There is no doubt that children and youth in foster care have experienced loss, just as there is no doubt that those children and youth process and grieve for those losses in a variety of sometimes complex and confusing ways. The transition from the home life they knew into an unfamiliar life as a child in foster care can be a tumultuous one for them. As they start to get used to their new environments and bond with their new caretakers, they may feel a sense of divided loyalty between their foster family and their birth family.
Children sometimes feel that caring for their foster family means diminishing their feelings for their birth family. They might even feel like they are betraying their birth families, leading to a lot of confusion, anxiety, and frustration. As a foster parent, you might see these feelings manifest in behaviors like acting out, defiance, or emotional outbursts of anger and frustration.
As a foster parent or caretaker of child who is experiencing these complex emotions from a child in your home, you may also feel confused and even a little frustrated. Children have a fundamental need to be connected to their birth family and, for many foster parents, this can seem like a paradox. After all, children typically enter foster care when their home environments or caretakers are unsafe or dangerous to their well being. These types of feelings are normal; however, what is most important, is to put the needs of the children first.
So, how can you help the child in your care through these feelings? One of the best ways is to model a positive and collaborative relationship with the child’s birth family. No matter what birth parents did or didn’t do with regard to raising their child, developing a partnership with them honors the child’s connection with his birth family in a healthy and meaningful way. You might hear this type of relationship with birth parents referred to as “co-parenting.” Great co-parenting relationships evolve over time, and feature birth parents and foster parents learning from one another, finding the best ways to nurture and meet the needs of the child. This type of relationship can lead to the best outcomes for the child in out-of-home care, and helps ensure his positive emotional development.
Please remember that you are not alone. The Coalition for Children, Youth & Families is here to help you through the emotional journey of foster care. Check out some of resources below and contact us any time.
Featured Tip Sheets
- Helping Children in Care Build Trusting Relationships
- Shared Parenting: Putting the Needs of Children First