Saying Goodbye to a Child

What to do when it's time for your foster child to move on.

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Okay. You’ve done all the hard stuff. You’ve hung in there with your foster child, you have driven him/her to a bazillion therapy appointments, you’ve been yelled at, screamed at, and cussed out. You have talked to the school counselors and teachers almost everyday for two months, and finally just when things calm down and are somewhat steady, it’s time for the child to either:

  • Move to another foster home.
  • Return to his/her biological parents.

All of this according to the:

  • Court system
  • Social worker
  • Therapist
  • All of the above

They usually want to move the child in a hurry. I have never been able to understand this– why the moving part happens so fast, but the placing and getting things lined up takes so long and requires a lot of red tape. Go figure.

The very best thing that can happen for a child who has to be moved is the following:

  • Take at least 1 month to do it, more if you can drag your feet.
  • Let the child visit the place they are moving to.
  • Go with the child at first, visit together for a day or ½ a day.
  • Build up to a weekend stay so the child can become familiar with the new family, even if it is their old family.

You and the child should sit down with the new parents and therapist. Discuss parenting similarities and how both household rules can be incorporated into the new life so there is continuity. That is the most important thing; continuity. At this point, change could upset the child and cause him/her to revert back to initial behaviors. This transition needs to be handled with caution and care. Insist on it, for it is in the best interest of the child. You are not fostering for the convenience of the system. You are fostering to help a child. Do what is best for the child. Always.

Attachments can occur within the foster family. When it comes time to leave, the child may perceive this as another situation of leaving a family they have bonded with. It needs to be handled with extreme care and love. Children may act out. Acting out can include running away, tantrums, triangulation, telling lies, doing anything to avoid the change.

To help a child get across this bridge it is important to: establish telephone contact after they have left, send lots of pictures home with them that tell the story of the time they spent with you, write letters, remember birthdays, arrange visits if at all possible. The new parents or biological parents will probably appreciate the break and if you are able to work with them, it will be less traumatic for the child.

After the child returns home or relocates, reiterate your concern and love for him/her. Reinforce this before they leave. Remind the child over and over that you will always be there for them, no matter what.

When the acting out begins, address it immediately. Don’t wait and wonder, “What is going on?” Understand that separation anxiety is normal and natural. Call it what it is, and work out a plan to deal with it. If you are armed, there won’t be a fight. Discuss the differences between the two houses. Discuss how they are the same. Help the child feel comfortable with his anxiety rather than uncomfortable:

  • Reinforce the positive aspects of the change and the continued relationship that you will always enjoy.
  • Follow through.
  • Be there.

It is normal and healthy for a child to “trash” the family before they leave in order to make it easier to leave. After all, isn’t it easier to leave a household that can’t stand you rather than a household that loves you? Don’t let the trashing even begin. Tell the child right away that you understand how they feel and what they are going though; how hard this new transition is going to be for them. Don’t be surprised if you are a little angry and sad about your impending loss too. Share those feelings with your child. We are all human. When we love and let go, it hurts.

Credits: by Sharon Davis

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