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Frequently moving from one placement to another can be very traumatic for children. Preventing or reducing the number of foster care placements for children has been the goal of social service programs for many years. Research has shown that disruption occurs for one or more of the following reasons:

Foster care families and agencies can work together to address these issues prior to placement by following these steps.

Matching Children and Foster Care Families

Educate Yourself

The first part of the process is learning about the child's needs before accepting the referral. Requesting information about the child's past and current situation will better help prepare you to help the child. If this is not possible, try to get these questions answered:

Arrange for Pre-Placement Visits

If the information you gather indicates that a placement in your home might be appropriate, you may want to request some pre-placement visits before accepting the child. These visits should be brief and can include visits outside your home. For example, meeting the child for a soda or meal. The child may be on his or her best behavior, but this is an opportunity for you to briefly assess the child's personality and determine how he or she would adapt to your family structure.

Attend Placement Meetings

Placement meetings are another excellent way to prevent miscommunication and appropriately match children and families. These meetings allow everyone involved in the child's care to gather and discuss the child's needs and placement requirements. Placement meetings should include these people: prospective foster parents; the child's birth parents; the child's caseworker; therapists and other professionals involved in the child's care. The following topics should be discussed and agreed upon at the placement meetings to prevent future problems from occurring: a permanency plan; length of placement; additional services the child may need; visitation schedule; phone call schedule; the child's medical history and medical care providers; and educational or vocational services.

Preparing the Child and the Foster Family for Placement

There are a number of ways to prepare for the placement of a foster child in your home. Proper preparation can prevent problems and make the child's transition to and stay in your home smoother.

Get as Much Training as Possible

Through training opportunities, you can learn and gain a better understanding of how children come into the system and what their issues are. You can also improve your ability to help foster children become successful members of a new family and eventually return to permanent placement.

Identify Appropriate Discipline Techniques and Consequences

These are necessary for managing behavioral problems and teaching the child how to live in a healthy family environment. Determine what kinds of consequences you can use to motivate and teach the child. Learn and practice various teaching methods that can be used to praise the child, teach skills that he or she will need in future situations, correct misbehavior, and defuse situations where the child loses self-control.

Know Your State's Licensing Regulations and Stay in Compliance

Knowing and following the rules and laws that govern the placement and care of children help ensure a safe environment for youth and proper documentation and record-keeping.

Set Up Clear Expectations

When a child enters your home, be sure to discuss house rules and explain your daily family routine to the child to reduce fear and help teach the child what to expect. The following issues should be discussed when a new foster placement occurs: mealtimes; bedroom and bathroom privacy; appropriate affection and boundaries; appropriate clothing; touching; appropriate playtime activities; daily routines; and keeping secrets. By reviewing the rules with a new foster child, you can prevent confusion and misunderstanding.

Identify Adequate Post-Placement Support Services

If a child has multiple needs, take whatever steps are necessary to receive additional services. This can be done most effectively prior to placement if you identify the needs in the referral information.

Prevent or Reduce Family Strain

It is not realistic for foster parents to think that their family can handle every problem that comes up during a child's stay in their home. Foster children bring with them many emotional and behavioral problems, which can create a great deal of stress for foster families. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed, do not hesitate to contact the foster child's social worker to ask for help. Working out strategies to prevent further escalation of problems can be a great stress reducer for foster parents. Many foster parents feel isolated because they hesitate to ask for help.

Set Limits on the Number and Type of Children Your Family Can Accept

Consider these factors when setting limits: family visitation guidelines; siblings; the foster child's permanency plan; expected length of placement; family issues that must be addressed before the child is returned; and the foster child's educational history and necessary services.

Use All Available Resources

Much can be learned from books, reports, studies and research that examine placement disruption and its causes. Foster parents should make every effort to keep up with current foster care issues and identify support services available within the community to address the issues.

Placement disruptions can be prevented. As a foster parent, involvement in the placement process and ongoing efforts to improve your skills as a caregiver are essential for success.