“I could never be a foster parent because I would become too attached” is the number one objection I hear when trying to recruit new foster parents. My response? “Great! That’s the type of people I’m looking for!” The best foster parents are the ones who can attach to a child. But the fact of the matter is that most children in foster care do return to their biological parents. It is the foster parent’s job to facilitate and support that reunification unless the case plan changes. It is also true that many foster parents have a hard time letting go. How do you cope?
1. Deal with your own trauma first
If you are weighing the pros and cons of fostering and have recently experienced a major loss of your own, like the loss of a loved one, now might not be the right time to foster. Helping kiddos with trauma can go only so far when you are also dealing with your own trauma. In extreme cases, you may need to seek counseling. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Postpone fostering until you have come to terms with your loss.
2. Take a breather
After your foster child has left, make some changes in your life. Take some time for yourself with your partner or best friend. Don’t immediately receive another placement. And don’t let your social worker guilt you into filling those empty beds so soon. This may mean going on a long-awaited vacation with your family, re-connecting with people who you have lost touch with, or spending time alone to recharge your batteries. What good will you be to another foster child if you are running on empty?
3. Seek support
Search for support groups in your area that deal with loss and grief. These may be formal group therapy sessions, or they could be informal support groups that simply share the experiences they have gone through. In some states you may even find foster parent support groups where you can glean wisdom from seasoned foster parents who have been where you are. Lastly, search for online support groups on Facebook or Twitter. And stay away from groups that spend their time griping and moaning about the flaws in the system. Seek positive support. Surround yourself with people of like minds.
4. Keep connections
Beyond your own grief, your foster child may also be feeling the loss. It may be in the child’s best interest to keep in touch with you. Depending on your state and on the child’s case, you may be able to stay in touch with your foster child after he or she has left. There may be many factors involved, such as the biological parents, the age and development of the child, and the situation to which he or she is returning. But keeping in touch after reunification is a win-win situation: healthy for you and, more importantly, healthy for the child.
Foster children have gone through many losses in their lives: abuse, neglect, separation from their family, many different foster homes, and possibly many different adoptive homes. Children need attachment and they need coping skills. Adults know how to cope with losses; children do not. Seek help in your area and don’t go it alone. There should be no such thing as a Lone Ranger foster parent.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children: 6 of which are adopted. His adoption children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.