It’s a question that frequently dwells on the minds of foster carers: how will I cope when it’s time for my foster child to leave? As part of your training you’ll be talked through different coping mechanisms to help you tackle difficult times like these, though in reality, saying goodbye will always be difficult. Here are a few pointers to explain how you can make it go more smoothly.
Talk to the child
Unfortunately you won’t always get a lot of warning when it’s time for a child in your care to move on to a new home or be reunited with their biological family or carers. Sometimes you may only have a few hours to prepare, though it could be a matter of weeks. Whatever the situation, use the time wisely to prepare yourself and your foster child for the change.
It’s only natural that you will feel upset at the thought of them moving on but where possible, try and remain positive and supportive when talking to the child. It’s likely that your foster child will have mixed feelings about leaving. They may experience some excitement about their future and perhaps anxiety concerning their separation from you. Small children may struggle to understand timeframes regarding their move, so consider marking things up on a calendar or chart so they can begin to understand when they will leave your home.
Help them pack
Children often arrive with few belongings, so taking the time and care to pack your child’s things properly could help them to feel more secure when they leave you. Ensure they move on with their toys and clothes with them. Packing may be an emotional activity for you both. Focus on packing effectively so that they can find things that will provide comfort quickly once they arrive at their destination. Try to think about the positive impact you have had on the child’s life and consider how having the items you’re packing with them will help with their transition.
It’s not always possible to stay in touch with foster children when they leave your care. For younger children who are moving on to other foster situations, going to live with potential adopters or returning to their original care setting, maintaining contact will be at the discretion of the new carers and on the advice of the care team.
This means that when you say goodbye to a foster child you may not see them again. With this in mind, you may want to arrange some goodbyes for them with people who have become important in their lives while they have been staying with you. For example, arranging a family meal with foster grandparents or fitting in one last fun activity with your own children. It may be possible to give children photographs of your time together, perhaps in a book or box that will travel with them. Other mementos such as the recipe for their favourite tea written down on a piece of card will help them to remember that you care for them.
Practice self care
When you are told a foster child is leaving you it can hit really hard. Ensure you have someone to talk to at this time – your NFA care team and other foster parents should be able to offer a friendly ear and support you with this transition. Losing a foster child is likely to provoke feelings of grief, so give yourself time to recover and also to celebrate the journey you’ve had together. This may mean taking a short break before you start your next foster placement. You may also want to think about taking time to do some activities you enjoy. When a foster child leaves, many foster parents choose to busy themselves with activities they find relaxing.
If an older child is leaving your home and exiting care entirely, you can find advice in our post on options for foster care after 18.