Relationships with foster carers must not be an afterthought
For four years Kerry* has fostered babies and toddlers with her husband. Here she explains why she supports our Keep Connected campaign and feels passionately that transitions within and out of the care system must focus on children’s needs and protect their relationships with their foster carers.
Just before Christmas, sisters Emma* and Leah* came to us aged two and three. They arrived without shoes or coats, having rarely left their home. Everything was new and challenging to them: walking on grass, mealtimes, sleeping in a bed. We worked hard to help them settle and understand who was looking after them, at first they would try to wander off with strangers.
The girls had other siblings, including a baby brother, who they missed hugely. Leah particularly was distraught at losing the baby and would look for him in other prams at play group.
In the months that followed, the girls started to feel secure and built a stable attachment to us. Everyone was positive about our care and the progress the children were making. CAMHS had recommended that when an adopter was found the transition must be meaningful.
We had a holiday planned for July, and I had arranged for a carer that the girls knew to stay at our home and look after them for the week. We used roleplay and a doll’s house to help them understand that we were going away, but that we would be coming back.
A foster to adopt family was found just weeks before we were due to leave. It was suggested that the transition start when we were on holiday, so I wrote a letter of concern to say that it was not in the girls’ best interests to meet their new parents while with a respite carer.
Not a child-led process
We weren’t listened to. The transition started while we were away, with the adopters speaking to the girls on FaceTime. By the time we returned a week later, they were calling the adopters Mummy and Daddy, and were clearly confused.
We knew the children better than anyone, but we had no opportunity to input into the transition plan. We didn’t feel it was a child-led process and there had been little thought given to contact with their other siblings, which has had a lasting impact on the older brothers and sisters.
After a week of the transition in my home, I drove the girls 200 miles away to their new family. Despite promises of ongoing FaceTime and visits, that was the last time I saw them. The adopters had logged complaints against us and decided that the girls weren’t to see us again.
A devastating experience
My whole family was devastated by this experience, we questioned whether we could continue to foster and risk putting our own children through this trauma again. This is not the only awful experience we have had when children have moved on from our care, and it doesn’t get easier. We still miss the girls hugely, and worry that they will feel abandoned by us.
Foster carers need to be involved in transition planning to make sure it’s designed around the child. A clear plan for children to stay connected to their foster carers needs to be built in from the start, not just as an afterthought.
Kerry’s family is not alone in losing contact with children they care about when they move on. Our Keep Connected campaign wants to see transition planning change so that unless there is a reason not to, children are supported to maintain contact with the important people in their lives after they move.
*names have been changed