Friday, June 14, 2013

"Foster Friday" Panel - That First Night

The first night that a child is placed in your home can be a scary one...  Both for the child and for the foster parent!  Join us this month as our Foster Friday panel members share their individual experiences and advice on how to make your new little ones feel comfortable in a strange place.

Amanda #2 - We've had our first foster placement for two weeks now. Here is the story of the first night. We didnt really 'put them to bed' he first night. About five o'clock on saturday we were starting a fire to roast hot dogs and s'mores with some friends. We were waiting to hear how long of a transition they wanted for a different sibling group that they'd called us about a few days earlier. My husband came out saying I needed to come talk on the phone with him to a worker. In my mind: they usually call my cell phone?! It's not the usual lady?! They already have a placement planning on coming?! What could they possibly want?!

They had talked to the regular lady, they knew about the other placement, but it seemed the other kids would need something more, AND there are two boys ages 3 and 4 who we need a place for TONIGHT! They proceeded to tell us the family situation, health concerns and apparent developmental stages. Would we take them?

My husband and I looked at each other. We both nodded our heads: there was nothing that made us want to say 'no'. Did we need to come and get them or would they be dropped off? They are actually not through our local office, so they and their court and visits are an hour away. They said they thought someone could bring them to us, they would double check and call us back.

A few minutes later the phone rang. We need to go get them. I asked if it could be in about two hours so we could eat first.

After a quick, excited, nervous dinner I left my hubby and bio kids and headed out. As I was driving I started to panic: what would I say to them? What if they felt like I was stealing them? How would they react, could I really do this? After an hour of this, I spotted the building (which I had never been to). I pulled in, nervously parked, got out, went to the door I hoped w the correct one. This was a sort of short term/ welcoming/ group home, which they has been at 24 hrs.

After signing a paper, the lady left me at a chair in the hallway as she went to get them. Out walked the older one, looking brave. The younger was being carried, screaming (he had been napping).  I knelt down next to the older and said (as best I can remember): will you come to my house and play with my kids until your mom and dad can take care of you? Will you come get in my van with me?

I took the younger one and held him, I think I told him a similar thing. The lady helped carry their stuff out, the older even bravely said yes to my questions and helped carry his bag out. The lady got their stuff in my van, while I put the younger in the carseat. He sat and I think was spacing out. The older bravely climber up into the seat that I said was for him. After I walked around to my door, and reached back to buckle him up he suddenly melted! He kind of started to frown, and then started crying. I pulled him up to me and held him as he cried uncontrollably until he fell asleep. I felt so bad for him! I held him, but how do you comfort him? I told him I loved him, I told him he is safe, I said I. Sorry he had to deal with this. I typically don't say "I love you" easily, I usually know someone a long time before I realize it and then say it. Making the decision to love someone upon meeting them was a new and enlightening experience. If I don't love them, and tell them, no one will.

After he fell asleep, I put him in the carseat. I then began the hour trip home. On the way they both whimpered a few times, but mostly slept. When we arrived, my husband carried the younger one to bed. The older woke up, and cried. We ended up cuddling on the couch watching a show for a while until he fell asleep. He woke up many times that night screaming. I eventually held him in my big rocking chair for the second half of the night. Both boys were very concerned about where the other was and asked about them several times. When morning came, they played, but frequently came to check that I was still there.

Cherub Mamma (Cherub Mamma) - Two years ago we were a family of six. Pumpkin had been with us for half a year and we were settled into a pretty good routine. Our family was getting ready to go on a vacation in just a few weeks. Our agency knew this and had said they weren’t going to place any children with us until we got back from Iowa. I was a little surprised when we got “the call”.

The intake worker said it was two children, a boy and a girl, ages two and three. They explained the removal conditions and asked if we could provide a home to them. I went through my checklist of questions making sure to get answers on the important things.

“Do they speak English?” I asked.

“Yes!” was the answer. “Yes, they speak English. (pause) Well…they speak Spanglish. (pause) But yes, they speak English.”

“Do they speak English OR Spanglish?” I asked again. No one in our family speaks Spanish so it was important to us that children coming in to our home speak English. I was told with confidence that the children spoke English.

Honestly, I don’t remember much of the actual arrival. Two years have passed and so much has changed. It was after supper, the cherubs were somewhat quiet, and I had to sit in the living room signing more paperwork than I did when we bought our house. I think the cherubs sat in the kitchen and picked at happy meals.

I showed the children around the house some. They didn’t speak much. I heard some English but most everything was gibber-gabber. I chalked it up to their ages and the trauma of removal. I knew I couldn’t just whisk them off to bed, even though it was late. They needed a bit of time to transition. They played with toys and generally seemed happy.

Eventually bedtime came. I got Pumpkin, Dude and Dolly all ready. I sang some songs. I prayed. And then I tried to leave the bedroom so they could sleep.

That’s when the crying started.

My memories of that night are all a blur. Honestly, if I hadn’t have been keeping a blog, I’m not sure I’d remember much from that time period at all. But I can picture with great clarity sitting on the couch in our playroom that very first night.

It was dark. I had Dude on one side of me, and Dolly on the other. They were snuggled as close to me as possible. I was tired. Well, that’s not exactly accurate…I was exhausted. Intake is always an emotionally draining experience for me. I was nervous about my abilities to parent six children and there I sat, late in to the night, with two incredibly scared cherubs.

I wanted to pray but I didn’t have the mental abilities to stay focused. I decided to sing instead. I wanted to comfort the children but all they could do was cry. I sang “Jesus Loves Me” over and over (and over and over and over). No joke. I probably sang the song fifty times.

And they cried.

In Spanish.

Joining the cherubs in their crying, I picked up my phone and sent a text message to the director of our licensing agency. It was simple. I let her know, “Remember when they told me the children spoke English….THEY LIED!!”

Dani - It was Friday.  I was babysitting for the neighbor kids.  My partner was out of state.  We weren't officially licensed yet, but I was sitting and waiting for the phone call that said we were.  We already had a placement lined up; a baby boy who was still in the NICU withdrawing.

At 3 PM the phone rang.  It was the call we'd been waiting almost a year for.  We were finally licensed.

I called my partner to tell her.  She was just as excited as I was.  Forty one minutes later the phone rang again.  It was our licensing worker.  There were two little boys who needed a home, was I interested?  Of course I said yes!

The LW asked if there was any way possible that I could be to the agency by four.  They locked the door then and it would be so much easier if I could walk through the front door.

I was so nervous and excited!  I quickly called my brother in law to see if he could watch the three I was babysitting, threw the car seat in the car, and headed down the hill.  I got to the agency in thirteen minutes.

The lady at the front desk asked me what I needed, and I told her I was a foster mum and had to head downstairs.  She gave me a big smile, and that really helped.  I was a foster mum!  To this day, I remember saying that for the first time.  I was so proud and happy.

Less than an hour later I walked out the door with my boys.  I got home and introduced them to my brother in law and the other three kids.  It was getting late and no one had eaten dinner yet, so after a few minutes of playing outside, we all headed in so I could get dinner ready.  I called my partner and told her the news.  She was happy, yet sad that she couldn't be there to welcome them into our home.

After dinner came more play time, and then my other three went home.  I was floating on a cloud, so happy!

I had the crib set up for the baby, not knowing another little one would need it first, so I rushed through bath time.  The boys weren't happy to get in and out of the tub so quickly, but I had to get the crib mattress lowered down.  The boys played quietly while I worked on the crib.  I kept expecting some big emotions to come out.  This was their first night in a new home, after all.  But no emotions came.  I finished the crib, read them a story, said a prayer, kissed them goodnight and walked out the door.

I sat on the edge of my bed for a few minutes waiting to hear one of them crying.  They never did.  I went in to peek at them and they were both sound asleep, less than fifteen minutes after I left the room.

I think I bad the best and easiest first night placement ever!

Debbie (Always and Forever Family) - Our daughter Tinkerbell (adopted at birth) was 3 1/2 when we got our first placement of two girls; Ladybug 20 months and Sunshine about to turn 6 years old. I took Tinkerbell to the store with me for her to pick out a special gift for her new sisters. We picked out a Cabbage Patch doll for Ladybug and a Fairy doll for Sunshine. I found the two oldest matching pjs and coordinating ones for Ladybug for that first night. Together we made a sign to put up on their door welcoming them home and put their new things on their beds. We were excited and couldn't wait for the girls to see their new beds and welcome gifts. The day we picked them up was also the day we met them. We picked them up at an office in the afternoon and then had an hour drive back to our place. Tinkerbell and Sunshine clicked right away and played together as we drove. In no time we were home showing the girls around their new home. Ladybug was shy and stuck close to her sister. And Sunshine was a chatter box and not shy at all. We planned a simple family evening and ordered pizza. While we waited for the pizza we baked cookies together. Ladybug broke the salt shaker which is a memory that makes us laugh as it was just the first glimpse of the mischief she would cause in our home.

The girls loved matching each other and all quickly changed in to their new pajamas. We laid out a bunch of blankets in the living room to make a cozy area to watch a movie together (while eating cookies). We did this just in case the girls had a hard time going to sleep in a new home. We didn't need to worry though, they did amazing their first night with us.

One thing we did very quickly after the girls came home was to put pictures of them up in the house. Something to help them feel like part of the family. A few months later when I received some pictures of their mom I hung those in their room and Sunshine walked in and saw them and it took her breathe away.

Dena ( - When we were asked to write about The First Night, I started thinking back and all kind of emotions come to mind.  I specifically remember the excitement about getting a new little; nervousness, because no matter what they tell you about the children before the placement there are always things that you don’t know; sadness for what the child has been through to get to this point; and hopeful that maybe this will be a child that will stay with me forever.   Placements can often be confusing, caseworkers don’t have all of the details but in more cases than not I’ve gotten incorrect information and when they show up at your door what are you going to do.  You’re not going to turn them away.  My first placement, I was told that I was getting a little boy and a little girl.  Then they showed up at the house and it was two adorable little girls.  When the boys showed up, they told me it was a 3 year old and a 5 year old.  But, the 5 year old was a week away from being 6 and still in pull-ups.  Then with my last placement, they told me it was a 1 year old little boy.   So, I was expecting a 1 year old, barely walking, barely eating, pre-toddler.  When he arrived, he was 16-month (exactly a month younger than my Baby Girl) and could walk, ate well and was fairly easy to take care of.

When I get a new placement, I always freshen up their room and try to give them something that will be theirs to give them comfort.  When I got the call about my baby girl, they told me that she cried all the time so I thought that she needed something to help soothe her.  I gave her a Taggies Bear, and never heard a peep out of her.  To this day, she still carries “Bear-Bear” around with her and loves to rub the tags between her fingers.  When I got my last placement, I tried to do the same thing and gave him a taggies but he never accepted it as he was considerably older than she was at the time of placement.  I think it varies with every kid but I try to have something on hand that they can try to bond to whether it’s a new doll for a little girl, a stuffed animal, or a taggies for a baby.

When the kids get to the house, a lot of times they are hungry and scared so I will sit them down and try to find out if they’re hungry and what kind of foods they like or don’t like, and then just try to make them as comfortable as possible.  In our house, we all eat dinner at the same time while seated around the dining room table.  I think it’s important to start them off this way even on the first night.  If they are old enough, I will go over the house rules and let them know what I expect from them.  Most of the kids that I have gotten were infants or toddlers, so they learn what to expect over time.  When I got the 10 year old, she was scared and started to cry, but I tried to comfort her so that she knew that she was safe and let her know that her room could be her place to just get away from it all, if that’s what she wanted.

The bottom line is just to do what you can to make them as comfortable as possible.  A special toy or doll that they can call their own will go a long way in making them feel accepted and comfortable.    Some kids accept the first night of foster care really well because quite honestly, it’s better than what they had while others will cry because they are missing their family or they are scared.  I never really know how it’s going to go, but I always try to assure them that I will be here for them for as long as they need me.

Karen A. (Nuggets from the Nuthouse) - Our first night experiences are a little different than many foster families. Well, maybe not the first night, but the lead up to the first night. We have always had at least a few days notice that we were getting a new placement. Piglet and Savon came to us straight from the hospital- both of them we got phone calls for a few days before they were ready to be released. B came to us from another foster home, and when Piglet came back to us a second time she came from another foster home- but again, we knew they were coming a few days before. When one baby is leaving our care, we generally stock up on some things we may need for the next one- baby Tylenol or baby soap, for examples. Since we submit our bills and are reimbursed for our expenses, it works better for us to buy these things as one child is leaving care so that they are on hand when the next little one arrives. We've also had long wait times between placements (about a month to two months), so we have lots of time to "transition" from one placement to the next. In between placements we may rearrange the nursery, wash the car seat/take car seats out of the vehicle (usually when they come they're little and when they leave they're big, so we'll take the big car seat out and wait until we get a phone call then put the base in for the little seat), adjust the height of the crib mattress, clean the house well, etc. When we get a phone call, we will generally pull out the bins of clothing and pull out things that may fit the little one coming. We'll also pull out the bassinet and bottles, etc. Generally when we have a placement, we will move them up to the next size diaper before they absolutely need to- that way we will have a couple diaper's on hand in different sizes in case we do get a "baby coming NOW" call, or to try out for sizing if we think a baby we have needs to move up a size. So when we get the call, we will usually pull out some diapers of the appropriate size. There's of course the Walmart run, which involves stocking up on diapers, wipes, the appropriate formula,  a new bottle brush, diaper cream, and anything else that seems like we might need it! We'll then usually go to a second hand store and buy some outfits. We base it off of what we've pulled out of the bins of clothing we have. And generally we try not to buy too much until we've actually met and seen the baby so we buy the right size. I remember the moments I saw each of my foster siblings for the first time like those days were yesterday. When Piglet was born, Mom and Dad went and picked her up from the hospital on a Sunday. My siblings and I had gone to a friend's cottage. I remember coming home and asking Mom where Piglet was. "Sleeping in the bassinet" was her reply and "Not for long!" was my response back. We all raced into the nursery and I picked her up. Love at first sight. With B, her worker brought her to our home on a weekday afternoon. Piglet was almost a year old, and had been returned to her parents, but she was visiting us for a few days when B arrived at our home. My mom, sister, brother, and I sat in the living room playing with Piglet when B and her worker pulled in the driveway. She was six weeks old, and wearing little frilly socks- they were so cute. And then Savon- I was away at school when he came "home". I met him when he was about a month old (a couple weeks after he was released from hospital). Mom picked me up from the train station. I got off the train and went up to the station foyer. I saw Mom holding teeny tiny Savon and a bunch of old ladies all admiring him. Hopefully the ladies didn't think I was rude, because I  didn't bother saying hi to them. I just swooped in and took him from mom, and snuggled him close. The first nights with our little ones have been much like any new parent bringing their baby home from the hospital. When they come home from the hospital, nobody really knows what they are like- we become the experts on them before anybody else does. Nobody knows their schedule to tell us. With B, her worker gave us very detailed information about her schedule, what bottle she liked, and so on and so forth. She must have gotten babies mixed up, because B was nothing like what her worker told us. Piglet's first night at home was brutal. Piglet cried all night- she may have slept for 2 hours. The dog also cried all night. Mom was up with Piglet all night, and everybody else...well, we didn't get much sleep either.  We've come a long way since then. Our dog who used to be scared of babies now runs to the van door when we come home, waiting for us to take the baby out (The turning point may have come when Piglet started solids and he realized how much food he could get by sitting beside the high chair!). And although Savon doesn't sleep through the night, he doesn't usually wake the entire house up.

SocialWrkr24/7 (Eyes Opened Wider) - Well, I haven't had a "real" foster care placement yet, but I have been certified as a Resource Family for the past few years and have had about 10 temporary placements through that program so I will talk a little about those experiences. The first night is always a little crazy - with me trying to meet their needs and also figure out what those needs are at the same time. All of the children that I have hosted have been pretty young - all under the age of 2. For the Tinies - babies ranging from 2 - 6 months old - the biggest thing for me has been figuring out their cues and how to meet their needs. None of them have come with "instructions" or even an idea of how often they eat! They did all come with formula - so at least I knew WHAT they ate though. Normally, when I first get a little one to my house the first thing I've done is give them a good bath and get them in some fresh pajamas. All of my Tinies have come in the evening time, so it just always seems like a good transitional time and gets them all ready for snuggling. If they are fussy at all, I fix a bottle and offer it. I figure that scheduling is the least of my problems so I pretty much feed on demand while they are with me. The Tinies sleep in my room in a pack n' play because I learned early on that I won't sleep at all if they aren't close. So, once bathtime is done, they've been offered a bottle, and seem sleepy I usually rock them to sleep the first night. All of my resource placements have been great sleepers but of course the littlest ones wake up to eat. But all in all, they've been very laid back babies who return back to sleep easily. 
For my Littles - the two 2 year olds I've cared for have been a little trickier. They all have been afternoon/evening arrivals so the first thing I do is let them wander around and get used to my home. My dogs are usually very excited to see little people and the Littles are excited to squeal about the dogs. After a little bit of running around the house and checking everything out, we usually do a bath. I've yet to have a toddler that didn't enjoy bathtime and its a good wind down activity. After bathtime and pajamas, I always offer a snack because I don't want them to be hungry and not know how to ask. While both my Littles have had pretty good vocabularies, its usually taken me 24hours to really understand what they are saying. So, after a good snack, its usually time for bed. With my first Little, I used the pack n play in the guest room because she was pretty small still. We rocked in the rocking chair and read a few books and then a give a quick kiss and put her in the crib. I try not to make a big deal about going to sleep and hope the kiddo follows my lead. It worked for this little one and she was a great sleeper. However, I was still too nervous to be far away so I slept (very lightly) on the couch! My second Little was not quite so easy to convince. She kept getting out of bed and coming to look for me. After two or three times, she happened to point to a bottle that was sitting out on the dresser in her room. While I would normally think a two year old would be off the bottle, I was willing to go with the flow. So, I filled it with water and sat back down in the rocking chair. She cuddled right up and sucked down the bottle. A few minutes later she was drowsy and transitioned nicely to the bed. From there on out we just followed that same routine and she was a great sleeper too. (I continue to be a Nervous Nellie who sleeps on the couch - hopefully I'll get better about that once a child is with me longer.)
I try to be very low-key and flexible on a kiddo's first night. I follow their lead and try to anticipate things that might make them feel upset such as providing comforting foods and keeping things calm. I don't worry too much about establishing a routine the first night - though I do try to do a few things during bedtime that will carry over if they are staying more than a night or two. I don't enforce any rules about eating or do much in the way of discipline other than redirecting any rough behavior with my dogs. Overall, I focus on making the kiddos feel safe and secure while trying to make their short time with me a positive experience. I imagine that I will continue to do the same thing for any longer term kiddos that come to my home. The first few days are about engaging the child and gaining their trust - I'll work on schedules, routines and discipline after the relationship foundation has been laid. 

MamaP (Fostering Love: A Foster Family Story) - It is a running joke, here at our honey badger den, that Papa schedules work to not have to deal with new placements. Out of 12 children, including our biological son, he has been at work on the first night of all but one - the TEENAGER, of all placements. The one I didn't need help rocking or changing or getting up with. Go figure.  

In general, I always keep a supply of toothbrushes, travel toothpastes, several each of size 3+ diapers (newborns will come from the hospital with a pack, and size 3 will generally adapt down to any baby over the age of newborn in a pinch), several pull ups, and extra sippy cups. Other than the large baby items like a cradle, pack n play, etc, I really hate hoarding things.  I do hoard boy clothes, but I have four of them, you know. Hand - me - down stuff is invaluable. 

For emergent placed children over the age of two who are not completely shut-down kind of traumatized and come at a reasonable hour of day, we have a tradition of the "getting to know you" shopping trip on the first night. I feel like a child trying to get a feel for who I am while we are at our home is a slightly unfair advantage. I am totally comfortable here and they are not, so we head to neutral ground. Typically before dinner, I will load them up and head to Walmart or Target "to make sure we have everything we need."  We wander around the store, and I watch them closely to see what catches their interest, or what excites them. If it is a toddler, we will wander through toys to get a feel for what they'd like. If it is a school aged child, we will go through the school supplies and it helps me determine their need, their likes, and their personality. Kiddo was incredibly "stuff" spoiled (sometimes foster kids are not necessarily physically neglected) and assumed I was going to buy every special crayon or pen he picked up.  Girlie, the teenager, was so humble she picked up the cheapest things she could find, swearing she would pay me back. Princess had convinced us she could not speak at all, until she saw a favorite food item and screamed out "OOOOOH! THERE GO MY CHIPS! DAT MY KINDA CHIPS! GIMME MY CHIPS!" **giggle**  

I always allow them to pick out a cheapo blanket or stuffed animal, a choice between two cheapo toys (usually a ball, play jewelry, character figure, hot wheels, etc) I pick, and whatever breakfast they tell me they'd like.  It is my way of saying, "You deserve to have a comfort item that has only been used by you, I am still in charge so you only get what treats I offer, and MamaP is going to feed you every day."   Once back home, arranging new things in their space gives them something safe to do while I fix a quick comfort-food type dinner. After dinner, I make sure all the other children in the home are put to bed first, and the newbie gets MamaP's full attention. I become very frank with them, and in an age-appropriate manner let them know that I understand they may be scared, angry, or sad, but I will do everything I can to help them feel better, and make sure they understand a super simple version of foster care to build from as the days go on. I also lay out some ground rules for sleeping (if you have an accident in the bed, please come tell me so I can help clean it up and you won't be cold, etc) and tell them how the morning is going to go (I will come get you out of bed when it is time to get up, and after you get dressed we will eat breakfast).  If they have any questions, I let them ask, and then I pray over them. Luckily, every older placement we've had was familiar with the Christian faith, but if they weren't, I would tell the child I do not expect them to believe what I do, but in our home we pray for people because we love people...and pray as short of a prayer as possible, ha! 

Of course, this is foster care, and there's always something amiss from my perfectly planned "first night routine." The one who cried "I just want to be done with this" for three hours was (not) fun. The one who managed to break the bed before dinner was even made was prophetic indeed. The one who begged me to be allowed to call a grandparent broke my heart. The one who ran into someone they knew at the store was paralyzing type of scary and also hilarious at the same time. All of the babies were fun to sit and rock and study tiny parts, but equally exhausting. 

All of "the first night" experiences, whether good, bad, or chaotic, have been a treasure for me to look back and remember. I can't wait for the next one!


Anonymous said...

Much different routines and experiences with different age groups! For babies, it's pretty simple. You are up most of the night at least for the first week or two, figuring out what soothes baby, what baby likes and doesn't like, while they adjust to a big change in caregiver and environment. The first night is all about figuring out how much they eat, if they like swaddling or not, where they are willing to sleep... and then just trial and error!

Heliotrope Tree House said...

I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I found it so helpful as we are awaiting our first little guy who is a premie and still in the hospital. So excited but so not knowing what to expect. I learned so much from reading these posts. There is no "one size fits all" to the first night. Each child is different. What they all have in common is the need to be loved and tenderly cared for with compassion. We are so excited to begin this journey.

Mamas Hands said...

I enjoyed reading this! We've had 5 placements, and obviously five very different experiences so far, but each one teaches us a little something new.

Momma T said...

Awesome information! We are in the process of becoming foster parents and I am trying to get prepared. This is a great resource! Thank you all so much for taking the time to share your experiences. It's wonderful to get an idea of what kinds of things to expect.

Thanks again!

Related Posts with Thumbnails