Imagine there was a tornado coming at your house. Suddenly and unexpectedly, you have to leave. You have less than five minutes — what do you grab? Unfortunately for children coming into foster care, they may have as little warning that they are entering a devastating emotional storm. Sometimes, even if the county is able to bring over a child’s own clothes and belongings the next day or a week later, the first night in foster care often leaves a child surrounded by strange, alien, unfamiliar items that bring little comfort. If you can help make them feel welcome, instead of like an unexpected houseguest, that’s a good step in the right direction. Remember, this probably feels like the worst day of this child’s life.
Here’s what I suggest you have on hand:
- A couple blankets and stuffed animal options — You’re probably not going to guess just the right stuffed bear out of all the bears in all the world, but if there’s anything that feels familiar and safe, that’s a win. Same goes for blankets: get a cotton one, a fleece one, a crocheted one, and a dimple dot one. Let the child have any or all that help.
- Clothes that fit — Keep in mind this means you might need pajamas and one versatile, all-season outfit for boys and girls in a huge range of sizes. Not all two-year olds fit a 2T! Get a range and judge what works best. Call friends with older kids and ask for a box of nice hand-me-downs with this night in mind.
- A new toothbrush — Maybe the child won’t want to brush (and I wouldn’t personally recommend dying on your sword for this the first night) but if they are willing, you want to be ready. Same goes for other personal hygiene items, depending on a child’s age: a new hairbrush and comb, a new deodorant, shampoo and lotion options appropriate for the child’s race or ethnicity.
- A crate or a pet-sitter for your critter — Sure, your dog is “part of the family,” but until you know how this new child will react to Fluffy, allow at least this first night without one more “unknown.”
- Easy food — This could mean many different things to many different kids, but having a bunch of choices is a good way to start. Noodles, chicken fingers, tater tots, and pizza with two gallons of ketchup for dipping may not be the healthiest meal, but a few bites of something is probably better than a howling tummy their first night sleeping in your home.
- Baby things — If you are taking foster placements of babies, you should have a good stock of various diaper sizes, wipes, a car seat/booster seat, bottles, formula, a crib, and every single style of pacifier you can possibly locate. (You never know which will be the golden ticket!)