THOUGHTS ON FOSTER PARENT GRIEF
BY BETTY EVANS
Foster parents deal with loss--either loss of a child to return home, to adoption or another foster home, or loss of their license. Grief is inevitable. It is the natural consequence of the cycle of bonding and separation. It cannot be eliminated or even lessened. It can only be handled with empathy or with disdain by those close by--or what is worst of all, by ignoring it.
Some of the situations I have heard about cry out for better handling! For instance: A toddler was told by his caseworker that he'd been "terminated" and would "soon" get a new mommy and daddy. The poor little kid was plunged into a 6-month void of belonging nowhere. He knew he was leaving but had no new place to get acquainted with, no new people to learn to know. The foster family had to cope with a violent acting-out child, and were furious.
No one had asked how they might have handled this. They resented their little boy being told of the pending move before they were. In fact, they would have held out for NOT telling him until a family had been selected. The foster family viewed the episode as a real error by the caseworker which resulted in chaos in their family and hurt to the child. As I see it, the error was in not including the foster parents in the plan for preparing the little boy for adoption. The family's grief at the pending separation would have been channeled into an acceptable form, rather than anger. Foster parents wonder why they are trusted with the total care of the child but not trusted to have good insight and advice in the decision making.
Another incident: a foster mother was perceived as a threat to an adoption placement and her contact with the adopting parents was strictly limited. The "threatening behavior" was simply adamant insistence on realistically describing the child's degree of retardation, as the mother feared an eventual adoption breakdown. The agency apparently feared the loss of the placement. Result: a frantic, fearful foster mother who caused so much commotion throughout her agency, it's a miracle any more foster children were placed in her home. Also, a failed adoption because the adopting family expected a child who would respond to their affection.
This, however, he could not do; he was not developmentally able to. The solution in this case would have been to rely on the MHMRA evaluation which advised against adoption because of the child's incapacity for reciprocity of love, an essential emotional need for a successful adoption.
The reality of grief and its handling are so well known that much effort goes into training to prepare foster parents to cope with it. My perception is that my agency expects me to eliminate grief by learning about it. I can't. It's there, it's real, and it's terrible. I need help handling it. I need to know "they" know I'm suffering and they don't distance themselves from me when I need them most. AND--handling my grief is easier for my agency if I am TOTALLY involved in the details of a move. If I am this undone by grief, think how much more terrifying is the grief of a child. I can better empathize with the suffering child I love, if somebody's empathizing with my suffering. Increase my strength and I can pass strength along to my child. Increase my grief by insensitivity and I am weakened in my help to a grieving child.
There are predictable stages of grief. In interpreting them (in terms
of foster parent behavior), these ideas may be a way of modifying undesirable
results in an episode of adoption:
If you would like to communicate with Mr. Evans, he can be reached at:
Houston, Texas 77024
Mr. Evans has vast experiences in foster care and foster care issues and is a wonderful resource.