We previously wrote about things to consider when you’re transitioning a child to your home as a pre-adoptive placement. But, there’s also another perspective on transitions – when you’re transitioning a child from your home into what will be their adoptive family. That process can bring with it as many questions as if you’re bringing a child into your family, but sometimes, the families who have been fostering the child don’t get as much attention or support because they’re “just” foster parents.
Still, those “just” foster parents may have had this child for quite a long time, years even, and may not be in a position to adopt for one reason or another. They may want to continue to be in the child’s life, but don’t feel as though they would be the right permanent family for the child. The transition from a living situation like that can be hard on the family and the child, even though the child may be excited about moving to a forever family.
Some things to keep in mind as you’re transitioning your foster child to their forever home:
Talk With Your Foster Child
This seems like an obvious tip, but so often, when we find ourselves faced with difficult conversations, our inclination is to let someone else handle that for us. Don’t avoid the conversations, even when it’s hard. If you don’t feel as though you’re the right family for a child, and they’re going to transition to a new pre-adoptive placement, have that conversation with the child (in age-appropriate ways, of course). The child will also be talking to their FCM, therapist, CASA – but you are the one who has been their parent, for all intents and purposes, and they should hear from you as well. The last thing you want is for the child to feel rejected by you or as though they aren’t important enough for you to have a conversation with.
Don’t Take It Personally
When your foster child finds out that they’re moving to an adoptive family, they may begin to idealize what that new home will be like, and may begin to compare it to what their life has been like with you. That’s natural, and it’s necessarily a reflection on your parenting skills – and it doesn’t mean that the child didn’t like being with you, or that you didn’t contribute something meaningful in the time they were in your care. If anything, while the child was with you, you offered enough stability and security that they can now really imagine what a forever family may be like, and instead of viewing moving as “bad,” they can daydream and find things that they may enjoy about it.
At the same time, the child may also begin to distance themselves from you. Perhaps they’d called you “mom,” and now that there’s an adoptive family identified, they start calling you by your first name. Or perhaps they start viewing your household rules as “suggestions,” not rules, and there’s more disagreement and tension in the air. Again, that’s all natural. Just as adults want to shield themselves from feelings of loss and sadness, so do children. This may be your foster child’s way of putting some space in your relationship to keep themselves from getting hurt. It’s not personal, though it can definitely be hard to remember that when you’re on the receiving end!
Be Involved in the Transition
Moving is hard on foster kids. Transitions are hard. Change is hard. It all feels like loss, all the time. To the extent that it’s appropriate, be involved in the transition. This might mean being available to talk to the new family to share information about the child’s likes and dislikes, routines, preferences; helping to plan overnight visits; and helping the child feel comfortable about the move. Being on the same page as the child’s new family can help ease a lot of anxiety that the child may have. And, it can show the adoptive family that you’re a source of support for them, which can help ease their anxiety as well. After the child transitions, the family may be able to rely on you as part of their “village” because they know you’re invested and committed to what’s right for this child.
Give Yourself Time (and Grace)
If you’ve been a foster parent for a while, you know that when a child moves from your home – whether it’s for reunification, to an adoptive family, or to relatives out of state – there’s a grieving period. That’s completely natural. Even if you support the move, it is still a transition for you too. And that means there will be things you’ll miss, and maybe times you’ll wish the child had stayed with you, and you’ll have to adjust to a new normal for your family. (Just as you had to adjust when the child first came to live with you.) Everyone grieves and adjusts at different rates, and it’s not always a linear process – so be kind to yourself through this. Give yourself and your family time to sort through all the mixed emotions you might have. And give yourself some grace if you do feel mixed emotions, and wish things were different. All those conflicting feelings just mean that you are human.
Let’s face it, transitioning into a new phase of life can be tough on all of us. Even if you’re someone who embraces change, you may need time to reflect on these transition periods – and that’s okay! In fact, it’s perfectly normal. It’s a way to practice self-care and ensure that you are mentally ready to take on your next placement. Whether foster parents are adjusting to a new child in their home, a new routine, or are preparing for a child to leave their home, they must treat these periods delicately. It’s easy for you focus on the needs of our children – it’s what you do best. But in order for us to care for someone else, we must also be caring for ourselves. Which is why, we encourage all foster parents to apply all these methods when transitioning a child from their home. However, if you still feel like you need help with this adjustment period, don’t feel ashamed. You’re not alone. Reach out for help and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. For some, having a community of fellow foster parents who have been through similar circumstances is the best way to heal. For others, talking with a spouse or therapist may be the best option. It doesn’t matter which method you prefer, only that you find what works for you, because as foster parents, learning to handle these transition periods will be a powerful resource in your foster parenting toolkit.