I recently spoke to a former youth in care who was describing the pain, abandonment, heartbreak, loss and feelings of worthlessness he felt as he was bumped to his 6th foster home. How do you have any self-worth if you suddenly wake up in a new home with no transition and no idea why? Wouldn’t you assume it’s your fault? Wouldn’t you assume you are worth as much as piece of trash? How would you feel if this is the 6th time this has happened?
There are many reasons why children move placements some are even positive! Placement breakdowns, changing jurisdictions, change in the dynamics of the foster home, moving kids to keep siblings together, foster parents move out of area, investigations, disintegrating health of someone in the foster home, death of a foster family member, and the list goes on. Not all changes of homes are because the family didn’t want a foster child to stay. Many of these changes are unavoidable and must happen for the health & safety of the foster child and/or the foster family. Like I said before, some are positive moves but sometimes we still do the transition so poorly that the move is still traumatic and not helpful even thought it’s the best move for a child.
The Child Protection system has been moving kids around for as many years as the agencies have been in place. When you talk to a former youth in care or an adult who has ever been in foster care you are most likely going to hear of how many foster homes they were in. There are many books chronicling the life story of former foster children and all their many foster homes. I haven’t any statistics but from my 18 years of doing this job, the number of moves seem to stay the same. In 2000, it was not unheard of for a child to be moved from foster home to foster home over 5 times. Today, in 2019, it is still common to hear of kids who have been in that many homes. We have had an infant who had already been in 4 homes. That’s five different mothers in less than a year when you include the baby’s birth mother! You can see the fear in their eyes, the mistrust and the trauma of severed attachments.
Of course not all children have had to endure that many moves but all children in care have at least endured one. One traumatic move from their first parent to a new one. That is damaging enough for any child.
There has always been a push to lessen the number of moves for each child. Since the number of moves don’t seem to be lessening, is there a way to make the moves easier for kids? Moving a child is damaging. This we know. I have spoken with many adult former foster children and the feelings they say they felt at the time are lonely, scared, confused, abandoned and angry. Interesting. Those are the same emotions they feel when they are first removed.
We as agencies, and foster parents must do better for the kids. How can we do better?
The pat answer would be one foster home per child until that child can go back home. Some agencies strive for this and even have it as a motto for posters. However, for the many good reasons listed above, that can’t always be the answer. So if we can’t always prevent the moves, what else is there to do?
My proposition is to work harder to make the moves better.
We should be treating each move the same way we treat launching a child onto adoption. We often spend much time making sure transitions are done well before a child moves home or onto their forever family yet we bounce kids to a new foster home without much thought at all.
A friend of mine recently received a baby as the agency wanted to keep the child with her sibling. Keeping the two together makes perfect sense. Guess what the original transition plan was for moving an attached baby to a new family?
You guessed it….nothing!
No thought was put into the feelings or stress on the baby until the new foster mother started pushing for more. Pre-placement visits were scheduled, good questions started to be asked such as, “What kind of formula is she one?”, “What settles her now?” and “What is her schedule like?” The new foster parent had to work hard to find things to create security for a baby who has just lost her whole world. There was no need to rush and certainly no baby should be removed from her attachment and plunked into a new home without a transition. A transition plan could have been reached by having the worker get the two foster parents together and discussing the child and the best way to move her. I’m glad the foster mother fought for as much transition as possible for the little babe but foster parents shouldn’t have to be asking. It should be common knowledge to all agencies that moving a child like that is detrimental to the child’s emotional well-being.
This practice of creating trauma and abandonment in foster kids has gone on too long. Too many children and adults have suffered needless pain and abrupt moves at the hands of agencies that are supposed to be protecting them. With a little more planning and effort we can greatly reduce the pain and suffering of kids who have already felt that same pain when removed from their first family.
Another foster home had all their foster children removed within an hour due to an investigation of the foster dad. The foster children who had been in that home for the last 3 years, had no idea what was happening, they were moved to a new foster home never to return. Was that necessary? NO! With all investigations, children should still be allowed visits with their foster parents even if they must be supervised. We do that for birth parents who have had their kids removed because it’s best for the children.
Why would we give the child more sense of abandonment? The children are often returned to the foster home so why would we not have visits for the child so they don’t have to feel abandoned during that time frame?
My goal for this year is to come up with a list of ways we can make transitions from foster home to foster home better. My hope is that all foster families can push for better transitions for the sake of the kids. Here’s my list so far and I would love to have your input and ideas added so we can help make these unfortunate moves be less traumatic for kids.
- Pre-placement visits at the new foster home. Build a sense of trust and make the move less scary; less unknown.
- Tell the child as much about the new foster home as is known. Do they have pets or kids? Will he sleep in his own room or share?
- Pre-placement sleepovers.
- Pre-placement transition planning with workers, both sets of foster parents and the child.
- New foster parents meeting the child at their former placement.
- Conversations about the child’s life, preferences,
- Discussions with the child about the reasons for the move.
- For infants, keeping the same smells & sensations are important. Using the same shampoo, lotions, diapers, bath towel, bed linens, swing, etc. are all helpful for the infant to feel secure.
- Routines and schedules are well documented for the new foster placement.
- Sending a child’s toys, clothes, books, favourite pillow are all comfort items that should not be withheld from them. These are the only items that bring familiarity with them so think of as many as you can.
- Lifebooks are made and sent along with the child. Include photos of all the members of the foster family.
- Child’s worker should also attempt to keep in contact for a while even if the file is transferred to a new agency in a new town. Anyone who can keep some contact with the child the better the child will feel.
- Post-placement visits with the former foster family and especially foster siblings.