Tracie Baker - 13th December 2022
Over the years, I’ve had children leave my care for all sorts of reasons. That’s because fostering is so diverse. Not only because each child is unique but also because each child comes to you with their own specific care plan (set out by the Local Authority) and their own specific ideas about how things should be (set out by the child!)
For parent and child fostering, the parent is often being assessed as part of the placement, meaning that there is usually a defined length of time for it. I’ve had mums who have been successful in their parenting assessment and have gone on to do well with their baby, I’ve had mums who have been unable to cope and have left me with the baby.
I’ve looked after children for whom the plan is adoption. This process can take time and as such you don’t really know how long they will be with you. I’ve prepared children for their new families and a new beginning but also for the inevitable ending. This can be a difficult but rewarding piece of work to do with young children.
I’ve seen teenagers into independence, helped them to move on to the next stage of their lives and been at the end of the phone when they needed me. I’ve seen young people go on to live good lives and do well. And I’ve kept in touch with many of them.
I’ve also cared for teens who have only ever wanted to be with their birth families. At 16 they have voted with their feet! This is a natural and understandable pull and sometimes something that a young peron needs to give a good shot. At other times, it has been disastrous and heart-breaking to watch.
I’ve cared for children who have been reunited with birth family as part of their care plan. At times I have wholeheartedly felt this was the right decision, at others I have had to work with a plan I didn’t agree with.
However things end, end they do. This throws up all sorts of issues for the children and young people who may really struggle with endings in the context of the loss and trauma they have suffered. They may not know how to deal with goodbyes or how to say goodbye to someone well, to keep them in their lives. For many, a clean cut is the least painful option.
In my experience, for the foster carer, each ending is difficult. I have cared about each child I have fostered. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it! Each time a child leaves, it throws up all sorts of feelings. There is grief there. Sometimes there are questions, self-doubt, what-ifs. And often, even after many years, I have taken endings personally. This is a natural reaction, after all fostering happens in your own home and takes enormous commitment and emotional investment. We all just want the best outcome for the children we look after. I’ve also had to deal with the sense of loss experienced by my own children, which can be complicated to navigate.
Foster carers need many things in order to manage the process of a child leaving. They need good counsel and support from their Supervising Social Worker, something I have always had and remain ever grateful for. Foster carers need good friends to seek solace in. Foster carers need other foster carers who truly understand what they are going through. Training and development plays an important role in understanding endings and our responses to them.
Above all, we need hope. That when all is said and done there will be good to come out of the care you have offered. This can be elusive, but with time that little flame ignites. Time will always tell.