From Foster Home to “Forever Home”
The process of moving children from the foster home to their ‘Forever Family Home’ can be a very intense and stressful time for all involved. The children in your care are meeting complete strangers who will be taking over their daily needs, the new parents are anxious and nervous about this new role they are taking on and we have complete strangers who will be more or less living in our house. Will the children like their new ‘Forever Family’? Will the new parents like the children? How will we get on with the adoptive parents, will we like them and cope with having strangers in our home?
Our job is to help this transition period go as smoothly as possible for everyone, by giving help and advice to the adoptive parents on the children’s routines, their likes and dislikes and any strategies we may use to help the children through difficult issues and to answer any questions that may arise during the transition period about all aspects of care for the children. We also need to reassure the children and encourage trust and attachments between them and their new ‘mummy and daddy’. Once a couple has been identified and matched to the children the process can be extremely fast. At times it seemed too fast and we felt like we wanted to hold on to the children for a little longer.
We have been involved with this process twice and it was hard both times to say goodbye when our work was complete. On both occasions, we have had an informal meeting with the adoptive parents where we have got to know a bit about them and passed on some information about the children and our experiences. The children’s social workers were keen to get our impressions of the adoptive parents after these meetings. I can remember thinking, this couple will never cope, these children need to be with us for long before they’re ready to leave, but realised that this was just me not wanting to let go!
An ‘Appreciation day’ was then arranged. Us, the adoptive parents and all of the professionals involved with the children’s welfare meet and discuss the children. A date was then decided for the first introductions and a timetable put together for the transition period. The adoptive parents will sometimes have a gift for the children, they will provide photos and information about their home for the children to look at and sometimes a DVD to accompany the photos, these should be shown to the children as often as possible before the initial introductions so that they become familiar with the faces and voices, this is a very important part of the introduction process and allows the children to get to know ‘mummy and daddy’ so that at the first meeting they won’t feel like strangers. This can help the bonding happen more quickly! The children become very excited by seeing their new bedrooms and pets and can watch the DVD over, and over again until we went to bed and reciting every word with the accompanying music going around in our heads!!
The length of the transition period can differ, depending on circumstances but it usually takes place over 2 weeks. This is one of the transition timetables that we worked from:
Monday – Appreciation Day
Wednesday – 5.15–6 pm, initial introductions. This is usually kept quite short so as not to overwhelm the children.
Thursday – 2-6pm, Adoptive parents spend time with us and the children to observe the afternoons routines but leave before bedtime.
Friday – 1.45-6 pm, as above but adoptive parents spend more time on their own with the children.
Saturday – 9-3 pm, spend time with children playing. We take the children out to the park with the adoptive parents.
Sunday – 6.30 am- lunchtime. Observe the morning and lunchtime routine. Adoptive parents take over an arts and craft session during the morning.
Monday – 11.30 am – bedtime. Adoptive parents take over bedtime routine.
Tuesday – 6.30am- lunchtime. Adoptive parents get the children up and take over morning routine.
Wednesday – 10 am – bedtime. Most of the children’s daily routines are supervised by the adoptive parents.
Thursday – 11 am. Review of how everything is progressing. 3 pm we take children to their new home for tea. Adoptive parents bring them back and do the bedtime routine.
Friday – 10 am. Children are picked up by the adoptive parents and brought back after tea. Adoptive parents do the bedtime routine.
Saturday – Adoptive parents get a day off to recharge their batteries, realising that it may be their last chance to ever do this again!!
Sunday – Adoptive parents take the children out for the day.
Monday – 11 am. Review on progress. We take children to their new home and they are brought back to us after tea.
Tuesday – 9 am. Adoptive parents arrive to pick up the children. We all say our goodbyes and off they go to their new Forever Family Home.
The times stated above can vary and are basically guidelines, often the adoptive parents liked to sit down with us after the children were settled in bed and discuss various aspects of the day. We always answered questions honestly and gave as much advice as we possibly could to help with any issues that arose. We got through a lot of teabags during those discussions and the odd glass of wine. Sometimes it would be quite late by the time we had finished dissecting the day and we would go to bed feeling completely drained! But the adoptive parents always left with a smile, even on the most difficult days, and from day one they saw the children as their own, which made it a little easier for us to let go.
The children also need a lot of support to help them adjust and spending time talking to the children, explaining what is happening in a way they can understand becomes an important part of this process. There is the excitement of the first meeting, one little boy was standing on the steps when his new mummy and daddy arrived, shouting ‘daddy, daddy’ which was quite overwhelming for us all, then him not understanding why ‘mummy and daddy’ weren’t taking him home on that first day. Then the growing confusion as we step back from taking care of their needs and ‘mummy and daddy’ start to take over. It can lead to some behavioural issues arising. The children would play us against the adoptive parents, testing the boundaries to see who was going to react, but even though we had an audience watching we still had to keep those boundaries in place and this allowed the adoptive parents to help keep those boundaries in place and learn that sometimes ‘timeout’ was needed otherwise chaos would rule. It is very hard to step back and let others care for the children’s needs and comfort them if they were hurt or upset, sometimes they would run to us and we would guide them back to ‘mummy and daddy’. Even though this was hard for us, we found the sooner the children accepted that ‘mummy and daddy’ could take over these roles the easier it was for the children to accept them and so help the bond grow, but we were always there for an extra bit of reassurance and a cuddle if it was needed.
It is a great feeling to know we have helped these new families meet, adjust and get to know each other, but also very emotional when we say goodbye to them, and I will admit to a few tears falling and having to quickly say goodbye and turn to run indoors before the children saw, as I knew I couldn’t cause them any distress when they were so excited. The adoptive parents we met have been lovely and they even got used to our sense of humour! They were keen to learn from our experiences and learn about each child’s personality and needs. We have also been enough lucky to have kept in touch, having regular photos and updates of how all their lives have changed, sometimes having a giggle at the stories they tell us and reminding them that we do have a ‘no returns’ policy ?!!
Author: B and A Atkins