Once again, we find ourselves preparing to say goodbye to a foster child. After 7 months with us, and even longer in foster care, we are happy (and sad) to help him transition back home to his biological family.
We have had the privilege of welcoming ten foster children into our home, and regardless of the amount of time they are with us, at some point, we have had to say goodbye. People will ask if it gets easier with each goodbye and the honest answer is “no, but”. No, it doesn’t get easier, but I know how to better prepare for it now.
As the reunification date approached for our first long-term placement, I couldn’t even imagine a scenario in which I would have to physically hand over our little guy and possibly never see him again. The mere thought was too horrible for me to even plan for. In the back of my mind, I thought this couldn’t possibly happen. Surely, someone would intervene. But of course, it happened, and I survived. I even signed up to do it again and again.
Now when I picture reunification, I’m picturing a reality. Each time is different, but there are constants. I will be both heartbroken and happy at the same time. I will feel both satisfied with my contribution and unsure of my future role.
Now that I’ve been through reunification a few times, there are a couple things I try to do in preparation. I assemble the things in our home that the child is most attached to (besides us) so I can send those items with them. This usually includes blankets, stuffed animals, toys and books. I’ve also made it a tradition to get specific books that will be help the child navigate the transition. Two of my favorite books to send home with our kids are “In My Heart” by Mackenzie Porter and illustrated by Jenny Lovlie and “Love You From Right Here” by Jamie Sandefer and illustrated by Pamela Goodman.
“In My Heart” is a great book for any child who may struggle with separation anxiety but “Love You From Right Here” is an interactive book written specifically for children in foster care. The book is meant to be a keepsake where you can include pictures and memories of the child. I write about the child’s time with us and my favorite things about them. Sometimes, this is my last opportunity to tell my foster child how much I love them. I’m not sure if the book ever gets read to them after they leave, but I like to think it does.
Lastly, I write a note to the parent or parents. This is where I tell them how proud I am of their progress, how much I love their child, and what an honor it has been to be part of their journey. Sometimes I hear back from them and other times I don’t. Either way is hard and either way, I understand. Regardless of whether it’s a goodbye or a see you later, there is something so beautiful about this last day. A memory to be cherished and celebrated as well as grieved.