From the moment a child enters your home, the fear of reunification can also move in. How will you say goodbye? Will the child be returning to a safe and stable environment? How will the other kids in your care react when this child leaves?
The first goal of foster care is often reunification. And, while you may have known that this was the goal from the start, that doesn’t mean that, when the time comes to say goodbye, anxiety can’t happen. Reunification anxiety can happen to anyone, but understanding what to do in certain situations may help you cope with some of those feelings.
What is Reunification Anxiety?
Reunification anxiety is something that can be common for foster parents. Feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease about the child in your care returning to his birth parent(s)/home may enter your mind when you learn that the reunification is drawing near. You might also feel excited or apprehensive; happy or sad; heart-full or heartbroken. The feelings can be mixed and complicated. And, just as you may be feeling a complicated and heady mix of emotions, the child in your care and his birth parent(s) may also be feeling those same or very similar emotions.
During the time that the child has been in your care, his birth parents have been making several complicated and possibly difficult changes. They have been concentrating on all of the things that will make them stronger parents, that will allow them to learn and use new skills, and that will, ultimately, lead to the return of their child to their home. And now that their child will be returning home, they may be feeling anxious and fearful. They may be thinking about what is going to happen when the child returns. How will they manage and cope with the stress of day-to-day parenting? What if things don’t go perfectly or according to plan? The stakes are high and the fear of failure can be very daunting.
The child may be experiencing worries and anxieties in the wake of returning to his birth home, as well. Depending on his age, he may have memories of living with his birth parents before entering foster care and he may worry that some of those same unhealthy or negative circumstances will be there again. And, even if going back to his birth family is what he says he really wants, moving back home means being uprooted again. For a child who had to change schools when he entered care, for example, he may now have to once again leave his school and his friends and teachers, as well as foster siblings and neighborhood friends.