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You just said goodbye to that precious child and you’re devastated. Losing a foster child is something most foster parents prepare for. After all, reunification is the goal so you have to go into this relationship knowing this is a very real possibility. Even if you plan to adopt, you need to prepare for the possibility a relative may emerge or an absent parent all of a sudden decides to be present. Literally anything can happen. So how do you deal with losing a foster child after forming an attachment and experiencing reunification grief?
Our First Foster Child
We wanted to foster a newborn. Because I work from home, we thought it would be a great idea because babies cannot go into daycare until 6 weeks old so it is more difficult to place newborns as one person has to be home or have a sitter.
We got the call that there was a baby who needed care and we said yes immediately. We saw this baby in the little bassinet in the hospital and immediately fell in love. Baby was beautiful, but challenging.
When you take a newborn baby in foster care, there is a good chance they have had exposure to substances and that was the case. Baby needed a lot of love and security and we were willing to give it.
We were told this would be a long-term placement. We did not believe it would go to adoption at any point but we did believe baby would at least be with us for a while.
But it wouldn’t be so. Baby was actually only with us for about a month and then went to be with bio mom. In hindsight, if we had known baby would only be with us a month we likely would not have taken the placement. I would have known the pain of giving up an infant after only a month.
But God had other plans. I believe He knew we were the right people for this baby (and for mom) at that point in time. Mom later told me she had prayed baby would go to a Christian foster home! God answered that prayer. So a week after we had baby we found out he would soon be returning to his mom.
It hurt but when we started this process we prayed that if a child was going to leave us, we wanted it to be fast. We didn’t want to lose a child after 3 years.
We just weren’t expecting THAT fast! But God honored our prayers and didn’t allow us to have baby for years before we had to say goodbye.
Losing a Foster Child – Bittersweet
Now we love this little baby who stole our hearts, but we were thrilled to hear baby was being reunited with mom (and rightfully so) who adores baby. I cannot get into the circumstances but to say Mom deserved to have baby with her.
But while we were happy for Mom and for little one (and in a way for us since little one was NOT a sleeper and we lost many a night’s sleep so we were looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep) and that they would get the opportunity to bond while baby was still very young, we were grieving the loss of this precious little baby who was a part of our family for a month.
And it is the case for many foster parents. You do this because you want to help children (and parents) in need and provide a safe, loving environment for these children, but let’s face facts…you get attached. We did after only a month even though we knew a week in that baby would be leaving!
How do you deal with the grief of losing a foster child?
Losing a Foster Child – Acknowledge Your Feelings
Some well-meaning people might say “Well you knew this when you got into it!” but that doesn’t negate the real feelings you have. They think you should approach it like you are a babysitter, caring for someone else’s child.
But the truth is, any good foster parent will love a child as though they are your own. You are not babysitting, you are providing a family to a child. In fact, some foster children are in care for YEARS! I know foster parents who have had a child from birth and STILL have them at 3 years old and STILL in foster care. You do not raise a child for 3 years without feeling about them the same as you do your own children.
While it may seem to some that you are merely “babysitting” that is not what a foster family is.
Foster families are families, not sitters! Period, end of story! That child is a part of your family! Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t have the right to mourn the loss of them from your home!
Foster families are families, not sitters! Period, end of story! That child is a part of your family!
Acknowledge how you feel, good or bad!
The reality is that some foster families may experience the loss of a child as bittersweet! You may have had a challenging child and may feel both happiness and sadness when they leave your home! Maybe they did not get along with your children and maybe it was a tumultuous time.
And that is NORMAL! It is ok to feel that way!
The important thing is, no matter how you feel about that child leaving you, acknowledge it and let yourself feel it.
Losing a Foster Child – Take Time
You may feel like you want to jump in and foster again. You may feel that emotionally you are ready. But take time for yourself first. You need time to grieve the loss of that child from your home.
Sometimes we don’t feel things right away and allowing yourself even a couple of days to experience the loss of that child and refresh yourself will be best for the next child.
Take as much time as you need! Tell your agency you need a break for a little while. They will understand that!
Some people may need only a couple of days and some people may need a couple of months. Each situation will be different because each child is different and impacts our lives and families in different ways.
So take whatever time you need and don’t allow anyone to push you into taking another placement before you are ready.
Losing a Foster Child – Talk to Someone
Talking about how you are feeling is really important. Sometimes it helps just to know someone else knows how you’re feeling.
If you are in a foster parent support group, make sure you go and speak about your feelings. Get the support you need.
Talk to a friend who is supportive of you fostering. Talk to your pastor. Talk to your Caregiver Support Team if you have one.
But talk about your feelings, good or bad.
Losing a Foster Child – Allow Grieving After a Foster Child Leaves
We talked about acknowledging your feelings but you also need to allow yourself to express and manifest those feeling and emotions.
Being stoic doesn’t belong in this situation! Allow yourself to grieve! You didn’t lose a child to death but you did lose a child all the same! So grieve that loss!
Cry! Get mad! Spend a day (or a week!) in bed eating ice cream! Whatever it is you need to do to allow yourself to emotionally process the loss of a child, you do it!
Like I said, some people have a foster child in their home for years. Some are on the road to adoption only to find a long lost family member turns up at the last minute and everything they dreamed of just turned to dust.
Grieve that loss! It is raw and it is real and you need to grieve it!
Grieving After a Foster Child Leaves – Pray and Seek God
Nothing can heal losing a foster child and going through reunification grief like prayer can!
Ask for prayer from others! God CAN heal the pain you are feeling. Even if you cannot find the words to speak, the Holy Spirit knows!
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” NIV
Go to God and ask for direction, ask for healing, ask for peace and comfort.
Pray for the child and their parents or relatives who are now caring for them.
God can give you the comfort you need and the peace to go on and keep doing what we as foster parents do; loving a child in need like our very own knowing they may one day leave us.
What you are doing for these children is one of the most selfless things a person can do in this world. You are giving a child the love of a parent when you know at any time they could be gone. You are giving of yourself knowing losing a foster child is more likely than not and you may experiencing reunification grief multiple times over the years.
That takes a selflessness that cannot be described!
So in order for you to keep doing what you do, take care of yourself and allow yourself to grieve your losses!
And if you are not a foster parent but you have a friend or relative who is, you can help support them in so many ways! Whether they lost a child or just took one in, you can be there for them.
Ways to Help a Foster Family
There are so many ways you can assist a foster family if you don’t feel called to foster:
- Bring them a meal
- Offer to watch a baby for an hour so mom can shower
- Gift cards for dinner or for shopping for their children
- Hire a babysitter for them
- Get licensed as a respite home to help when they need some time off
- Throw them a shower
- Hold baby during church
- Take their older children to a movie
- Walk their dog
- Help clean their home
- Get groceries for them
- Bring the kids toys to play with
- See if their car needs an oil change or maintenance and offer to take it in for them
- Bring them a coffee and sit and chat with them a while – they would likely enjoy adult conversation
- Offer to run errands for them
- Give them a hug and tell them they are doing a great job (sometimes we feel like we are not!)
- Pray for them (and tell them you are!)
There are so many ways you can help a foster child even when you cannot foster one yourself. By providing support for a foster family you are also helping that child.
So be there for them while they are fostering but really offer to be there when they say goodbye to that child!
This book by my friend Lori Schumaker is amazing! If you are considering adoption or foster care, get this book! In a true story of learning that trust means surrendering your version of how the story should unfold, Lori and Bryan finally let go–of their dream, of their daughter, of their fears and frustrations. And in that relinquishment, God began to move.
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Some other posts to go along with “Losing a Foster Child – Reunification Grief” you might enjoy:
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™
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