Saying Goodbye: Navigating Reunification as a Foster Parent

By November 16, 2020Podcast

Saying goodbye to the child you’ve been caring for is one of the most heart-wrenching times as a foster parent. Every foster parent knows to prepare for this time, but that doesn’t make the reality easy or the pain less.

As you prepare for them to make this transition well, it can be overwhelming to know what or how to do it. What are the right words to say? How do I help them navigate their feelings?

And then, if there are other children in the house who are staying—whether they are biological, adopted, or have a different case in foster care—they, too, have to navigate the hard goodbye.

So many hearts to care for, not to mention, your own.

Jenn has some incredible insight and practical tools to guide us towards these hard goodbyes with honor and intentionality.

HERE ARE MY 3 TAKEAWAYS FROM OUR CONVERSATION:

1. Sit with your children in their feelings instead of rushing to fix them.

As natural protectors of our children, we don’t want them to feel hurt or sad. We want to buffer against the stress for the sake of their emotional well-being. In doing that, though, we don’t allow them to process all that is happening inside them. They are left to figure that all out on their own, and it often comes out sideways in more destructive behavior. In our attempt to fix, we quickly move past real thoughts and emotions. Instead of running from the loss and grief as our children think about leaving our home, Jenn gave us powerful tools to engage in the hard with them. Print pictures of your family, their biological family, the judge, and their caseworker to talk through this transition. Create a photo book to look back on the memories you’ve shared. Laugh and cry together. When you model your grief, children know that you are a safe person to be honest with.

“Validate what they are feeling. Don’t try to take it away. Sometimes, we want our kids to feel okay, so we want to fix the feelings that feel yucky.”

2. Be clear and honest in what you share with your children even when it’s hard.

This point has been huge for me in all areas of my life. I’m learning that “clear is kind.” Jenn pointed out that when we aren’t clear and instead use abstract language, we could actually be creating more anxiety around reunification. We’re asking our children to live in more unknown. I think it’s important to say here too, that we don’t always have the answers. We might not know clear timelines for transition dates, or we might not know if we’ll see them again after reunification. “I don’t know” is an okay answer if it’s the truthful answer. We can’t offer reassurance if we don’t know, but we can always sit in the tension with them. Jenn shared that a helpful exercise when there is a lot of unknown is to create a “wishing tree.” Write down all of the things the child wishes would happen on a tree you’ve drawn so that you both have a space to talk about your fears and anxieties. Use play through dolls to act out what the transition will look like from their point of view. Be in it together. Children need to know that they aren’t alone in the pain they experience.

“You want to be able to help them work through their feelings. If you’re talking in vague ways, you are not allowing them to experience the feelings they need to experience.”

3. It’s okay and normal to feel hesitant about reunification.

Not only do the children in your home need space to experience all of their feelings about the reunification, you, foster parent, do too. Allow yourself to feel and not rush through it. And know that it won’t feel all good. You have poured out your love and energy, and there is no timeline that you have to get over feeling grief. Use a journey to process. Be engaged with others who can hold your burdens with you. The reunification process will likely have bumps and turns, and there will be parts about it that make you uncomfortable. That is normal. Though there can be beauty in reunification, there is also still the reality that the child you cared for came to you because of brokenness. God loves you, foster parent, and you have to give yourself an abundance of grace, just as you give that same grace to your children.

“You will always feel nervous and stressed about whether it’s safe for a child to go home. Always. And that’s okay. There has been history that has given you cause to feel that way.”

RESOURCES FROM TODAY’S SHOW

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Tools to Help You Engage with Your Child:
Who Loves Series | Share pictures of each of the people in your child’s life
Who Loves Lifebook | Create a Lifebook to walk through your child’s story together
Color Your Heart | Draw a heart. Ask the child to name three feelings. Add two more of your own, including feelings like sad, worried, scared, and frustrated. Assign a color for each feeling to create a legend. Ask the child to color in their heart with how much of each feeling they have.
Feelings Candyland | Assign each color a feeling. When you draw a color, before you can move, answer: I feel[feelingbased on color] when [blank]. 

What Jami is Reading:
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

SPREAD THE WORD!

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?

Share this post or rate the podcast on Apple Podcasts (or wherever you listen) and leave us a brief review

Meet Our Guest

Jenn Hook, MA, is the Founder and Executive Director of Replanted – a ministry that helps empower the church to support adoptive and foster families by providing emotional, tangible, and informational support. She received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton College. She previously worked as a trauma therapist for children and adolescents in foster care. She frequently speaks on topics related to adoption and foster care support, mental health, and trauma. She is the author of Replanted: Faith-Based Support for Foster and Adoptive Families, and lives in Dallas, TX, with her husband, Josh.

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

Special thanks to Resonate Recordings for their knock-it-out-of-the-park podcast production services! If you have a podcast or want to start one, reach out to our friends at Resonate!

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