Okay. You’ve done all the hard stuff. You’ve oodles of time with your foster child; you have driven him or her to a bazillion therapy appointments; you have been yelled at, screamed at, cussed at; and you have talked to the school counselors and teacher almost every day for two months. Finally, just when things calm down and are somewhat steady, it’s time for the child to either move to another foster home, or return to his or her biological parents.
This move is instigated by the court system, the social worker, the therapist, or all of them at once. And, of course, they usually want this to happen in a hurry. I have never been able to understand why the “moving the children around” part can happen so fast, but the placing and getting things lined up takes so long and requires so much 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 one 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 and visit together for a day or half 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. Sit down with the new parents, the therapist, and the child. Discuss parenting similarities and how both household rules can be incorporated into the new life so there is a continuity. That is the most important thing– continuity. Change at this point will upset the apple cart and cause the child to revert if things aren’t handled with caution and care. Insist on this, 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, and in doing so you might have to knock a few heads around to get their attention. Do what is best for the child. Always.
- However, sometimes all the head knocking in the world will not get the right person’s attention. If you are not able to transition the child one step at a time by taking baby steps forwards and backwards at the child’s pace, you can expect some acting out. I do not say this lightly. The child will attempt to revert back to their old patterns and ways because his or her world is being upset again, and roots are being torn up. Attachments occur with the foster family if you are doing it right; however, when it comes time to leave, this becomes another scenario of leaving a family that you have bonded with. It needs to be handled with extreme care and love. Acting out can include running away, tantrums, triangulation, telling lies, and/or 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, and 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 they return home or relocate, reiterate your concern and love for them. Reinforce this before they leave. Remind them 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 the heck 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 prepared, there is less chance of a fight.
- Discuss the differences between the two houses and 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.
Throughout this process, remember that 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 through and 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. After all, we are all human and when we love and let go, it hurts.