The first week with a new foster or adopted child often brings with it many of its own unique challenges. The child will most likely be scared. Some children may handle their fears by becoming numb. There is also a lot to get organized with a new placement like day care arrangements, visits with social workers, and enrolling the child in school.
In our home, we have a routine that we like to do with all new foster children. This would also work with new adoptive placements. We hold a family meeting within the first week with any new child that is placed in our home.
I like to do this family meeting fairly quickly when the child is still getting settled and is open to hearing the new rules of the home. The child is usually willing to be open to changes because everything is new and they haven't got set into a pattern or cycle of behavior yet.
How to Conduct the Family Meeting
Begin by making sure everyone in the family has a sheet of paper, a writing utensil and a hard surface on which to write.
Ask everyone, including parents, to participate in this activity. Remember, the children are also getting to know you too.
Ask each person to list three rules that they think makes a home feel safe. What rules may help them to feel safe and comfortable in your home and family. Give the group about five minutes to think and write their ideas. You may want to throw out a few ideas, such as respecting property, not hitting, or no yelling. If a child is unable to list three rules, that's okay. They may need prompting, but it's important to get their ideas, even if it's just one idea.
Next, ask everyone to list three consequences that they feel would be appropriate for them. Again, they may need direction and assistance into listing ideas that would be appropriate per foster and adoption guidelines on discipline. Parents may list ideas for consequences that they would employ for the children in their home.
Lastly, ask the children to list their likes and dislikes. Encourage them to list at least three things under likes and dislikes. This is an easy way to get to know the child. It may also bring up natural ways for needed conversations to occur between other family members. This will also help you learn what your new foster or adopted child is afraid of and what interests they have that you may be able to get them involved in, such as sports, dance, or art.
Go around the room and allow each family member to first discuss their ideas for family rules. Give each person a few minutes to discuss their rule ideas. After everyone has shared their ideas on family or home rules, then go around the room and share each additional item on the list one at a time, until everything has been covered and each person has been heard.
Explain to the child that parents have final say on all rules and consequences, but it's important for families to all work together and have input. Of course, there will be rules and consequences that you, the parents will find more needed and important for your family. These rules may apply to unique things in your home such as a pool, your pets, the garage, your possessions, time, or space. Rules that apply to general safety are also not up to negotiation within the family.
Collect the rules and combine them into a sort of house rules document and post it somewhere in your home.
This initial family meeting activity will help the child feel that he has a bit of ownership in the home atmosphere and offers children who feel out of control, due to their situation, a bit of control back.
How an Initial Family Meeting Has Been Used in My Foster Home
We took a foster placement of two sisters, and the girls loved to play with my daughter's hair, hug her, and just generally by touchy. Our daughter does not like to be touched. She didn't know how to handle all the physical contact and didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. We held a family meeting during the first week of the girls being in our home. When we got to sharing our likes and dislikes, our daughter shared that she disliked being touched. The foster children immediately caught on and recognized how touchy they had been with her and apologized for invading her space. This meeting allowed our daughter to share that she disliked being touched without hurting feelings.