Five things to ask foster carers or adoptive parents (and three questions to avoid)

Five questions that might help you better support foster or adoptive families

We love hearing wonderful stories of how families who foster or adopt are being supported, but we know that sometimes it can be hard to know how best to do this. Every family is different and every child is unique, so the support they need will likely be unique as well.

Here are five ideas for questions that might be appreciated by foster carers and adoptive parents, which will hopefully be a good starting point for developing relationships and the kind of support they would appreciate.

Home for Good has also heard stories of families who haven’t always been encouraged in their journey. Sometimes asking the wrong questions can be unhelpful to families, so we’ve identified some of these too.

But let’s start with the positive and five things that you could ask foster carers or adoptive parents…

1) Can I get you a cup of tea?

Whether this question is asked before or after a church service, in your home or theirs, or becomes an invitation to meet up on another occasion, it is a reassurance that someone hasn’t just noticed you, but cares about you too. Foster carers and adoptive parents sometimes talk about feeling invisible, except for when they’re being stared at because of their children’s behaviour, so by offering this or something similar, you will ensure they are being seen for a positive reason.

This little act of kindness will usually be very appreciated, and could also be the way in to building a deeper relationship.

2) I'm planning an event/party/church service. Can we talk about it to make sure your child will feel settled and welcome?

For so many looked after and adopted children, structure, routine and knowing what to expect is hugely beneficial. When things are going to be a bit out of the ordinary, most foster carers or adoptive parents would appreciate some advance warning, so they are able to prepare their children and manage their expectations.

If you’re able to give the parents or carers the opportunity to input into your plans that’s even better!

3) What night could I bring food for your family this week?

Most families would be glad of not having to cook one evening, and offering to do this for foster or adoptive families will mean so much. By phrasing the question this way you’re eliminating the awkwardness of the family having to accept this support, and you’re ensuring that your kindness will be most beneficial to them by finding the best time in their busy schedule of appointments and meetings.

4) I’d like to buy your child a gift, is that ok?

If you want to give the child something, it is always worth asking this question first. Sadly, in some cases, the answer may need to be ‘no’. It may be that the child has attachment difficulties or other struggles, so a present would not be helpful for them as they work on regulating their emotions and understanding their relationships. Parents and carers know their children best, and will be able to advise on whether a gift is appropriate, and what sort of gifts would be suitable.

But obviously, there will be times that parents and carers will be all too happy to accept this offer and will appreciate that you asked.

5) How can I best support and pray for you and your family?

As we’ve already said, support will need to look different for each family – and different seasons, placements, ages and circumstances, mean that support may need to change over time as well. If in doubt, ask what might work for them in their current situation.

Most families will be hugely glad of your prayers, and although they are unlikely to be able to share details, they may be able to request the general things that you could be praying over.

A huge thank you for your heart to want to support foster or adoptive families – we hope that these five questions help you to initiate and develop how to do this best. And because we know you wouldn’t want to ask the wrong thing, here are three questions to avoid…

1) Why are they like that?

It is hugely unlikely that parents and carers will be able to tell you the details of their children’s history, and in most cases they probably wouldn’t even want to if they could, as they will want to respect their child’s story.

Not only would a question like this potentially put parents and carers in an awkward position with maintaining confidentiality, but it would probably also make them feel terrible. And ultimately, sometimes the answer isn’t even known because of gaps in the child’s history or because it’s not always possible to explain everything.

2) Why don’t you just discipline them more?

Looked after children and those who have previously been in care may well present challenging behaviours, but in many cases traditional ways of discipline will not be suitable for the child because of what they have previously experienced.

Parents and carers will likely be working very hard to help their children regulate and manage these behaviours, quite possibly with the help of professionals, counsellors or therapists, and will be seeking to do this with appropriate techniques for their child.

3) Well, you could always give them back, couldn’t you?

Please, under any circumstance, never ask this question. The fact is, foster carers and adoptive parents know that this possibility is lurking and that knowledge in itself is incredibly difficult. Caring for vulnerable children is a daily choice to keep loving, keep nurturing, keep believing, sometimes amidst hugely challenging difficulties.

The heartbreaking reality is that sometimes foster placements or adoptions aren’t able to continue, and if this happens it will be absolutely devastating to all involved. It shouldn’t ever be trivialised and families who experience this are unlikely to be able to move on swiftly.

Again, thank you for taking the time to read this article and consider how you can best support families who foster or adopt. Your love, care, and prayer is incredibly valuable and hugely appreciated.

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