Here’s our new bedroom! All set up and waiting for children. We have pretty small rooms in our 4 bedroom house, so we ultimately decided to turn the master bedroom into the foster room. We can easily fit a sibling set of 3 in here without it feeling too crowded.
Planning for the unknown
At the moment it is set up for two. It’s tricky to set up a foster room because there are so many unknowns. We didn’t want to go ahead and buy a third bed frame since there’s a chance that a toddler bed or crib would be more appropriate — we are planning to take ages 5 – 12ish, but with a sibling group of three you never know.
How to decorate
In terms of decor, the room falls somewhere between gender neutral and girl-ready. We were doing respite for girls at the time of set-up and we think that girls may be a good fit for our family at the moment, but again we have no idea what will actually happen. So the idea is, decorate simply and sparingly in such a way that art, linens, books and toys can be switched out the day after placement to change the look. Wait until you actually meet the children/can bring the kids along to Walmart with you to pick out favorite character blankets and posters.
It’s so tempting to try to make the room look full and comforting. And of course it should be welcoming, reassuring, and cozy! But consider that lots of storage space tells the child, “There is room here for you and there is room here for your things. Your stuff is important and has a place here.”
Will we get placements that come with nothing, and won’t get a chance to collect things from their home? Yes! Sure. But I believe that in that case it would be my responsibility as foster mom to help them aquire some things of their own, toy by toy, item by item, so that they feel ownership over their things and love their things — rather than being handed what seems like someone else’s life, someone else’s things, out of the blue suddenly.
Consider that many foster children are likely getting a new house filled with new people, a new bedroom, a new school, a new backpack and lunch bag, new bedding, all new clothes, and a few new books and toys all within about 24 hours. And they’re often not sure which of those things are theirs to keep forever and which are theirs to keep until they move again. If I was in that situation I would rather be given the agency to chose what items are mine, what has significance to me, at my own pace, rather than filling up shelves too fast.
Consider that you don’t know their developmental age
Age is also a big unknown. We just don’t know for sure what the ages of the children/teens will be even though our agency knows that we have a preference for the elementary school age range. I know in some places you are certified for a certain age and that’s it. You can’t take any placement outside that range or you would lose your license. But in other places placement ages are a bit more of a surprise.
Even if you are SURE about the age range you will accept, this is work that comes from the heart. You just never know when you will be moved to say yes to something you never thought possible.
Plus, there is chronological age and then there is developmental age. We will most likely be taking children 5 and older, but I have some toddler books and toys available in the room, as those are beloved by some children depending on their developmental age, and on their emotional need to return to babyhood for a while to experience security before moving on. And if that’s not appropriate for the children I am welcoming, I can quickly switch things around as life is happening.
Don’t plan too far ahead
I think sometimes first-time foster parents fall into the same trap as first-time parents – trying to prepare for every possibility in advance, setting up the nursery so that there is no need to shop for anything for the first year! But stores are open! And you don’t know exactly what you’ll need until you meet your child.
You might need a reading chair
I usually don’t put chairs in kids rooms because they attract dirty clothes and clutter so easily, but for the foster room I specifically moved in this little armchair for reading to the kids at night. We are big on nighttime read-aloud books in our family, and are accustomed to doing so when kids are in bed, drifting off. With Big Son, or nieces and nephews staying over, we sit on their bed with them to read.
In a foster care situation, hopping into a child’s bed is not a great idea. 1) You are still a stranger to this child in the beginning. 2) You don’t know what past trauma or abuse the child might have experienced. You want them to know that their bed is just for them and it’s a very safe place. 3) Your agency may not allow you to sit on a child’s bed even if you and the child are fine with it. So, a cozy reading chair it is!
Offer flashlights and nightlights
I have a little flashlight by each bed so each child has some independent ability to turn on a light if they want. Or to take it with them down the hall to the bathroom at night. We have a nightlight in their room and a hall/bathroom nightlight, but in a new and scary situation more is better.
Ha! I know that antique lamp seems like a horrifically bad idea to have in the room. But I don’t mind at all if it breaks. It’s actually a nightlight, and I almost donated it until I realized that I didn’t have a nightlight for the foster bedroom yet, so it’s in there for now.
The clock is my favourite kids’ clock ever. The Ok to Wake! It lights up green (for 30 mins) at wake-up time so the kids know they can get up if they want. I like to set the green light only (without the optional sound alarm) so that it doesn’t actually wake a child that still needs more sleep.
Add some fidget toys
A busy hands basket. Still planning to add a couple things here: likely a fidget spinner and a Rubix cube. The idea here is to offer things to fiddle with if a child or teen is anxious, upset, or just plain bored but not wanting to come out of their room. All the older kids and teens we’ve had here have used and appreciated these things. They can be good conversation starters too.
Remember a trash basket
Anyone going through a difficult emotional upheaval or life-change needs to be able to throw things away in private. We’ve all been there. A trash can in the room is nice for this.
There are a few other things that are prepared for the children that you don’t see in the pictures:
1) There are a bunch of different sizes of pjs and underwear for emergency placements before we get a chance to shop.
2) There are frames for pictures of birth parents/friends/family to be printed at the child’s request.
3) There are dollar store photobooks for the same purpose except photobooks are more easily tucked away and looked at only when the child wants to look. Which is helpful in the case of ever-present framed photos being emotionally overwhelming.
4) Note the curtains on the window. They are faux suede for the almost-blackout effect. And they aren’t blinds and don’t have cords which is important for safety.
5) Empty storage bins in the closet are ready to hold lifebooks, photos, souvenirs, school papers and art, and all the parts of life I will want to document and save for the child while they live with us.
6) There’s a box of stuffy friends in my room so that a child, on their first night (which may well be the worst night of their lives), may choose one to keep with them as they move through their time in care, or just try to make it through the night.
Got more ideas, tips and tricks for preparing spaces for children? Comment and let us all know!