Netflix and chocolate are not the cure - the grief of goodbyes

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Saying goodbye to children can be one of the most challenging aspects of being a foster carer.

In this blog, Vicki – a single mum of a 10-year-old boy and foster carer for the last seven years – talks about the grief she has felt when saying goodbye.

I am consistently told by some people: 'I couldn't foster because I couldn't let them go’ or ‘I would get too attached’. 

In fact, a foster carer needs to form an attachment with the children we look after, especially as it is very likely they are suffering from loss and trauma. They need acceptance of all that comes spilling out of their emotional baggage and we, as foster carers, must invest emotionally. We provide careful love and acceptance while preparing and supporting them for whatever the next chapter will be for them. They are absorbed into our home - they and all that comes with them weaves into the fabric of our lives and we become one little family.

But it is sometimes difficult, the accumulation of loss on ourselves and our families can take its toll.

The first three children I cared for were all young babies. Saying goodbye was difficult and naively I thought a binge on Netflix and chocolate was the cure before moving on to the next child in need. 
The next time the child was a bit older, his trauma was very evident. 

When this child left to live with, in my opinion the perfect parents for him, I was happy and relieved he was going to the right place. The new parents were brilliant - they sent pictures, communicated with me so I knew how he was, and they openly discussed his feelings of loss with him and me. I still felt connected, they knew and acknowledged his past was important. We continued to see him meeting up for days out. A year after he had left one of the parents texted me to acknowledge the anniversary, I suddenly found myself very tearful and upset. I realised in that moment how much I missed the child. Even with the continued contact the grief still existed.

The next children to live with us were two young siblings close in age. They stayed for over two years and everything about that placement was complicated and intense from the beginning to the end and beyond. During this time my own son experienced anxiety and panic attacks. 

Before these children were to move I had anticipated I might find it hard and the loss might trigger some grief I had from my past. I spoke to my support social worker who arranged an appointment with the clinician for after the children left.

The children moved and I was blindsided by the articulated lorry of grief that hit me, compounded by the realisation that the new parents were not as open to contact with us.

My son witnessed this grief that even as I write some months later seeps out. 

I have good support from my social worker and fellow foster carers friends and family for which I am very grateful, and I have had some sessions with the clinician where I am able to discuss my feelings. 

But to foster and do it well there is some sort of emotional sacrifice involved - some of us can some of us cannot. It’s ok to express that grief and we do and should receive support.

Find out more about The Fostering Network's Keep Connected campaign