Foster care, family reunification, and saying goodbye
Foster carers play an important role in our community by providing safe and supportive homes for children who cannot live their family. They also play an important role in supporting a child in their care to transition back to living with their family.
While saying goodbye to a child in your care might be a sad experience, foster carers can take comfort in knowing that the best outcome for the child and the family has been achieved and that they have played a role in making that transition as positive as possible.
Foster care and reunification
Foster care is temporary care of children aged 0-18 by trained, assessed and accredited foster carers. Children are placed in foster care for a range of reasons, and foster care can occur as a result of a court order, or occasionally through a voluntary arrangement between the child’s parent and a foster care agency.
When a child or young person first comes into foster care, the aim is to support the parents to have their child or young person return to their care, as soon as it is safely possible. Whilst foster care is necessary, removing a child from their family is always the last resort. With the right tools and supports, many parents are able to have their children safely return to their care.
Reunification with family is decided by the Children’s Court of Victoria after the child’s wellbeing and best interests are taken into consideration. When this happens, it will be communicated to you by your foster care agency.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are placed in out of home care in accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Placement Principle.
Why is family reunification important?
A strong connection to family helps children feel safe and secure. Evidence shows that they have better physical, mental, emotional, educational and health outcomes, and a sense of connection and identity.
Separating a parent and child can also have profoundly negative effects on children, families, and communities. Even when it is necessary, research indicates that removing children from their homes interferes with their development. The more traumatic the separation, the more there can be significant negative developmental consequences.
"When you do accept them into your life, you do it knowing they are not your child, but you cherish them and give them the love anyway. You look at what you are contributing to in the bigger picture. At the end of the day, you will be thrilled to that the child is happy and back with their parents. We go into fostering to give kids a boost up in life and find their way. Whether that’s permanent or not it doesn’t matter." - Dale, foster carer
What is the role of foster carers?
The role of foster carers is to create a safe and supportive home for a child while their parents and families get back on their feet. Foster carers are part of the child or young person’s care team, which includes the foster care agency and the child’s birth family.
Foster carers help children to remain connected to their birth family during their placement. This can include sharing family stories, putting up family photographs in the foster household, bringing a child’s artwork to a parent visit, or keeping a journal about what the child is doing each week. Foster carers can also facilitate contact between children in their care and their birth parents, and may also facilitate contact with extended family members such as grandparents so that those bonds can remain strong.
“Even if you give them just one good memory that they can pull out of at a bad time in their life, then you’ve made a difference." - Andrea, foster carer
When appropriate, foster carers may be able to care for sibling groups to ensure that children remain connected with their family and experience stability and security together.
During COVID-19, many foster carers were able to make the most of online technologies to help keep families connected.
“What an amazing time to support children living away from their families during a pandemic. We are in a privileged position to support not only children but their families. We have often greater connection to families through the remote experience e.g. Skype, FaceTime, etc allowing us to create greater family/child (and carer) connection. A worthy outcome of a very difficult time.” – Victorian foster carer
Tips for saying goodbye:
Remember why you are doing it: The role of foster carers is to keep children safe until their families are able to. Evidence shows that children and young people have the best outcomes when raised by family where possible. At the end of the day, foster carers want what is best for the children and young people whom they are caring.
Be prepared: In some cases, decisions about reunification can be made quickly at court. Carers can prepare for this by staying on top of key court dates, printing photographs regularly for the child to take home, storing memorabilia in one place and thinking about how to say goodbye before it happens.
Celebrate with the child: Having a small afternoon tea or other rituals with children/young people can remind them they won’t be forgotten and mark the milestone with them.
Stay positive: Children and young people in care may experience a range of different emotions about reunification – change can be challenging! Carers can make saying goodbye easier for themselves and the children and young people by speaking positively about the experiences they have shared during the placement and about their birth families.
Take time to grieve: It’s normal to experience grief at the end of a placement. Self-care is important for foster carers, whether it is taking time to reconnect with your loved ones, taking some time out, or even having a break from new placements for however long you need.
Reach out for support: Foster carers are not expected to deal with the end of a placement on their own. Your agency will be available to debrief with you after a placement for as long as you need, as well as services like the Carer Assistance Program. Your friends and family will also be a great support.
Interested in becoming a foster carer?
Foster carers play a critical role in supporting children and young people in care to thrive. If you think you can create a safe and supportive environment for a child, then give fostering a go.
To start your fostering journey, give us a call on 1800 013 088 or enquire online.