Saying Goodbye to Foster Children

When people first find out I am a foster mom, they ask a lot of questions.

The one question that everyone asks is, “How do you say good-bye to children after they have been a part of your family?” Not surprisingly, this was the first question I asked the panel of foster parents at my first training session back in 2006. The person to answer was a foster mom herself. I will never forget her answer, as it kind of shocked me.

“You just get used to it.”

Like a punch to the gut, I just took it, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t believe that you could just “get used to it.”

Foster kids become a part of your family. They come to family reunions, birthday parties, Christmas holidays, and family vacations. To say you “just get used to it”, seemed easier said than done.

The first few kids we had in our home were here one day day and almost gone the next. To be honest we were sad to see them go, but they went back to be with their parents who had completed the required programs. We were happy to help them launch back home. If I’m being totally honest, we were “getting used to it”. This was until the summer of 2009, when we were introduced to two children, siblings that came to our house for a short-term temporary placement. Their mom was in hospital, and no one was left to take them in. It was supposed to be for thirty days, but it turned into a wonderful two-and-a-half year foster parenting relationship.

As foster parents, our first goal is to see families reunited. My husband and I have always done whatever it takes to maintain contact and keep the communication between child and parent open and transparent. In some cases, you get to know the parents and extended families very well because of all of the contact. We knew that in this situation this was very apparent, as their family quickly became a part of our family.

At the time, child #1 was eight-years-old, and child #2 was ten. They fit in nicely with our children, not younger than our youngest and not older than our oldest.

Our son Isaac was the most excited, as he finally had a playmate to hang out with. We’d had children before, but child #2 was the closest to his age.

When these children first arrived, they were like every other child the first time they comes into our home; shy, quiet, and keeping to themselves. It wasn’t long before they warmed right up.

Child #1 broke through the quiet phase first, and we realized that we would need some patience to handle this precocious young child. However, Child #2 was quite the opposite, never really breaking above a whisper; partly because they could never hear themselves over their sibling.

The kids continued to see their mom, but it was becoming apparent that she was not able to care for them on a full-time basis. This meant that they would be staying with us for some time.

Here is where the “getting used to it” takes a bit of a turn. Knowing that they were going to be with us for a long period of time, we planned everything, including our family vacations, to include our new additions.

At the beginning of 2011, we planned a family trip to Disney World. This would be a first for them, and a first for us, too. Later that year we found out that my husband’s family was having a reunion. With these two in tow, we all packed up in the SUV and headed west, all the way to Banff, Alberta.

As you may know, if you spend any time with people on a trip, you can really get to know them. Two long trips in one year brought our family even closer. In fact, we no longer considered these children as foster kids. They had transitioned into being a part of our family. What a family it was!  Six kids, plus two parents. Eight is enough, was our motto. Life was good.

No matter how much training you have, the one moment you can’t prepare you for is the moment you can see the kids put down their baggage and relax. I’m not talking about their physical bags. I’m talking about emotional baggage. We noticed that the kids began to truly feel like our home was their home. They could finally relax.

After the reunion, we noticed it. Maybe it was because of the reunion. Maybe it was staying in so many hotels together. Or maybe it was the six days we spent together, packed in the SUV, playing Headbandz, I-Spy, and guessing cloud shapes. Whatever it was, it happened. We gelled like a fine-tuned machine. It was wonderful. We were one big, happy family.
And then, the phone rang.

I can remember it like it was yesterday. Dad was back in the picture. He wanted the kids to come back and live with him. We were happy that Dad was found. After all, our first goal, and the reason we got into this, was to help families reunite. However, this time, our family was going to be torn apart.

It was plain to see that we were definitely not going to be able to “just get used to” this one.

Fortunately for us, the parents recognized the bonds that we had built. Not just with my husband and me, but with our kids, too. They would, quite easily, refer to each other as brothers and sisters.

It was not long after they went home that we received a call, and the kids wanted to come back to our home for a sleepover. This was not new to us, as previous foster kids had come back to spend a night here or there, even staying for a weekend visit.

The sleepovers quickly grew from over night, to weekends, to week long visits over Spring Break and Christmas. We were like step-parents in their extended family.

It has been two-and-a-half years since they have returned home, and we continue to see them. Even as we foster other children. As you can imagine, our house is very busy with children. Up to nine kids sometimes.

Just recently, Child #1 came camping with us for the Civic long weekend. We chatted about future events, like getting married and having children. I look forward to being a part of all those moments, and these thoughts make me smile.

Now, when I’m asked the question, “How do you say good-bye to children after they have been a part of your family?” The answer is simple. We don’t.

We simply say, “See you soon.”


Please note – to protect the foster children and their family in this story we have chosen to refer to them as child 1 and child 2.