How Do I Prepare my Birth Child for Foster Care?

Today as we left a quick trip to Target, I snapped this picture of my two littles. 

I watched as two kids who would probably would have never known each other in this life held hands and laughed with each other. They are two completely different beings. One is quiet, the other is rambunctious. One loves to be held, the other doesn’t. One is independent, the other is dependent. Despite their differences, these kids love each other so deeply.

Many times people ask me, “How would Beau handle it if Bre left?” My response is always, “He would be very sad. But we regularly talk to him about her birth family and how we are just taking care of her until a judge decides what is best for her.” Since Bre was our first placement and it appears she is going to stay, we haven’t had to walk Beau through the feelings of grief of a child leaving. But if we did, here are a few things to help your birth children through the idea and reality of a child leaving your home:

Prepare them for the reality of foster care before any children are placed and then keep talking about it.

When we became foster parents, Beau was only 2 years old. His level of understanding was very shallow for what was about to happen. When you traditionally add a sibling to the mix, you have proof it’s going to happen by the expanding size of a woman’s belly. It was hard for Beau to grasp that another child was going to live with us because there was no physical proof. But we talked about it anyway – for almost six months before we were licensed foster parents. In those conversations, we discussed that there are children who need extra parents to take care of them while their birthparents work on themselves and their family. We told him that some kids may stay for a few weeks, some a few months, and some may stay forever. Even at 2 he could repeat back some of the things we were saying to him. We consistently talked about what it meant to be a foster family and it was a part of our every day conversation. When I worked in the field, I encouraged parents with birth children already to begin talking about foster care and adoption immediately. The more you talk about it, the more chances you have to process it and prepare them for what it really means.

Once Bre was placed with us, we began talking more concretely about her situation. We had some visitation with birthparents, so we regularly talked about her birthmom and birthdad. When we went to court to hear an update on Bre’s case, we would tell Beau that we still weren’t sure if she would stay or go. For 18 months we told him that we would just take care of Bre until the judge decided what was best for her. He didn’t stress about it. He didn’t wonder about it too often. The unknown did really bother him. That’s because it was a regular conversation in our household. Age appropriate conversations are always good for kids and it allows them to ask questions that have been on their mind that they may have been too afraid to ask before.

Ask your child how they want to remember foster siblings.

One of my families when I worked had several very quick placements in a short succession (like a set of 2 kids stayed 1 night, then almost immediately 1 kid stayed 2 months, and they were waiting for their next placement). The foster mom told me that at dinner, her oldest son who was about 8, led the prayer. He included all three children in his prayer and called them his siblings. As they were eating, the foster dad asked his son about the prayer. His son responded with, “Dad, it doesn’t matter how long they stayed with us; we can always remember them, and they will always be my siblings.” The foster parents wondered if it was odd for their child to think of them as siblings and keep praying for them even after such a short time. My response: “Let him grieve and process how he sees fit.” When kids leave, it can take a toll on your birth children. If you’re doing it right, your kids will wrap their arms around them and bring them into the fold of your family. It’s natural for kids to experience grief when a foster sibling leaves. That isn’t a bad thing. Maybe your child wants a picture of them in their room. Maybe they want to make a scrapbook of every child you’ve had placed. Maybe they want to pray for each child every night. Maybe they want to plant a flower every time a child leaves. Find out what your child wants to do to help process their grief, and help them do it.

Know that your child is resilient.

Many times people are afraid to be a foster parent because they think it will be hard on their kids. And it can be. There is a lot of adjustment when a foster child is placed and more adjustment when they leave. But the best thing about kids: they are resilient. Know that they will find the tools to process and deal with their feelings if you allow it. Will you need to take a break for a month or two before accepting another placement? Maybe. But in the end, your kids will be ok whether you don’t foster any more or you foster 70 more kids. Most of all, by teaching them how to manage grief, difficult feelings, and showing them a world outside of themselves, you are giving them skills and a lens of viewing the world for a lifetime.

Now that we know that we are going to adopt Bre, the conversation has changed a little. The words “adoption” and “forever” have been in our language as we speak about her and the role she plays in our little family. We feel blessed to be adding to our family through foster care and are excited for the years to come as we continue to foster future children in our home.

– Melinda  

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