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How to Explain Foster Care to Your Children

If you’re thinking about becoming a foster parent, there’s a lot you have to consider. Will there be enough room in your home for another child? Are you prepared for the joy and sadness when a foster child returns to their biological parents? Most importantly, have you thought about what you’ll say to the kids already in your household? How can you explain foster care in a way that’s easy for them to grasp? Thankfully, there are many ways that you can explain foster care to your child in an age‐appropriate way. No matter how your other children came to your family – biologically or through infant adoption or foster care – here are some ways that you can explain foster care to your kids.

4 Tips for Explaining Foster Care

If you’re about to prepare your children for life with a foster child, here are some tips for handling that difficult conversation.
  • Let them be the first to ask: Children are curious by nature. And they’re not afraid to ask the hard questions that adults would rather avoid. When your child hears the words “foster care,” they might already have some questions on their minds that they want answers to. Be there to listen to what they have to say, and always be open to having a conversation.
  • Make sure they understand reunification: When you’re explaining foster care to a young child, you can be honest, but details aren’t necessary. You don’t have to explain the details of why a foster child is staying with you, or what your home would look like if the child becomes adoptable. But, make sure your child understands their new foster sibling won’t be their “forever” sibling.  Those facts will be too much for your child to handle and you don’t want to overload them.
  • Remember to speak at their age level: They won’t be able to grasp everything foster care entails, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be honest. You don’t need to be specific about what the foster child’s life was like before they came to your home. But, it is possible to explain difficult topics in a way that’s easy for them to understand.
  • Remind them that everything will be okay: Hearing that there are other parents in the world who aren’t prepared to raise a child can be scary. Your child might think that, because there are other children who don’t live with their parents, there’s a chance the same thing could happen to them. Reassure your child that they will always live with you and always be loved, no matter what happens.

4 Common Questions You Might Hear

When a child learns about foster care, it’s natural for them to be curious about what life is like for a foster child. These are just a few questions that you might get from your children, as well as some age‐appropriate ways for handling them.
  • Why is the foster child living with us? There are many ways that you can answer this question to a younger child without going into too much detail. You could say you’re babysitting while the child’s biological parents get ready to take care of them. Connecting foster care to a concept they’re already familiar with might make it easier to grasp.
  • What happens when a kid is too old for foster care? There are many options for children in foster care once they turn 18. Unfortunately, it does mean that they won’t be living with a foster family anymore. You can let your child know that, although their foster sibling won’t live with you any more at that time, there are plenty of ways that you can keep in touch and stay up‐to‐date on how they’re doing.
  • Where is foster care? It might be hard for your child to envision the concept of “foster care” if they can’t see it. They might think that foster care is a place instead of various homes that children go to. Explain to them that foster care is just like any other home for a child, with the only exception being that they don’t live with their parents. Instead, they live with other families who can take care of them while their parents are getting ready for their return home.
  • How long do kids in foster care have to wait to live with their parents? You don’t have to explain to your child the details of reunification, but you can let your child know that the answer really depends. You can say, “Some moms and dads have to take classes before they’re ready to be a family again. This can take some time, but it won’t always be for forever.”

Keeping the Conversation Going

Your children might have questions about foster care for a long time. It’s your job to answer them in the best age‐appropriate way you can. Getting to experience the need for foster families firsthand can be a great way to familiarize your child with the need for permanent homes for other children. It will also open up their hearts to how other children live and impact them for years to come. If you’re looking for more ideas on how to explain foster care to your child, please contact your local foster care organization.

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