Recently, my wife and I took in additional foster children into our home, bumping the number of children in our house to nine. I realize that your initial thought is, “Nine children? I thought there was some sort of rule saying you couldn’t have that many children.” Let me assure you that this was a special occasion as it was an emergency, and the children needed to be placed immediately. The child welfare worker in charge of the children had called several foster parents before calling our home, as there were no other foster parents able to take the three children in. Initially, my wife and my first response was to say “No,” as it would have been simply too many children in our home. Yet, after further consideration and prayer, we felt that we should foster these three children in need.
In all of my years as a foster parent, and in all of my experiences as a trainer and speaker, I was not prepared for the conditions that these three children faced which prompted them to come into care. Immediately, my wife and I both gave our hearts to these children in unconditional love, hoping to help them in any way we could. After a few days in our home, they were suddenly placed in another home in another state, with a biological family member. In fact, the transition was so sudden that we were unable to say goodbye to them, as it came without warning during the working hours of the day, the judge giving permission to the family member who had traveled and showed up at the court hearing. What surprised me even more was the feelings of loss and grief that both of us felt when the three left, as it had only been a short time.
Feelings of loss and grief are normal for foster parents, and should in no way be dismissed or ignored. When any foster child leaves your home, no matter the level of attachment, there will be emotions when it is time to say goodbye, for both you and the child. Rest assured, many foster parents do feel grief during the removal of their foster child, as the child has come to be an important and loved member of their family. After all, the removal of a foster child from a foster home is akin to a loss, and any loss can cause grieving.
Whenever a loved one leaves home, emotions of grief and sadness are normal. Other times, though, a foster parent may be angry with the removal, as the parent may feel that the new placement is not in the best interest of the child. Pointing this out to the child will only upset him further. It is necessary for you, as a foster parent, to remember that you are not in charge of the situation, as difficult as it may be. The removal of foster children from a home is often a decision that is made in the court.
According to Kubler-Ross’ well known stages of grief (1969), there are several stages a foster parent may experience when a foster child leaves the home. These include shock, denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, depression, and then finally acceptance. Indeed, I went through some of these feelings, myself, and have still not completely embraced the fact that these children have moved on. What I do appreciate, though, is that it is important to deal with these emotions in a healthy manner, and to find help, if necessary. For myself, I have not only prayed for these children daily, I have also discussed my feelings with my wife and some others in my own local foster parent association, an organization that offers training and support to other foster parents.
I often tell people that fostering is the hardest job one can do. One of the reasons why is that fostering is not only hard work, it is also heart work. Good foster parents place their entire heart into taking care of these children in need. Most understand that it is emotionally difficult and often traumatic for a child to move from home to home. It is important to also realize that it is emotionally difficult for the foster parent, as well. After all, you are losing a member of your family, and this can be traumatic, too.
-Dr. John DeGarmo