Pre-Placement Visits: The Purpose
Thanks for checking back in for my next blog! Last time, I discussed redacted records and child presentation meetings. Now, let’s talk about pre-placement visits.
The purpose of pre-placement visits is for the child to get to know the family they will be moving in with and to provide closure for their current placement before they are moved. Take a moment to imagine how most children come into care. It is typically an emergency situation in which one day they were in their home with the only family they have known their entire lives… And that same day they are picked up by CPS investigators and moved to a completely new home, new family, new everything. No transition. This is what we want to avoid in implementing pre-placement visits. Anything we can do to transition a child slowly and with their best interests in mind will set your placement up to begin on the right foot.
As I go into what an ideal pre-placement schedule would look like, I want to warn you they usually do not look exactly like this! Sometimes, we don’t have the luxury of time on our hands to spread them out the way we would like. One reason could be because a foster home is closing. Other times, children check out of their foster placement and start acting out. They may tell their foster parents they don’t have to listen to them anymore because they have new parents. I have also seen foster parents start shutting down in order to separate themselves from the child who is now going to be leaving their home. Each of these factors will affect the timing of pre-placement visits, in addition to the most important consideration: How is the child is handling the pre-placement visits?
To start, it is important for you to know the burden will be placed on the family to be flexible during this time. Scheduling pre-placement visits involves getting A LOT of people’s schedules coordinated. The next thing to consider is the age and developmental level of the child. If we are talking about a six-month-old baby, scheduling pre-placement visits one week apart from each other is not a good transition plan. Additionally, you don’t want to draw out pre-placement visits for months, because it puts added stress on everyone involved. The example below is an ideal situation for a school aged child.
Life Book Importance and Preparation Tips
After the child presentation meeting and all parties agree to move forward, the CPS worker (or therapist) will meet with the child to give them the exciting news. The news being that an adoptive family has been selected and they are going to start visits soon! This is the second time your family life book comes in handy. The CPS worker will take your life book with them to help introduce the child to their new family. The child will keep the book so they can continue to learn about their family as they wait to meet you in-person.
During this time, you can be preparing for your first visit. I always recommend families bring a stuffed animal or toy or something you know the child likes to the first visit. This will not only help break the ice, but it will also be something the child can keep with them between visits to help them remember you. Some families also like to make a small photo album of pictures to take with them to help introduce other members of the family, show them pets, or even their future bedroom. Another good preparation tip is to think of “story starters” you can talk about on the first visit. These “get to know you” topics help ensure there are plenty of things to talk about if the child is shy.
Setting Up The First Meeting
Once the worker has introduced the child to your family with your book, we will set-up the first meeting. Typically, we like to meet at the foster home so the child can see their foster family is supportive of your family and of their upcoming move. It also helps to do introductions on the child’s “turf” where they feel more comfortable. Your Arms Wide Adoption Services coordinator will be with you during this visit. Sometimes, the CPS worker comes too. Ideally, we will stay at the home for an hour or two to break the ice. Then, you will take the child(ren) to have a meal together without the foster family. We will accompany you to the meal and help facilitate conversation as needed. After another hour or two, you will return the child to their foster home with a plan to speak throughout the coming week and the next visit to look forward to.
The Second Meeting
Depending on the child’s age, we will try to schedule the next visit within a week. However, I always recommend the family reach back out to the child via a phone call or FaceTime. This is just to let them know you enjoyed your visit, are thinking about them, and are looking forward to the next visit. For the second visit, you will pick the child up at the foster home and take them out for the day.
Depending on location, you can do something fun like go bowling, go to the park, or do other activities interesting everyone. I will caution you not to go all out and spend a lot of money doing a lot of activities during these visits. This will not be something you can sustain. It is important to choose activities which involve getting to know each other, like playing games or basketball together. You don’t want to go see a movie where there is no interaction.
During the visits, you will also want to start introducing family rules. For example, no phones allowed at the dinner table. You will want to introduce these rules before the meal, so it doesn’t become a power struggle during dinner. Keep in mind, they don’t know your rules yet, and they likely had different rules at their foster home. After this visit, you will return the child to their foster home. The common denominator being returning home with plans to see each other soon. As with the first visit, I recommend a least one check-in call during the week to see how their math test went or how they did on their basketball tryouts.
The Overnight Visit
The next visit will also be scheduled, hopefully, within the next week. This one will be an overnight visit. If they haven’t been to your house yet, now they can see their new room. Maybe you can even go shopping, so they can help pick out bedding and decorations for their new room. Then, you can go home and decorate it together, make dinner together, and have a family game night. You want to do activities promoting family bonding and getting to know each other. Since a first night in a new environment can be a little unsettling, we created this list of tips for the First Night Visit. After the overnight visit, you will return the child to their foster home and again follow-up with contact during the week.
The Weekend Visit
The next visit will be a weekend visit. They will stay a couple of nights and days at your house. As with the other visits, it is important to do family activities together which promote family bonding. Do not spend all weekend with a packed full agenda of fun activities which will not continue after placement. You can have more conversations about household rules, even establish some family rules together and write them out to be posted at home. You could take some time to drive or walk around your neighborhood to introduce them to the parks, the community pool, and even their future school.
During this visit, you can offer to go to their foster home with them when they return to help them pack, or maybe talk to them about how they feel about leaving their foster home. Help them write a letter or create a drawing or piece of art they would like to leave with their foster family. If they do not have a Lifebook, talk to the CPS worker about the foster family helping with that. You can also offer to take pictures of the family, the pets, their room, the outside of the house, their school, etc. to help them make a memory book.
Tips and Next Steps
During pre-placement visits, be sure to spend time with your immediate family. I do not recommend introducing the child to your extended family during pre-placement visits. This is a time for you to get to know each other and develop relationships as parents and children. Adding an extra dynamic of other family members could be stressful and overwhelming for a child. This is not the time to head down to the family reunion beach day in Galveston. Although you know and are comfortable with these family members, your child is likely already overwhelmed with pre-placement visits. Putting them in a situation where they will be asked numerous questions by strangers is not advisable.
After the weekend visit, we should plan to complete the placement within the next week or so. The final date of placement will depend on how the visits went and a logical time to transfer schools, etc. The most important thing to remember during pre-placement visits is there will be ups and downs, as there will be once placement occurs. This is going to be exciting and overwhelming for a child and for you. Just remember to take it one day at a time, or if necessary, one hour at a time!
About The Author
As the Director of Adoption and Foster Care Services, Arianne Riebel, LMSW, LCPAA, oversees Arms Wide Adoption Services’ team of adoption and foster care employees, making sure each step of the adoption and foster care journey goes smoothly.
While earning her Bachelor’s in Social Work at Stephen F. Austin University, she first considered a career in adoption and gained experience working in the field during her college career. A few years after graduation, she completed her Master of Social Work at the University of Houston. Then, gained a decade of experience in child welfare before becoming a part of the Arms Wide family. Through her role, she wanted to be able to give each child and family one-on-one support and attention. Her favorite part about her job is seeing people become parents or add more children to their family. She loves when kids have found their forever homes. Read more about Arianne here.