to remind him of this often. Treat him like a member of your family. You want to show your foster child that you value him as a person. What he says, what he thinks, what he believes -- your foster child needs to realize that all of these are important. For some children, this might be a new experience, as they have never been shown value before.
Trust can also be built by showing your foster child that you care for him. Building a trusting relationship means showing your foster child that you are concerned for his well being, physically, emotionally and mentally. Showing compassion for your foster child 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 are central to avoiding further risky behavior.
You may find that your foster child will try to test your trust, your love and your dedication to him. He may lash out verbally, throw temper tantrums or lie to you. On the other hand, he might also withdraw, refuse to talk or not engage in the family in a positive way. After the “honeymoon” period has elapsed, he may try determine how far you trust him, and how much a part of your family he is. When this happens, remain consistent in your values, rules and consequences. Indeed, this also helps to build trust, as he will see that you will not waver in your rules and consequences or your love for him.
Trust does take time, and for some foster children, it may take a very long time. Remember, you are planting seeds that you may never see come to fruition.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, and he and his wife have had more than 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of "Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story," and the new training book "The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home." He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both in the United States and overseas. Dr. DeGarmo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website.