Impact of Loss on Foster Kids and Foster Parents

What are the losses that foster children and foster parents feel, and what are ways to cope with this loss? Host Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of Creating a Family, the national infertility & adoption education and support nonprofit, interviews Karen Buckwalter, Director of Program Strategies, at Chaddock, a Residential Treatment and Trauma & Attachment Center, and author of Attachment Theory in Action: Building Connections Between Children and Parents.

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[00:00:00] Today we’re talking about the impact of loss on both foster kids and foster parents. With Karen Buckwalter she is the Director of Program strategies at Chaddock and TRADOC is a foster care agency and they also have a Trauma and Attachment center. And Karen is the author of attachment theory and action building connections between children and parents. Karen thank you so much for joining us today to talk about this. As I said they really important topic. Welcome thank you. I’m very happy to be here. You know lost just feels inherent in foster care. I mean a child is is I mean the obvious loss is the loss of family a child is removed often very often suddenly from their home. So certainly loss of their their parent or parents or parent is a is a big and very obvious loss. But I think there are so many other losses that children face when they enter foster care. So let’s talk about some of the other losses just to kind of give a more full circle to the to the depth of loss that is associated with entering foster care for most children. Yes. You bring up a very important point that you know there’s that obvious overriding loss that would be in everyone’s minds although we will. We’ll talk later about sometimes that part about but also the obvious ones. You know it could be loss of culture perhaps your family of origin the Hispanic family and you were going to have a family of a white family or another race family. So there’s that loss of culture I think time.

[00:02:00] What are people that look like you. I think people really underestimate what it means when someone says to a child oh you have your eyes or look you you stand just like your mom. Those are just little passing comments and we don’t think much about them when we say them to biological children but sometimes for children who look different. You know they’re not hearing those kinds of comments that allow them to feel connected. So you know and then of course there’s the medical history depending how connected they’re going to be remaining with their family. I think sometimes you know baby pictures childhood mementos get get lost in the shuffle. And another one I think people really don’t think about is birth Twitter. You know there’s a whole book about being the youngest being an oldest being a middle child but in foster care you could be an oldest and suddenly now you’re younger in one home and maybe you’re a middle child in the next I you know faith tradition maybe your family’s Methodist and you go to a Baptist family or family where faith isn’t even a part of their life. So I just think you know some of the things we often overlook and don’t think about as carefully as maybe would be helpful. Yeah. And you know one of the it comes back to you talk about loss of birth or to another loss is loss of your role in the family. We got an interesting question from Brenda excuse me on that. She says My foster daughter is really suffering in some ways.

[00:04:01] I think the biggest loss for her is her role as a mother figure and her little brothers in her younger brothers life we are fostering both kids. We have insisted that we are the parents and she can relax into just being a kid and not always in charge and responsible for her brother. Her brother has accepted this really well but she is fighting us on it. I wonder if it would be better to allow her to share this role because it seems so hard for her. You know me Brenda brings that such a good point that parental vacation is a term that is sometimes used. Older children and families particularly families where there has been neglect have very often stepped into a parental role. So let’s talk some about that. It’s such an important question and I think the answer is going to be of both. And I think that we don’t want to continue having that Wolf for the child a child that has to be overly responsible a child that has had to cope with TIME about adult kinds of problems that sort of thing. So I wouldn’t recommend. But let’s let her do some of that. I think the parents are on the right track with saying we’re the adults will take care of things. But but the both key is to really be honoring that child’s experience how hard that must be for you. You know saying things like that’s that you were so used to taking care of your little brother. I mean I wonder sometimes you just feel like how can I trust somebody else to do that and maybe you feel a little empty inside or not sure how to handle this.

[00:05:55] But I think the way to go about not continuing that idea that she has to be the parent because you know we don’t want that of course but at the same time recognizing the difficulty of that for the child and that it is cost for the child the last of war whether it was a functional or dysfunctional role. It was in writing that the child was accustomed to Yeah and you know then and then we do make an attempt very often to keep siblings together. But sadly that is not always possible particularly in larger sibling groups or when one of the children has a has a significant need. So obviously I guess that the other side to this is is a loss of siblings. This is certainly a possibility as well as the loss of grandparents aunts uncles extended family. Yes all of those are are real. Let’s talk about the loss of school sadly children are not always able to continue in the school that they have gone to and so loss of school also also means loss of friends and both in school but in their community and depending on the age of the child that can be huge. And also the boss of a teacher we know that sometimes you know teachers are potentially classrooms where they may have the same child although they are sometimes with our children whether parents or their children and brutal I think that was that teacher that here is pure relationships familiar feeling of going to school knowing the reach of your school is so important to be thinking about. And how can we acknowledge that that hard.

[00:08:01] You know I think Don so much of what we’re talking about here is validating and acknowledging how hard that must be an opening space for that child to express that while at the same time then supporting the news. How how can you get involved and maybe help facilitate some friendships and let teachers know you know without sharing too much private information. Why your child may need some extra support and after attention in a transition like that. I think that you bring up such a good point with the school situation. Yeah and we’re going to circle that we’re going to be moving directly into talking about what foster parents can do to help with loss. But before we do there’s one last that I bring up because I have seen a number of cases where this was felt so intensely by the child that is loss of pets. They oftentimes as all children do attach to their animals. And I don’t know whether this could just be an easy way that this loss is manifesting itself as the greatest one of these cases because it’s covering up for other losses. But children can feel intensely the pain of leaving a dog or a cat or other pet behind yes. That’s so true. I think that you know animal lovers conditionally out there there are always happy to see you and you know wanting to cuddle with you or even you know that may not be as social as dog. Well you have that cat wondering whether your lagger Harper perhaps and that feeling that that condition that you know that can be real for almost stability and knowing how that animal can react to them that may be nesting in some other areas of their lives. Absolutely yeah.

[00:10:19] And it’s it can be expressed very intensely. I maybe perhaps because it’s a safe way to express a deep loss to it to be missing a pet. It feels safer. So let’s talk about how children express loss at different developmental stages and keeping in mind that that chronological age may or may not be reflective particularly of children in foster care. Chronological age may not reflect their developmental stage. So let’s start with very young children infants who are removed from a familial familial familiar environment. How might an infant act Hamide nymphet express loss. Well I think that you may see changes in eating patterns you know. So maybe when you hear understood that you know this might be the feeding schedule or what was going on with the trial and suddenly the child not wanting to eat or is going to have trouble sleeping at night. And that wasn’t clear before. And I think you know in such a case it’s very hard to tease out you know which related to trauma what’s related to grief. It’s the same thing with our little one. And even many of our older ones it’s these behaviors that are showing this is having an impact and this is difficult for them. They’re not being able to share the words. And I think some of those tried and true things that we talked about you know having Richie having structure having predictability all of those kinds of things that we often talk about with parenting in general become a very important aspect of this to create a feeling of safety and connection and children to of WA.

[00:12:31] Yes some of the behaviors we might say are excessive crawlin or a lack of crime. Yeah I was wrong. Both can be reflective and changing in appetite and our eating patterns and sleeping patterns. What about one of the things that I think most foster parents have an instinct to do and that is to listen as a child comes to immediately put the child in fresh clean clothes and wash the clothes that the child has been in. But what about the sense of smell. As far as being able familial smell familiar smells being comforting to a child in that first first short period of time or the first time when the child is in your home. Yes I think it’s true that we knew that olfactory sense that sense of smell we know can be both. And we even as Gandolfini and get a sense of something and it takes you right back to a certain experience. So I think that it’s it’s not always a good idea to think you know I’m not saying you should leave them in the same club but it’s something that I really think some of the things around. I’ve had success sometimes with little children sleeping you know with a familiar piece of clothes or a stuffed animal or something that they brought with them for for the exact you know some people think maybe they could cuddle with this. I think often it could be the exact thing that you’re talking about that there’s that sense or that piece of familiarity that that feels comforting and familiar to them. And that I love being I’m so good.

[00:14:16] Oh I was just going to say I’m so glad that you mentioned the crying and that it can be excessive crying for not crying at all. I think people don’t realize babies can be depressed and not crying is not necessarily a good good thing it could mean that they’re just shut down. I think we have an idea with these babies that will that when they’re frankly they’re crying. And you know if they’re quiet then all is good. And so I think it’s very important that we know that not necessarily. So it could be but you need to look at that maybe more carefully that you’re not having crying and that the baby’s kind of withdrawn and sad and depressed. So on what parents can do to help this age group foster parents when they go they say new child to an older infant will said some of the things that a parent can do we just talked about one which is don’t automatically remove all the familiar smells from the child even if you think that the shirt that they came in is is grody looking you can either if not have the child continue to wear it allow the child to carry it or sleep with it or or something along that. So that’s certainly one thing. What about the responding to the child’s needs. I think we oftentimes have this concern that we’re setting up a bad habit. The child is let’s say crying and wants to be held constantly and you’re thinking. Good heavens I’m never going to get anything done. What about the issue of of promptly and quickly responding to the child’s needs and not worrying about setting up bad habits.

[00:15:59] Well I think that that is something that is the misunderstanding in the more secure and safe Charles Shields a few more independent. They’re going to be. And so the way we do nationally in a situation that we’re describing or we want to get a hold of them a lot more than you would a child that’s been with you a longer period of time or a birth child either. And so even I would say rather than decreasing some of that because you don’t want to build a bad habit increase that even to being able to wear the baby in a packed backpack really being there to calm the baby with locking and holding and swaying and these kinds of things that are that are using for children having some music can also be something good I mentioned did Judy issues with feeding and so sometimes feeding shed rather than taking place in the kitchen with everything that can feel a little chaotic. Maybe there can be certain times where feeding can take place in a more quiet way with less distractions around them. So that is going to pay off in the long run in the child being less needy as you move on to the future by securing that connection and being available for that child experiencing such tremendous loss at the beginning. The other kind of front loaded is what I’m signing. And if you don’t do it that way and if you’re like like you said a very common thought. No one spoil them I don’t want them to be clean. Generally the behaviors are going to last even her instead of diminish if you take the approach of not meeting them specially with children this young.

[00:18:02] But I think with all ages of children making such a huge transition like the All right now let’s move up the age and developmental stages to the preschool of the preschool age. OK so some of the things that in many ways this is really difficult the toddler years toddler and early preschool years because the children have no idea what’s happening. You know they don’t understand cause and effect and they don’t understand permanence. All they know is that everything in their life has been turned upside down and and they don’t have the reasoning skills to understand any of anything any of the causes that may have resulted in this. So what are some of the behaviors we might see that could be a manifestation of loss and grief. Well I think that you may see regression in developmental milestones have been reached so that could be maybe they’re reading their bad or they’re having having problems with elimination issues or again same with babies there could be problems with eating infrequent and of the child waking up you know at this age had been sleeping soundly for the night and waking up you know multiple times and. I think irritability can be another thing that you might see here. And if there are other children in home not getting along so well in that kind of thing. And I think they may also have a lot of questions and maybe asking the same questions over and over. Yes the pinning on the child. Well I think I think all of that could be going on in that preschool age. You know another thing that we sometimes see is a child becoming overly controlling they’ve lost control for everything so perfectly logical thing to try to do is gain control.

[00:20:05] And when a child this age tries to gain control it’s usually it looks ridiculous to us adults. You know they they become stubborn they say no to everything which is already something it’s developmentally appropriate but can become even more. A child could be digging their their heels in even more as a way of trying to set back some order into what feels like a very disordered life. Yes I think that’s. And like you said you know we talk about this ages as children watching the game begin Wesch as just a normal part of development and then having that increase to a level that is taxing on the parent. You know when you control everything and really having difficulty following any direction or you know falling any parent Sparty about different things. I think parents can still I mean challenge every little step you know if I day blues guys blues she says it’s green or or if I say you know we’re going to go outside and play now is the time when you want to incite violence to go out. So that is definitely something that can be a challenge. The importance of understanding the way you describe that that the child is not just positional or disobedience or something like that but is seeking control in a very outer control from their perspective situation and the frame it like that. I think it’s important for parents to be able to have more patience and empathy for that. But that’s fight for the parents. It isn’t fun but it’s important for us parents to realize it’s not them for the child either.

[00:21:59] And and to not take their behavior personally but to recognize it for what it is which is a symptom of loss and grief. Yes. So let’s talk about what parents for these younger toddler preschool up to. You know form 5. What are some things you’ve already mentioned routines. I am such a believer in routines even if it’s a different routine that the child is used to what kids so desperately need when they feel totally out of control and they feel like their world is under control is predictability. So understanding that. All right we’re going to have we’re going to get up at a certain time you know they may. Well we’re going to make a bet we’re going to brush our teeth with them we’re going to eat and then you know so that everything is as predictable so that they then we get in the car when we put on our seatbelt then we go to school. So our daycare so giving the child some predictability so that they feel like they can anticipate what’s happening. We’ve talked about that. What are some other things that parents can do for this age group to help her child cope with the grief and loss associated with foster care. Well again I think the nurturing and the extra nurturing I sometimes call it proactive factoring in that maybe you are taking care of this preschool or the way you think that you would take care of a baby that they need that much nurturance from you and need to be held more and walk more more than that typically developing child would need at this age because of the impact of the grief and the loss and the sudden change spread.

[00:23:48] And I think they need honest answers to their questions. As I said. The question may feel like you answered the same question four or five times but not going into too much detail. We have to remember they don’t need a long drawn out act explanation about this but I’m just answering your question whether it be about you know when I visited or or something like this. I think sometimes parents think maybe I should just not talk about any of this and what’s going on with it because I don’t want to burden the child with that. But I think giving age appropriate information about what is going on with this transition and what is going on what are some of the things that are going to be happening. And if they are going to have contact with the family letting them know some of them again not not extensive not too much detail but some basic facts that they can have. I think it’s also important just honest interaction about some of these questions they might be asking another would be don’t take the child’s behavior personally even if it’s being directed at you. It is not personal. Develop your empathy for what this child is going through and don’t overreact. I see people kids to come up in me particularly as a child who has regressed you know a 4 year old who had been potty trained and this male soiling themselves are wetting the bed every night. And there is. And I know I’ve been there. I too truly know and feel the frustration of just one more bedsheet dishwasher.

[00:25:39] You know having to change clothes again you know during the day I get it. I do. But to understand that that that this is not a child misbehaving this is a child who’s behaving in the only way they know how and to not give it more attention than is necessary to simply change the clothes change the sheets and to have faith that as the child feels more secure that some of these behaviors particularly if the child had already been toilet trained or a day or night time that the child will then go back to where they were when they feel more secure. It just feels that awful to keep that in mind and keep put in a perspective. Yes. Yes. And you know you had mentioned earlier you know the clothes and then mentioned the stuffed animal transitional packs. You know that’s what we would talk about sometimes in the words of this therapist. That’s something that they’re holding with them from before. Can I also can also be important for this age child to Yeah. So let’s move up to the elementary age say six to 11 before we get to the tween years about how what are some of the symptoms of loss and grief for this age child. You know I think that that these children are sometimes a little more apt to act like nothing’s happened or act like they’re. But their behavior kind of falls apart and they’re maybe really over reacting to something and becoming very very angry at something that you would not expect that kind of over-the-top reaction. They may be becoming more argumentative. I think it’s something we haven’t spoken about yet. That’s rafted with this guilt. Is this my fault.

[00:27:45] It isn’t my fault that I can’t be with my family. You know what is this because I’m bad. So I think a lot of those kinds of things can be coming out with this age child oh that is such I’m so glad you raised that it particularly comes up if the child had told them that something was happening and that was why the child was removed or the situation where the child was seen going out getting food going through the garbage and getting food and the child feels like had they not got. Had they not been caught this wouldn’t have happened or had they not told the teacher what was happening or they had not acted hungry or if they had if they had clean themselves up more or if only they had done x. This would not have happened. And that’s particularly to older kids. Yeah. Yeah. Yes absolutely. Yes I think that that’s something to be very aware of. And I think de the word that comes to mind is confusion. But I think what I would say is kids will make up their own mind in their own way is what’s going on. If they don’t get enough information from us and so that’s why you know earlier we were discussing you know giving some age appropriate amounts of information to children. It’s not like if you don’t say anything and they’re just not going up there about it. Instead some of these kind of things that we’re talking about can be rolling around that in their mind. You describe that I am somehow responsible and this kind of thing.

[00:29:31] And so I think you know sharing sharing appropriate facts to help with that yeah. What about how loss and grief can be expressed in the school environment. I think that you can see grades lowering for sure. I think you can see just a change in demeanor a child maybe a child seemed to be much more of an extrovert and now introverted and withdrawn. I think some of the behaviors that can be problems get at home maybe snapping at a sibling or or something like this. You’re anything you could possibly see in some peer relationships where that was a good buddy are good friends for for for the child if it’s there in their name or if they’re in a new school. You know we talked about how in addition to the streaming of academics and all of that they’re dealing with this transition of losing all their friends and those kinds of things. So I think it’s a lot for them dealing with all at all at one time for sure. It is. It just breaks my heart as we talk about. And you know and the worry you know just think about from a child particularly this age child who is old enough to to worry. They love their parents. They are worried what’s happening to my parent. What are they going through. Who’s taking care of great grandpa. Who’s feeling the note. You know just worry they they don’t know what’s happening to their to the people they love and the environment they love. And they just you know it just breaks your heart.

[00:31:24] If you think about how how hard this must be and all the compounding factors to get piled on one after the other. Well and this can’t be life or. Many children today are being reimaged Beechey drug abuse and addiction inheritance. And you know at the same time you’re seeing on the news and on billboards all kinds of things about you know it was not for a while but now it’s heroin and people overdosing and dying. So there’s going to be a lot of triggers in the environment that are going to remind that child even in moments when maybe they’re doing doing better at managing that can that that are going to trigger feelings of that that you know it might. Here they are that live. Are they OK. Are they Oladele. Yeah. When I wouldn’t be there I would you know I would see them you know they might be stoned out of their mind but I would see that they were alive. You know a couple of times a week and now I don’t have that reassurance. Exactly exactly. Talk about food hoarding which is not necessarily can be of course but it’s not necessarily exclusively associated with loss but children who have had food insecurities that adds to their worry and there is from their standpoint a very logical response to that is to hide food hoard food overeat make food. All of these food related issues are not at all a typical in this or in older kids the older kids as well tweens and teens. But certainly in this age group it’s not generally a direct reflection of grief grief or loss but it is certainly a reflection of insecurity.

[00:33:28] So should parents respond recommendation on that and not every person that you would ask an opinion about this is going to give the same as I am. But I think making food available at all times. I think that if if there’s some appropriate snacks that a child can even hide in their bedroom that might be messy and pick your or whatever. I think having a little snack in their backpack or somehow on their percentage I think it’s important. And I think you can have these be more healthy choices and things like that. I’m not saying that the sugar candy and things like that but I I see having food available all the time is what is going to make them yet be on that and not shaming them. If you do find a bunch of wrappers or things like that even though you try to make food available to them you know day that they somehow got into something else and understanding that that is a sense of pain and like you just mentioned and that is a symptom of having you having to potentially have had to live without food. In certain circumstances or not knowing when you’re going to have food. It can also sit back to that comment. I mean earlier about her active nurture I think food is a way children who lacked nurturance find that they can selves. And so I think becoming even more nurturing with children who may be seeking to sue their selves to food at the same time that you’re also having food available now. If it’s really excessive like I wouldn’t you know I’ve heard actually bingeing every night it and massive amounts of food now. Now that’s different. And I would not recommend allowing.

[00:35:45] And I think a parent needs to set limits with that just by by saying things like you know it’s not healthy you know mommy or daddy doesn’t want you to feel sick. You know mommy or daddy doesn’t want you to you know not be able to sleep to your tummy is bothering you tonight or things like that. So I think that that I think that’s actually what you asked about. But sometimes that can happen to you and you have to put some limits in place for that but just really you know unhealthy. And what we we’re talking about food we’re moving we’re talking about what parents can do. One of the things that a foster parent can do is ask the child sage what food did they do they like what food they eat growing up as an example of this was a foster mom who asked the child to macaroni and cheese and the mom had a wonderful family recipe for homemade macaroni and cheese baked in the oven and she fixed it and it was not at all what the child would even touch it. And turned out that the child not only wanted the box macaroni and cheese but they wanted the generic box macaroni and cheese and they wanted it to be the instant Taube because that’s what they were used to. And even though it killed this particular mom because she really didn’t think it was all that healthy if she didn’t fix every meal. But she started incorporating it so that that child had something that seemed familiar to them.

[00:37:19] And as she continued to serve them healthy food along with and that’s one of the things that I talk about losses that people don’t necessarily have in the front of their mind is a loss of favorite foods. You know favorite recipes or favorite. And I think you know we as with your story may have the assumption that when it comes to macaroni and cheese course homemade is better. But being sensitive enough as in the example you shared to check that out with the child and ask what are some favorite songs and what are some favorite foods. Because that’s a long tail in terms that you know different families eat differently. And so if you’re used to something else it’s hard. Now think think about. You know if you’re staying at somebody else’s house and you always have hot sauce on your eggs and they never have hot sauce out something like this little thing that they add up which feeling you know out of place and not quite right and you know wishing you can have that favorite what advice that you have. I think that’s a great story. How a foster mother even had that sensitivity to find out it’s not a good thing. So it’s good. You know just another example of this was a foster family who was pretty darn good cooks and their foster child was not liking anything and they found out. I think through asking he got a packet of catch up he started getting packets of ketchup from fast food places that they had gone to and he would be and they saw that he was putting it on their food.

[00:39:13] So they sucked it up bought him his own bottle of catch up and throw it on the table and he covered everything in ketchup because that’s what he was used to. And you know drop some of the value judgments you know and we can introduce some health healthy things. But if the child is going to feel better eating a lot of ketchup on everything than you know take the long view will eventually or he is going to reunify. It really won’t matter either. Just go back to. You can catch up. Yeah yeah. Better in the process. All right. So again for this age many of the same things routine age appropriate discussion sharing with the child talking with the child. Working with the school to understand why the child may be regressing and his grades and so working with the school. But I always say don’t make school the primary focus at this point. The kids going through enough. So try to just keep everything in perspective and try to help the school understand what the child is going through anything I think birth school age kiddos. Before we move onto our older kids the only other thing that I think can sometimes be helpful is maybe some books about war or brief means and then there’s very different ones out there. There are some you know it’s not it’s not necessarily made for children in foster care situations. You know just things like the invisible or or or things like God or books with scenes of missing someone but then there are some that are specifically you know for children who might be going to a place that one I like is called The Little Flower.

[00:41:24] And so I think what the books can allow is talking about some of these things in metaphor you know we’re talking about a flower that says something happened to them and they weren’t being watered and said and and not directly talking about that the child’s own experience because that the child may not be enough to be able to do that. But if you can have books and stories which means that that might help the child and I have found that parents are something that that I don’t necessarily like to just give a list of books or something because I think some parents have good ideas about us too. So when your library and I want to share. Yes. Yeah yeah. And you don’t have to buy all these books. The libraries are a wonderful resource. You had mentioned before about the loss of cultural identity or culture and racial Karev racial identity. So assuming that your foster child doesn’t share your culture or your race what are some things that foster parents can do to make that easier make that transition easier. The trans racial aspect easier for the child. Well I’m sure you have many ideas about this also. But I mean I think the first thing is educating yourself about you know whether a culture your child is coming from. And some important things. I know when I was when I worked for children in foster care African-American families would be very upset when there for example their hair wasn’t well taken care of when they were with a white family because they didn’t have to take care of it.

[00:43:18] So culture can be everything from you know food and celebration and these kinds of things all the way down to how HealthOne takes care of their hair and different things like that. I think the first thing is is education yourself about that. So you can be aware of that and be sensitive to some of that and maybe trying to orchestrate opportunities for the child to experience cultural experiences that are familiar to them. Whether that’s true who you know taking them to a specific church or some other activity or you know acknowledging a holiday and celebrating it because you know it was important in their culture and even in their family we haven’t really gotten much into celebrations and traditions as another blessing. But is there anything that you can know and carry over that. I think that’s very helpful. Oh yes it’s such a good point about that at the beginning having talked about celebrations and traditions. Yeah a really good point that just down to even help people celebrate birthdays. Yes. Yes. Yes. And boy you happy something to bring up feelings for a child a first birthday away from their family. Very difficult thing that can trigger a lot of feelings of loss sadness for the child even if the child’s family didn’t make a big deal out of the birthday just knowing in fact that can often be off putting if their foster family does celebrate big and their birth family does not that even something you would think just the opposite that the child would appreciate and enjoy the added since the celebration. But that’s that’s adding a value judgement there which is that my way is better which in fact from Charleston. Yes. For Marie may or may not be now moving into the tween and teen years.

[00:45:35] They are 13 through you know 18 19 even I guess depending probably not 19 but let’s say the teen years. Now these children understand for the most part what has happened. Do you see that the traditional stages of grief. I know there’s some debate now in the in the psychological circles as to whether or not this was cuber Rosss stages of grief are are in fact prescriptive as they once were. But her theory was that there are different stages of grief and most people work their way through them they start with shock and then they go into denial and anger denial and then anger and protest and then bargaining with whomever. Please God I will do if I do this will you please let me get back to my family. And depression and then ultimately we hope for resolution. Do you see that this is is it a useful model for foster parents to think of when they get a 12 13 14 15 16 year old well to say yes and no. Yes. Because I think there are some is so staged that a child may go through. But I think that those stages you know come out of some of the last literature about death and death is a very clear final saying. I mean we know that that happened this is when it happened. We know what happened right before we know what happened right after it. And so I do think that different then you know what we’re sometimes talking about in the literature. Now as you mention that some people are having some different ideas about this and that be ambiguous loss.

[00:47:36] I think what harm children. You know wait a minute what am I grieving like met my grieving the loss my parents or am I going back to my parents. You know what. What is the situation here in the end work in the child welfare and foster care system they talk about doing concurrent planning. You know we’re going to plan for the child to go home while we’re also planning to the child not to go home. Well I mean that means that you can do on paper work really well for them in the heart of a child who is looking for some stability and wanting to know what their future holds and so that’s why I think some of those changes can be helpful. And I think you may actually see some of those exact behaviors. But I also like to emphasize that it’s hard to it’s much harder to work to grief when you’re not exactly sure what’s happening or what’s going to happen. As a good point. Pat is such a good point the child especially is old enough to understand that they the goal at least initially is usually family reunification and their parents are being asked to do certain things in order to make a safe place for the child to return back to. So yeah. Before you what are you grieving because you know you could you could be of the belief that it’s only going to be a short time that my parents will get their act together and I will be home.

[00:49:10] Or you know and then there’s the whole issue of if my parents don’t do this then anger anger at your parents for not doing what’s necessary to take care of you and get you back in a feeling of betrayal. All of those are very real emotional responses to this and I’m so glad you mentioned ambiguous loss because talk about that by the very definition of ambiguous loss is I don’t even know what I’ve lost over them just. Is it just a bird. Am I going back. When will I be going back to live with my parents or my parents going to be changing. Or is it going to be the same old same old. Yeah. So these kiddos are old enough to understand that at least most of them. Yeah yeah. Yeah. Fire. Yes some things to their kids I think journaling is really great. You know not not every kid will do that. But I recommend you know any more so popular. Pick up a cute Journal at the dollar store and encourage your child to be able to write about things. I think also you know initiating some conversation about there even if that child not talking about it. And I think we alluded to this earlier but don’t assume that your child not feeling the things because they’re not talking about them in that it could bring it up and open are what you talk about that. And if that child says no no I don’t want to talk about that. OK. That’s OK. But but they know that they have the space to talk about it.

[00:51:00] And you know I I I recommend 20 things you with their parents new by Sherry Eldridge you know the issues that adopted children with like their parents can now even now are feeling and thinking about even though they’re not talking about it. And so I think this is this is a time you to open the door for expression that an offer offered to talk offered to be available. Listen I think that one of the greatest times to talk with teenagers and have them really open up is in the car. Yeah there’s something about sitting side by side looking straight ahead where kids just start chattering away in ways that sometimes don’t you know the approach approach them at home. And so and I also think that music for adolescents can be a way of expression and you may be talking to them about a favorite that they’re listening to right now. There are many popular songs out there about transition. You can’t be saying no. Even even something related to that it could open up the discussion. Oh why they like that certain song or something like that. So I think that the way that connects with the older kids are a little bit different. I think I love the idea of music and asking why they particularly love a song can give you month to it could just be the life or the transitions or whatever but oftentimes it’s especially if they’re enjoying the music for the lyrics. It gives you an insight into what they’re thinking and what they’re experiencing. We should probably talk about to be overlooked when we started on this. What grief and loss can look like in the tween and teen years. In some ways it’s not significantly different from what we saw at the elementary but they’re getting.

[00:53:16] And so we will see some differences. So what are some of the things that we might see behaviors that we might see that would be indicative of a child experiencing loss and grief. So know as you mention there there’s a lot of similarity except these kids are bigger and stronger. So he asked me out whether you know through anger or fervidly is going to be bigger and more powerful and I really encourage again you kind of brought it up with the ketchup they could help pick your girl. You know if a child is not hurting anything and they’re just letting off steam you know maybe during the transition period you’re not going to have the same expectations that you would have a child that’s been with you a longer period of time. And so and so if somebody is not if nobody’s getting hurt you know that’s the bottom line. We can’t let anyone get physically hurt and we certainly would hope that they’re not getting emotionally hurt. But I think these kids can be argumentative I think they can raise their voice at parents. I think they can become withdrawn and sullen and not follow through on you know things around the house that they’re expected to do. I think just having some grace for some of that especially early in the placemen. Well at the same time having structure and expectations but just recognizing all that the child is dealing with as we’ve been mentioning carry out this discussion radical empathy understand the self if you know it’s very difficult to put yourself because sometimes these situations are so painful to even put yourself in that.

[00:55:12] Better try to put yourself in this child stay in this child’s position and then I want to circle back to that but before we do that one of the things that’s difficult in the teen years is it. This is all happening at a time when developmentally the child is forming their own identity trying to become independent. And this this loss this grief this fear that that’s being introduced can really get can really work a number on what is a normal developmental stage. Yes. Yeah. And that really can and so that just it’s fair to raise that then I I you know it is very difficult I want to circle back to what we were talking about about my term radical empathy. It’s hard to do and this is this is an example. We got an e-mail actually from Renee who says I have been surprised by the degree of loss my foster son feels he was removed from a very abusive home. He would give anything to get back there. I’m at a loss as to why he feels this way and what to do. Renee is struggling with trying to understand. I think she probably wants to understand but this child was in a very abusive place. So let’s talk some about how children feel in abusive environments and why would a child be wanting to get back to what was clearly an unhealthy place for him. Well I think the first the first thing is that it’s small here. It’s what they know it’s what they’re used to. I also think biological connections to our parents are very very strong.

[00:57:13] You know we talked about earlier that you know people say you look like them when you act like them are or all of you things so even. I think it’s important to not look at this in a dichotomy even when there’s abuse or neglect. There can also be moments of connection and celebration and happy things. You know it’s not and it’s not necessarily all one or the other. And even if it is more negative you know as I just said there’s still that connection that familiar rarity and knowing knowing what to back then and being in the bed that you know and how you know and being on the street that you know all of that I think is is such a tremendous upheaval to to just think about how discombobulated you feel traveling being in a hotel. You know there were surroundings there and you find that this isn’t quite right and that’s not quite right. So this all feel like that you know and I think really to the point that you brought up earlier is to not take it personally. Foster parents are are opening their hearts and their homes are doing you know giving a hundred and ten percent to try to make you know this better for a child and some feel like rejection. You know that you know how you know I’m trying to do all this. Now you’re talking about the thing that you keep in mind that that’s not a reflection of the care that you’re giving or anything about that it’s more about the loss of other things. That is what needs empathy and understanding. I think we go the wrong direction when we start to personalize that.

[00:59:11] And that’s not helpful for the parent with the child the parent with the foster child we know of. One last question and that is from a foster mom and long farm boy. To paraphrase there are required visits with the child’s parents and grandparents and she says that to her it was an 8 year old her 8 year old regresses significantly after every visit and she wonders if feels to her that the visits are bringing the loss up to the surface. Up front and center again and she is not sure she could get is going to be able to get the visits changed. But she was wondering what would be the disadvantages of trying to get the case worker to reduce the visits with the family. There’s a lot we don’t know. Let me add she did not provide information about what the long term plan is whether the reunification is still the child’s permanency plan or if if any of that change she did not give any of that information. So we’ll have to kind of answered a bit in the dark. But I thought she raises a point that we certainly hear a lot and that is that visits with birth family. Sometimes it makes it feel like the children’s behavior is regressing afterwards. Let’s talk about that OK. I think it is important that you mention you know what is the goal for this child. The goal is for the child to return home. You know we don’t want to decrease contact with family. I think that the way the first idea as this I would not recommend be upset. So we have to stop these visits or find a way to stop these visits or decreases visits.

[01:01:07] I find that people immediately go there and remain very stuck there. I think we ought to look at how can we help the child with the feelings that come up from these visits rather than you know let’s repeat them. And like you said there could be other details here that that make this different but eyelet I recommend having a plan in place for the child when they come back from those and having discussions with the child especially a child of the 8 year. Wow. You know I know. Yeah. You know a lot of big feelings you know about about whatever whatever they’re seeing you know whatever symptoms they’re seeing are behaviors they’re seeing and we want to think about what would be helpful for you. Would it be would it be helpful for you. The plea is we make sure we plan a quiet night at home the rest of the evening when you get home from a visit playing a favorite game the ipac or would it be helpful for us to go for a walk or you know maybe you would like for us to just color together and make a plan with a child about it. I think the error in thinking is that we either want to not have the visit or if they come let’s just not talk about why they have that. Well we all know why they have feelings and behaviors here somewhere something they tell parents you know say what you’re thinking or talking to your spouse or whatever say it out loud. You know that of brings up lots of feelings about how much you missed your parents. That makes total sense.

[01:02:44] And look at how we can support the child. That that’s my recommendation. It’s kind of a re-entry plan after that. That may if the child is old enough collaboratively with the child left. But you know you’re making up what you know works worked well you know for a little one who can’t be a participatory but you know things that really calm them down and help them more or make them feel safe and connected or whatever. That’s a lot. Yes. So totally agree. Thank you so much Karen. Book Walther was for being with us Vogue to talk about the losses inherent for foster children. Before we have talked to some but didn’t quite get to a lot of the detail to talk about the losses that foster parents feel so look to briefly touch on that. Because I I think that so often we focus on our children. Foster parents will focus on the children but it’s hard to be a foster parent. It’s hard to love and lose and that just that happens. So let’s talk about the feelings of grief that foster parents have when their foster children reunified even though they know going in that that might be a success. That might be the definition of success. It’s still hard yes. Well the first thing that I would say is if you have a girl well feelings of grief and loss that you really did your job right. As a foster parent I think that in some cases foster parents because they know that this may happen that the child will be to keep their guard up keep wall.

[01:04:42] I’ve even had parents foster parents they say that you know you have to call Mr. and Mrs. ness you know because wanting to keep a very clear wall that they can’t get overly attached we can get overly connected. I even think. Not that long ago foster parents were even taught. You don’t get really connected and get a really good catch up with the child attached to you. And this is kind of saying Yeah and you know a child the parchment need don’t go on hold because there was a foster care attachment there are reciprocal things so it’s opening your heart. Cheetah’s child and so so I think sometimes foster parents think oh I overly invested or the wrong thing or I should have gotten so attached I disagree with that. I think that’s what you needed to do for that reason for that child to stay feel connected and cherished and wanted. And I think that what we have to think about is have you get support for that you know and you know who you turn to you you turn to other foster parents. You turn if you have a spouse you turn to your spouse and you turn to the agency or to your worker or family members your small group that church. I think I would more so recommend you know finding support for the pain of that rather than saying I’m just not going to get you know attached or connected or take that approach. It’s very very hard and it’s very sad and painful and you have to acknowledging it and knowledge that you have that you have the right to feel the loss of that.

[01:06:41] And I love how you said it and the depth of feeling is reflective of how good a job you did. So so acknowledging it and bringing it to the fore and there’s also the loss for lack of a better way to say at a loss of control. Not always but in some cases the foster parents may disagree with the decision that whatever the decision has been made for the child. And and that’s hard. And that that is a loss. And we may respond to that loss in different ways if we think back it’s not all that unlike how children respond to their loss. We could be Angley we could be depressed we could improve ways we could express the fact that we didn’t have control in a situation where we think that we should have had control that we think we knew better and and that does happen it doesn’t always happen of course but I certainly hear or we certainly hear it creating a family from foster parents who are really struggling. And I think it’s helpful as a last Yes I think it is helpful to identify as a law. And I think some of what we have to also you know I remember just even as the case you know as a therapist in foster care getting upset about certain decisions for children and I you know I’m getting at that you know day for them to your attorney in hatred hatred to return home and you know. Yes. Yes. Meeting here remember it’s minimum parenting standards. I think sometimes we get here but I could do so much more and I think it’s so much more.

[01:08:34] You know like we talked about earlier with the birthday celebration I think you have to remember that you know just because they’re not going back to what you have to offer at your house doesn’t mean this is not the best decision for them to be with their biological family. I think that’s the very next step for people. And and and it makes it harder that there are some connections that a child has that precede all of that. And one of them is remaining connected with the biological family or living with them if at all possible. And that that need you know will trump the other one. So I think it’s important that this fight in spite of the last you feel Naylor’s support this decision for the child. So that’s important. Q And for what foster parents can do. I think you summed it up beautifully. Acknowledge the loss as a loss and get support from you listed so many places. I think ideally getting support from other foster parents is wonderful because these are people who have been there done that if you’re fortunate enough to have an in person support group. Fantastic. If you don’t there are a number of online support groups and the beauty there is are available 24/7 and are usually quite large or at least creating a family support group is quite large. So these are very good. No matter what time of day you post somebody who has gone through something very similar will be able to respond to you right then.

[01:10:15] So there are there are definitely there support out there available online but it also can just be people in your life as you said your small group at church or your your neighbor who has seen you daily going as a foster parent your parents your family your husband or your or your spouse your partner. All of these people are people who can who can be there if you will let them yes and that you mentioned the IDL as other foster parents and I know a Greenwith that they a research unit in the state of Illinois where I work. The number one thing for adoptive foster parents. The number one support is not the case worker or the educational classes you get ahead of time or any of that is talking to either foster and adoptive parent. That is why they need their help. Yeah that could lead you that home. We run a huge online support group as I mentioned the creating a family Facebook support group. It’s a close group but I will tell you it’s a lot of work but I so believe in the power of support. So no peer support. I so believe that creating family believe that and we invest in it. So anyway. Now back to thank you. Thank you. Kerry Buckwalter for being with us today to talk about this really important topic.
Hit the Highlights
  • What are the losses inherent to foster care from the child’s standpoint?
    • Loss of family
    • Loss of extended family
    • Loss of siblings
    • Loss of culture
    • Loss of medical history
    • Loss of childhood mementos and pictures
    • Loss of birth order. Loss of place in birth order in family
    • Loss of faith community
    • Loss of identity
    • Loss of role in the family. (Example: Child who has been in the role of caretaker in the family)
    • Loss of loyalty, or feeling of divided loyalty.
    • Loss of school, church, community
    • Loss of pets
    • Loss of familiar celebrations and traditions
    • Loss of the familiar
  • How might children express loss at different developmental stages?
  • How can a child feel loss when they are removed from an abusive situation?
  • How can foster parents help their foster children cope with loss at different developmental ages and stages?
  • How to handle when family visits seem to set the foster child back.
  • Losses many foster parents feel:
    • Loss of child
    • Loss of control in making decisions that you think are best.
  • How can foster parents deal with their losses?

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