Four year old Sally and her six month old sister Jessie had been with us for four months; our first placement as foster parents. Placed into foster care due to parental drug abuse, as well as neglect, the two children had certainly added to our home and our family. Our own three children were roughly the same age as Sally, as they ranged between 3 and 6 years of age. Sally was rough and often misbehaved, while little Jessie suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, and slept very little at night. We were quickly tired and quickly worn out from the two additional children, as they brought with them challenges and tests that we had not experienced before. Yet, we also quickly grew to love them dearly, and the two girls became part of our own family.
"Hi, Mrs. DeGarmo, this is Stephanie," the girls' case worker said when Kelly answered the phone late that Friday evening. "The girls are going to go and live with their grandparents. We should be there to pick them up Monday after school. Will that be a good time for you?"
My wife hesitated, taking in a deep breath before answering. The call was unexpected, and the news was a bit of a shock. "Yes," she paused, forcing the reply out. Taking another deep breath, my wife went on. "Yes, that will be fine." After getting a few more details and information from the case worker Stephanie, Kelly hung up the phone, turning her eyes towards me. I could see the shock and sadness now beginning to settle in. She relayed the conversation to me, and I felt the shock commence to descend upon me as well.
Kelly divided the rest of that weekend preparing for the girls to leave, and trying to hold back the tears that were brought upon by the grief of losing the two children. We were both so very stunned by the lack of time we were given in advance, and the suddenness of the girls leaving. As I pointed out to Kelly a number of times that weekend, and over the course of the next several months that the girls were going to a good home, to the grandparents, it did little to help. Yet, the tears would not stop. For the next few weeks and months, the pain we felt in our hearts was heavy, as it felt as if we were losing our own children.
My friend, I have a bit of bad news for you. It really does not get any easier when children move from your home, and leave your family. But guess what? It shouldn't get any easier. This is how it really should be. If you experience grief and loss when your foster child leaves, this is a reflection of the love that developed between you and your child; a reflection of the love that you gave a child in need. As you know, children in foster care need us to love them; they need us to feel for them. When they leave our homes, we should grieve for them, as it simply means that we have given them what they need the most; our love.
I have watched over 45 children come to live with me and my family, and then move to other homes. Each time, my wife and I have grown to love these children, caring for them as if they were our very own, and treating them the same as all the others in our home; biological, adoptive, or foster. Each time a child leaves, my wife and I experience a great sense of loss, even when we can be comforted with the knowledge that the children have gone to a good and safe home. There have been times when my wife has sunk into deep grief, crying for days. We have both spent considerable time on our knees, lifting up a former foster child up in prayer. There have also been those times when we felt a small sense of relief when a child left our home. A few years back, we had a sibling group of three children in diapers, all with challenging behaviors and conditions. For those four months, we were run ragged, worn out, and tired. When the children left our home, to be returned to their mother, both my wife and I cried. At the same time, though, we felt that a burden had been lifted off of our shoulders, that we could breathe and relax a little, and focus on our own children some more.
Saying goodbye is never easy for anyone, and may be especially difficult for you and your foster child. After your foster child leaves your home, you may feel like you never wish to foster again, as the pain is too great. The grief you feel may be overwhelming. Please remember this though, my friend; you are not alone. It is normal for foster parents to feel loss and grief each time a child leaves a home. Take time to grieve, and remind yourself that you are not in control of the situation. Thanks for caring for children in need. Thank you for caring for children in foster care.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 13 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 45 children come through their home. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several foster care books, including the brand new book Love and Mayhem: One Big Happy Family's Story of Fostering and Adoption. Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John, He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website.