As adults we have learned that we grieve as we loose our parents, friends, siblings and sometimes children to death. We may even realize we are grieving if close friends move away to another state or country. I do not think, however, that people who become foster parents are thoroughly informed about the importance of grieving the loss of foster children from their home. Children returning to a biological family member is in the best interest of the child and their family but often may be at the price of losing a good foster family unless the foster family can properly come to terms with the feelings they are having about the loss of the children.
The first foster sibling group of children placed in our home remained with us for ten months. When they were first placed with us DFCS did not know where the biological mom and dad were. The very next week dad showed up at DFCS inquiring about his children. The oldest of the 3 children was not his biologically, the other two were, but he was the only dad all 3 had ever known. The next ten months were a roller coaster of events. As a foster parent you must show love and compassion to the children in order for the children to learn to develop healthy relationships, but it does come at a price if you are not careful. I really thought I could deal with the children leaving my home; after all they loved their dad and he loved them. Their new stepmother wanted us to stay in their life so what could possibly go wrong? We packed all their toys and clothes up and took it to their new home Halloween weekend. They live only 5 miles from us. I thought we were set, but the next 7 months told a different tell.
The Stages of Grief
Grief is very personal. Each person will go through grief at his/her own pace and time. In 1969 Kubler-Ross’ well known stages of grief were established , identifying a common order for the processing of grief. These stages, and this order are as follows:
Shock/ Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Despair/ Depression, Acceptance/ Understanding/ Resolution
To properly grieve the loss of foster children from your lives you need to go through all these stages. Unfortunately my husband and I did not follow this process when our first children left. We did suffer the shock/denial phase, finding it hard to believe the children would be leaving our home but that is pretty much the only phase we processed through before moving on. Two weeks after the children left we took in a teenager, and then during the next two months reunited a sibling group of three in our home. Having four children in our home kept us hopping, but our hearts were still with the first children we had in our home. By not allowing ourselves to grieve properly my husband became sick and ultimately in May, seven months after our first children left hour home , he was admitted to the hospital with a serious staff infection. We had already began working with DFCS to have the children removed from our home to allow my husband time to heal, the hospital visit just fast forwarded the moving of the children.
The children that moved are doing well, we made the relocation a non stressful event for them, but it was now time to take care of ourselves.
We took the next 90 days to properly grieve the loss of the children from our home. In August of that year we were ready to accept our next foster children, one of which we have now adopted.
In hindsight I now understand how we should have handled grieving of our first children.
The shock and denial phase was correct. We should have been in denial that the children would be leaving us.
Next we should have displayed some anger at DFCS, the system, and even the dad. How dare he take the children that we had nursed to health. How dare the system return the children home to a man that left them with a total stranger.
During the bargaining phase I should have found myself trying to work with the caseworker to see if there wasn’t someway to keep the children a little longer. While the ultimate answer would have been no, we should have been communicating our feelings not suppressing them. It was the internalizing of our feelings that caused my husband’s body to not be able to fight of the infections he was being exposed to.
Despair/Depression would have occurred for only a little while if we had not tried to replace our children with different children. Missing the children, crying about them being gone from our life would have been the right thing to do. During our ninety day recovering time we often talked about the good times with the children, laughing and crying about those times.
Acceptance/Understanding/Resolution would have been the proper time to begin accepting new children into our home, offering our love and guidance but not before going through all the grieving steps.
My husband and I are lucky ones. We realized that we needed to take a break and take care of ourselves. Unfortunately, I have seen foster homes close after the first children placed in their homes are reunited with their parents. They became very attached to the children and did not know the proper way to grieve the loss. Seasoned foster parents we must support our foster parents, mentoring them, helping them to work through the grieving process when its necessary.