At the Coalition, we are fortunate to hear from a lot of families interested in getting started in either foster care or adoption. One of the most common things we hear from families that they are afraid that they would get too attached to children in foster care and would have difficulty coping with a child returning to his or her birth family. This is a valid concern, and we always encourage families to examine and be realistic about what would be the best fit for their family. And while this fear deters many people from becoming foster parents, we challenge you to think about how much of an impact foster parents can make in a child’s life, even if it only a temporary placement.
As a foster parent, you must be willing to work with birth families and support reunification if it is safe and appropriate for the child(ren). In 2013, 60% of children who left out-of-home care in Wisconsin were reunified with their primary caretaker. Since the majority of children in foster care return home to their birth families, many foster families experience grief and loss at some point. This does not mean that you should not bond with the children you foster; they need your unconditional love and support. It does mean that you need to prepare yourself for the possibility of reunification and allow yourself to grieve accordingly.
Reunification may be challenging for foster families, but it does help the child and birth family heal and move forward. Most foster parents find joy in in knowing that they were part of the team that helped successfully reunite a family. Being part of this child and family’s journey is something that can never be taken away from you. And while you may experience the pain of letting a child go, consider what a child who has been through a lot of challenges gains from your love, support, and security. If you have a positive relationship with the child’s birth family, consider asking them if you might remain involved in the child’s life. This could mean sharing photos, having phone conversations, or in-person get-togethers with the child and/or parents. The family may enjoy and benefit from your continued support, and it will allow you to still be a part of the child’s life.
As with other losses, you may experience sadness and grief when you saygoodbye to a foster child. Remember that this will look different for everyone and that there is no “right way” to grieve a loss. All grief takes time and support in order to heal. Do not attempt to go through this on your own; this is a good time to accept or seek out support from friends and family. One of the best resources in this situation is other foster families who have experienced reunification. They have a good understanding of what you are going through and can empathize, as well as provide suggestions on what helped them heal. If your grief starts to interfere with work, relationships, or other aspects of your life, consider seeking help from a therapist. Social workers and other professionals who work in child welfare understand the losses associated with foster care and can provide or refer you to grief counseling.
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