Despite this, I feel I want to say something on the subject because it comes up so often among adopters. Some are comfortable with well-managed ongoing contact, while others have settled for various reasons on little or no contact and are making it work for them. Yet for others, there are unmet expectations - too much contact or not enough, or struggling through ongoing contact that they don't really feel is working as well as it could.
From my perspective, ongoing contact is as much of a minefield as it probably is for many adopters. Literally the only thing that has ever been said by any social worker to me on the subject is that any ongoing contact is up to the child's new family and that I need to accept that I might never see or hear from the child again. I have always taken this very literally, and even more so now that I have seen the huge range of differing perspectives from adoptive families.
What that means in practice is that if you were to adopt a child from my home, I would not be contacting you at all unless you contacted me. If you emailed or messaged me, I would reply, but if you didn't reply back, then I probably wouldn't push it. I would send birthday and Christmas cards for the child, but if those went unacknowledged for a couple of years then I would consider stopping. If you vaguely suggested meeting up sometime, then I would be happy to do that, but if you did not come back to me with some attempt to firm up arrangements then I wouldn't push it.
If you, as the child's new family, were keen to maintain contact then I can see how my approach might make it seem as though I was reticent about the idea. The reality couldn't be further from the truth. Whenever I hear even a snippet of news about any child I have fostered, I am beyond excited. I was recently sent some up-to-date photos of BG who I fostered back in 2014 and I couldn't stop looking at them with a huge soppy grin on my face. Even better, I was given permission to share them with my parents - like any other family, a foster family consists of many more people than just the parental figures.
Yet I also have to think of things from the perspective of families who, for whatever reason, may not want continuing contact at this time. How intrusive would it be in that case if I were to be sending regular emails, suggesting meet-ups or posting cards and presents?
|I don't want to overwhelm you!|
So, based only on my own thoughts on the subject, here are a few tips for a smoother approach to continuing contact. I'd love it if other foster carers were able to add their own perspectives in the comments as I know it's not a one-size-fits-all situation!
- Don't assume your child's foster carer has had extensive training on handling intros, transition to permanence or continuing contact. I have had none. Others might have had loads.
- Expect that sometimes, a foster carer's emotion will creep into things. Yes, fostering is our professional role and yes, we know that we will say goodbye to these children we have loved and cared for and yes, we mentally prepare as much as we are able, but we are humans too and sometimes our emotions can rise to the surface before we even realise it's happening.
- If you do want continuing contact, then encourage the foster carer by initiating it in a format which you are comfortable with so that the carer has your lead to follow.
- Be very clear and honest about what you do and don't want. Spell it out so there is no ambiguity. If the carer is suggesting something that you think isn't a good idea right now, say so, and suggest reviewing the situation in 3 or 6 or 12 months.
- Try to avoid making lavish commitments to continuing contact during intros. It's a time of high emotion, and if things are going well between everyone then it can be tempting to make plans that might not seem such a good idea a few months down the road. An experienced carer should understand this, but see point 2 - we can be emotional too!
- Remember that some carers may have fostered dozens and dozens of children. It might simply be logistically impossible for them to sustain high-level regular contact with each child for years to come.
- And finally, it just might be possible that some foster carers (ahem - like me - ahem) are not terribly administratively gifted. I have pictures on the wall of every child I've fostered and I think about them pretty much every day, but if I have to remember a birthday, buy a card, write it, get a stamp, post it . . . well, there are a lot of stages there where something can disappear to the bottom of my handbag and get forgotten. Even my closest family members consider themselves lucky if I remember to post a card! Moonpig helps me a bit with that. I guess that this is just a roundabout way of saying that parenting, and especially foster parenting, takes up a lot of a person's time and energy - if you haven't heard from your child's carer in a while, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have forgotten about your child.