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Episode 185: Walking Through Grief After Foster Care (w/ Melissa Smallwood)

Since May is National Foster Care Awareness Month, I will be bringing you stories every week from the various perspectives of the foster care community—agency workers, foster parents, vulnerable adults, and children.

Did you know that 30% of children who enter into foster care are teens? The shift into foster care is a lifelong challenge for children of any age, but uniquely so for teens. That grief journey is deep and complex, as it also often involves giving up a role in life that they are used to fulfilling.

Melissa Smallwood found herself in the foster care system as a teenager and, along with the trauma she had experienced, her foster care experience had a lasting impact on her life. She moved from being a primary caregiver to her two brothers to the role of a foster child. Through her journey, she has found healing and has now pursued a career as a therapist who works primarily with children and teens who have been or are in the foster care system.

Melissa is now a wife and mom of seven, several of which joined her family through adoption and foster care, as well as “Mimi” to five. I hope you find encouragement and support through her story!

(Remember: Only until the end of May, applications are still open for YOU to become a TFI Advocate, bridging the gap between foster care agencies and churches right in your local community. This only happens twice a year, so learn more and apply here.)


1. Grief stays with you.

This grief goes beyond the tangible loss of clothes, books, toys, and other belongings that children entering the foster care system often experience. It is also a loss of identity. After being removed from their home, they have to discover their identity again. It is important to grieve what should have been and recognize this as a loss they will likely feel at various points throughout their life.

“Acknowledging the losses they have experienced is an important part of healing.”

2. Be a safe space.

You don’t have to be the one to broach the topic of what a child is going through or feeling. All you need to do is to create a safe environment for them to express themselves when they choose to. Once they feel safe and trust you, they will create spaces in conversation on their own, in their own way. It is important to validate them in those moments when they share how they are feeling and to be intentional not to minimize the valid emotions they feel.

“It’s important that we create and cultivate an environment where kids feel safe to say however they feel.”

3. Healing is possible.

The wounds that children in foster care experience do not simply go away, but healing is a journey towards accepting, understanding, and grieving those realities. This is a journey that takes years and looks different at various points in a child’s life, and often requires time, therapy, and support for a child to carefully sort through their story.

“It’s very freeing once you begin to heal because things start to make sense in a way that helps you let go of some of the shame and some of the self-blame.”


We hope this episode has helped you wherever you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal! If so, will you tell others?

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Meet Our Guest

Melissa Smallwood is a licensed professional counselor, parent/family coach, author, former foster youth, and foster and adoptive mom. She is passionate about offering services to those in the foster and adoptive community to help prevent placement disruptions. Melissa lives in West Virginia with her husband of 25 years and their two fur babies. She is mom to seven and “Mimi” to five grandbabies.

Foster Parents, check with your agency to see if listening to this podcast will count toward your foster care training hours!

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