How Do You Explain Foster Reunification

“Have you adopted her yet?”

Shannon Hicks April 23, 2017
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If you’re a foster parent, you’ll undoubtedly hear it. At one month, at six months, at a year into your foster placement. Again and again, you’ll hear it. “Have you adopted her yet?”

Here’s the reality. Almost all foster placements start with a goal of reunification and most of the children who come into care are eventually reunified with a member of their family.

So, how to explain this to everyone in your life that wants to know? It depends who they are.

To a stranger or acquaintance

Smile and divert the conversation if the child is with you. And know the privacy guidelines of your agency… they may prevent you from sharing the goal (and many of the details) of a current foster placement. If they press, you can say something like “most foster placements have a goal of reunification.”

To friends and extended family

Ideally, you will have this conversation before it involves a specific child. As you are starting your foster journey, consider talking with friends and extended family about the statistics involved in foster care and about your willingness to help support reunification efforts when it is safe for the child. As they get used to your new lifestyle, these folks will hopefully be gracious and understand that your family dynamics can change quickly and dramatically. And that’s OK.

To close friends and family

These are the folks who will know the children placed in your home, even for a short time. They will invest time, energy, and love into helping these kids feel safe and treasured. And they will ache when they have to say goodbye. This is part of my foster care journey that I found harder than I expected. When you choose to open your home to kids and support their families in reunification efforts, you bring your close friends and family along for the ride. You choose uncertainty and heartbreak for yourself—and for them. Be gentle with them as they grieve.

To the children in your home

This is where the rubber meets the road. Try as much as you can to help all of the children in your home (biological, adopted, and foster) understand what is happening with the case in an honest but age-appropriate way. It’s a good idea to ask for help from social workers or therapists with this! Give them opportunities to share their feelings (they can draw or write if talking feels too hard) and assure them that it’s OK to have a wide range of feelings about an upcoming reunification—even at the very same moment. It’s OK to show your own emotion in front of children, but make sure to remind them that you are an adult and can “take care of your own feelings.” It’s important for them to know that you are OK, and that you can still take care of them safely even if you are sad or angry.

Foster reunification is a reality that foster parents cannot escape. If you are just starting your journey, take some time to think about how you will talk about foster reunification with various people in your life. If you’re a seasoned veteran, leave a comment and let us know your tips!

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Shannon Hicks

Shannon is mom to two amazing kids who joined her family through foster care adoption. She is passionate about advocating for children through her writing and her job as a kindergarten teacher. You can read more from her at Adoption, Grace and Life.

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