The grief and joy of reunification
If you support a family serving in the foster care system, you are likely aware that the goal of any case is reunification with the foster child’s family. Not only is reunification a beautiful example of God’s redemption, it is also the goal per the federal law that outlines Child Welfare practice. Reunification can be the most difficult stage for foster parents. Even though foster parents know reunification is the desired outcome, they almost certainly will experience grief over losing a child they have embraced and grown to love. The end of a placement is one of the times your foster family will need you the most. Below are some ideas on how to help the family celebrate reunification and grieve the loss of a beloved child.
Honor the loss: Whether the family had time to prepare, or the transfer was sudden; this transition is a loss. Validate the emotions the foster family is feeling, whatever they may be. Be patient and willing to listen about what the loss means to the foster parents and the emotions they are processing through. If needed and not already in place, help connect them to a local foster parent group. You can find a list of groups meeting in their area here.
Reignite your support team roster: Now would be a time to consider bringing prepared meals and reviving your support team’s prayer chain. Ask the family for specific things you can be praying over and check in regularly for the first few weeks. Treat the needs of this time just as intentionally and tenderly as you did at the time of placement.
Participate in a self-care activity together: Foster care presents a packed schedule of appointments, court dates, and home visits. It is likely that your foster family had little free time during this season. Use this time to help re-charge their batteries and catch up as friends or family. Go on a coffee date, a stroll in the park, or something else you both enjoy.
Remember the siblings: The grief of reunification is also experienced by any other children in the home. Siblings are just as involved in the day-to-day life of a foster child as parents and have built their own relationships and memories. Offer to host a playdate, go out for ice cream, or share a favorite activity with them. Be just as diligent about listening to their experience of the loss as you do the foster parents.
Gift a memorabilia item: Foster families share many memories, milestones, and special occasions with a child in their care. Consider gifting a photo album, frame, or scrapbook kit to help your foster family celebrate and remember these times. Contribute your own pictures or written memories of the foster child as well.
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