One of the most common reasons people give for not wanting to foster children is feeling that they wouldn’t be able to let the children go when the time comes. It is certainly one of the hardest parts of any foster carer’s journey. So, why do people continue to do it?
Lyssa, who fosters for the National Fostering Agency – fostered a newborn baby up until the little girl was adopted at 14 months old. She admits it was one of the hardest things she has ever done to let the baby go. Lyssa has recently begun fostering another baby and plans to continue fostering babies onto adoption whenever she can. We spoke to Lyssa about her experience and why – despite the heartache – she’s so committed to fostering babies onto adoption.
Please tell us about the first baby you fostered onto adoption
She came to me as a newborn, straight from the hospital. The court case was due to take place within five months but, in the end, the adoption order was granted early because, despite the birth mum wanting her little girl back, she didn’t contest the hearing outcome. I believe she sent a letter to the court hearing expressing her love for the baby and saying she understood that adoption was in her best interests. A potential adopter was identified when the baby was four months old but, due to several delays and changes in social worker, she was with me for 14 months before she finally made the transition to her adoptive mum.
How did you manage the transition from you as her foster mum to her adoptive mum?
It was a very gradual process, which I think is exactly the way it should be. We started with a couple of meetings on Teams where I showed her adoptive mum some photos. Five weeks before the official transition period we started meeting up once a week for a couple of hours each time. It was important for the baby to become familiar with her adoptive mum and for me to show her that it was OK to be with this new person. Up until that point she’d just been with me 24/7 and she would cry if I even went to the toilet.
First, we met her adoptive mum at the soft play area. She just watched the little girl play without having any direct interaction with her. It was very emotional for both of us, but we kept it light. The adopter had to contain her excitement and I had to contain my upset. At one point, the little girl’s sock came off so I threw it over to the adoptive mum so she could put it back on for her. The second time we met for tea and the third time we met at a local park. By that point, I had another newborn placed with me, so the little girl and her adoptive mum were able to go off and play on the swings together.
The main transition took place over a 10-day period, with the adoptive mum coming to our house and staying with us for longer and longer each time. The first couple of days she just spent a few hours here, observing the normal routine. By the third day, she stayed with us for longer and began taking over the care tasks – nappies, feeding etc – where the baby would allow her to do this. On day five, we met out in the community so she could bring her dog for the little girl to meet for the first time. Then we went back to her house, just for a quick visit. I stayed there that time. Over the following four or five days the little girl spent the daytime with her adopter, then they came back to me after tea. Her adoptive mum stayed for the bedtime routine each day. On the final day, she only went to her adopter’s house for a couple of hours in the morning so I had a goodbye afternoon with her.
It was because we’d had those ‘soft introductions’ before the ‘official’ transition, that the transition worked so well for the little girl. By the time her adoptive mum was coming to our home, the little girl was familiar with her and happy for her to be here. During the transition we went to every length to create familiarity for the little girl – she took her blanket with her for naps and her adoptive mum even wore a T-shirt of mine for the first couple of days so the little girl would be able to smell me.
On the day she left, her adoptive mum texted me that night and the following morning to let me know how the little girl was. After a couple of weeks, we had a video call and I saw them two months after the transition. It was great to see the little girl was fully attached to her adoptive mum and clearly doing well. She was very happy to see me and came to sit on my lap but was fine when it was time for her to go. Since then, we’ve had a couple of FaceTime’s and I saw her again about a month ago. I got a lovely painting from her at Christmas.
What was it like for you the day you had to let the baby go?
Honestly, it was the hardest day of my life. I knew it was coming and I’d been preparing for it but in a way, you can’t prepare. The pain was terrible. I’d looked after her from newborn, she is a beautiful baby, I knew it was going to be hard. My supervising social worker came to be with me and when she left a friend came round and after that my mum. Someone was with me all of that day. On the last day, she was with me, I knew it was going to be difficult in the evening putting her to bed, so I arranged for my parents and friends to come round for a small celebration, which helped to distract me. But the fact that we’d had such a structured transition period meant I knew she’d be fine with her new mum. We worked together very well – her adoptive mum and me – and that made all the difference. I knew I had to contain my feelings for the little girl’s sake. I did all my crying afterwards when I was on my own.
Now you have your second foster baby, what is it like this time around?
I think this time around I’ve put more of a protective wall around myself. And it’s been a different experience. He’s in contact three times a week so I’m used to him being away from me. He’s also been to a respite carer because his parents didn’t want him to be taken away on holiday with me. In the next six or seven weeks he will move to a different foster carer to be with his brother. After that, he is likely to be put up for adoption, although his case is quite complex. I already feel sad about him going but it is nothing like the first time around. I feel more prepared.
What would you say to prospective foster carers about fostering babies?
Although it can be tough, I wouldn’t change a thing. A lot of people say they wouldn’t be able to see the children go. Yes of course that’s the hardest part. But when I look at the life I gave to that little girl for 14 months and for the little boy who’s been with me for 12 months, I can see how much they’ve thrived and that makes me happy. Knowing that the baby I cared for is happy and loved by her adoptive mum makes it easier and makes me excited to be able to offer this to another little one who needs it. It’s like any loss, it gets easier in time. If you’re planning to do this type of fostering, I would say go for it, it’s such a wonderful thing to do. Make sure you take control of the transition process and use your support network when it’s time for the children to go. Also, take time out for yourself. If I were to add up every time my heart swells with joy at how wonderful these babies are, it would outweigh any of the pain I feel when they go.
If fostering has crossed your mind but you’re unsure if you can foster, why not take our Can I Foster Quiz?