What is Foster Care Reunification like?
“It must be so hard when they leave.”
Reunification is a common conversation piece when people find out I am a foster parent. I have written about this goodbye before but I get so many questions about this topic, it deserved another post.
We are approaching our 2 year anniversary as foster parents and have had to say goodbye to 7 little loves. I wouldn’t say it gets easier. In fact, I would probably say it has gotten harder.
With each life coming into ours, we have learned so many lessons. About these kids, about trauma, about unstable family life, about disabilities, drug addiction, mental health, and prostitution. We have learned to live day by day and be uncomfortable. We have learned our capacity to love is limitless. We have also learned how to handle the heartbreak. It starts with a feeling.
The unsettled feeling of is “my daughter” going to be ok when she goes back to her “real mom.”
Our 7th foster child “Sunflower” was such a huge light in our life. A very special little girl who’s smile turned me to mush. She is a fighter, smart beyond her years, stunningly beautiful and an emotional wreck.
When she came to us she could easily cry for 5 hours at a time. Rocking her back in forth in the rocking chair like she was a baby was the only way to calm her. She would be happy and laugh one minute and then collapse into a raging, sobbing puddle the next minute. We started to learn her triggers, but she always surprised us with new ones.
Asking her what she wanted to eat for lunch, telling her it was nap or bedtime. Telling her it was time to come to the table for dinner. Changing any part of her routine without a lot of warning, telling her it was time to go for a visit with her family. Telling her a social worker was coming over for a visit. Men. All of these things were triggers for her. They would set her off into sadness mixed with some anger and fear.
Month by month things got better and her tears turned to laughter, the look of innocence returning to her eyes. She started acting much more like a child than a depressed teenager. She became more playful and excited. She loved to run, and play at the park. A sharp contrast from the first time I took her to the park where she went down the slide twice then broke down crying not knowing what to do next.
Slowly she turned from a shell of a child, to a child filled with spirit. We were so blessed to have her in our home as our foster daughter for over 5 months.
Shortly after we had been told she would definitely be with us for another few months we got a phone call that devastated me. Her worker called me and told me she was leaving…in 10 days. I was shocked and saddened to be losing her so quickly after I had been told just a few days prior we would definitely have Christmas with her and maybe even longer.
If you want to see my ugly crying over that whole situation I filmed it…
After adjusting to the news we prepared her as best as we could in the short transition to move to kin. We talked to her about how exciting it was that she was able to live with her relatives and how she would be able to see her mom a whole lot more. She was excited to go home but every day during that transition period I saw more worry return to her eyes. She started having pee accidents and some of her behaviors started to regress. Although she was excited to go, I could tell she was sad to leave.
For the first time in her life she felt secure, she knew every need of hers would be met, she got to experience a lot of cool things, and she got to have 2 sisters that loved her deeply and were always willing to play with her. She got to experience the love of a father. One on earth and one in heaven.
People have varied opinions on foster parenting but I know that little girl loved it here and parts of her didn’t ever want to leave. Parts of us didn’t ever want her to go.
BUT. The goal is ALWAYS reunification. In her case, I was delighted to see how the family came together to support mom and Sunflower and to do everything necessary to have her back. They never missed a visit. They did everything asked of them by Family and Children’s Services and they were open to a relationship with me. They understood the value of Sunflower being with us and were not jealous of the love she had for our family but embraced it. They understood the more people loving her during this difficult time the better.
I always try my best to support the families of the kids in our care. Sometimes it is easier than others. In her case it was. When I saw them fight and put in all the effort they did it only made me want to fight harder for them as a family.
If you read the foster care blog post when she first came into care, you will see I never wanted her to leave. But perspective changes. At first, you know only about the child and why they came into care. As time goes on the multi-faceted case plays out and you begin to understand more.
When I was able to tell Sunflower she got to go home it was a sweet sweet day. A family facing adversity being able to overcome and reunite is a really beautiful thing.
When her mom said to me with empathy “I know you are going to be so sad to see her go, why don’t we get together for Halloween so you guys can trick or treat with her.” I knew this was the right thing for her. The emotional maturity her mom showed gave me hope. Although her family still has many challenges to face, they have come so far and I like to think I had a part in that.
The best part is we get to see Sunflower every week at gymnastics class, and she facetimes me with her mom when she is feeling upset and missing us. We have this beautiful daughter together. Her mom and I both love her like crazy and the more love a child has the better. I still get to see her grow up and be a support for her. I still get her big hugs and kisses and an “I love you” every week. I don’t lose all of her.
The reward of her story is why I put myself through the heartbreak. This is why I am a foster parent.