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For many foster parents, the hardest part of fostering is when your child leaves. Ultimately, the goal of all foster situations is reunification with the birth parents. When my foster daughter left, it caught me by surprise how it impacted me emotionally. Though it’s a happy occasion that the child can safely live with their birth family, it’s also sad as you’re losing your child. Here are four ways that foster parents can deal with their sadness when their child leaves.

Take a break
After your foster child leaves, don’t immediately accept a new placement. My wife and I were able to go to Japan for some months, but I must admit we were eager to foster again very quickly. We loved the experience. Things that are difficult and push us past comfort are often the same experiences we remember for a lifetime and think of as a time of great human growth. While we watch TV, on the other hand, our brain stops developing. When we do something like care for a foster child, that TV time is replaced with deep learning of important lessons about the world around us. It is critical that we schedule time for ourselves between placements. For us, this allowed our relationship with our first foster daughter to develop and deepen unexpectedly and we have not yet fostered a second child. By taking some time to process our feelings of loss we were able to eventually reconnect and stay involved in her life. The break allowed us to rest and recharge, we thought so that we could be ready for another child.  

Find support
Lean on others for support as you grieve the loss of your child. You can rely on family and friends to help you get through, but you can also look for resources through the agency. There are many support groups for foster parents, and it’s very likely that they’ve all gone through the same situation. Seek out their support, as they’ll be able to emphasize and give you advice on how to manage, seeing as they’ve gone through the process themselves.

Let yourself grieve
After a foster child leaves your home, you may be reluctant to fully let yourself grieve, believing that since the child wasn’t truly yours, you have no right to feel so upset. However, by trying to act tough, you’re only hurting yourself. If you didn’t grow attached to your foster child, then you weren’t being the best parent. You should treat and love the child as if it were biologically your own, so it’s normal to be devastated when they’re gone. Let yourself take the time to grieve the loss of your foster child fully. Grieve in whatever way feels best and most healing to you. However, don’t let yourself wallow in your grief forever. Balance the good with the bad. Realize that however hard this was for you, you have made a considerable difference in the life of a child who needed a loving adult. The process is hard and painful, but so necessary for the thousands of children in the system.