Sunday, November 20, 2016

What to Expect From Your Child's Former Foster Carer Post-Adoption

Straight out of the block I'm going to admit that I may have over-sold this a little with the title. I can't really tell you exactly what to expect from your child's former foster carer because all foster carers are different, all situations are different, and there seems to be little consistency in the guidance given to carers from different agencies in how to handle ongoing contact once a child has moved onto their permanent home.

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!

The thing is, when adoptive parents come to my house during intros, I don't know what they're going to want from me in the future. And neither do they, beyond the hypothetical. We are likely to have different lifestyles, different ideas about parenting, about lots of things, and sometimes these differences can cause tension, or at least, a perception of tension. It is impossible to predict how a child will react to the enormity of their move from their foster home to their forever home. Ideas about continuing contact that might have seemed eminently sensible during the planning stages can quickly fall apart once the rubber of adoptive parenting hits the road.

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.


10 comments:

  1. The timing of your post couldn't be better! I'm just about to speak (as an adopter) about introductions to a group of foster carers. :D Thanks for the insight!

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    1. Excellent! I have found that hearing the experiences of adopters has improved my practice immensely.

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  2. I'm a Foster Carer who is lucky enough to be able to keep in touch with most of my " adoptees" . I LOVE IT. I'm totally grateful to the new parents for letting me & love to hear how the children are growing in the families. I will never forget these children & appreciate any information I'm given, whether its once a year or more often. My little contribution to the child's life pre- permenance is special to me & my family ; and any continued contact is something we discuss to suit the new mum & dad. I hope that the child's new family would see us foster carers as a distant relative rather than a stranger.

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    1. Exactly! We all treasure every little piece of info we get!

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  3. We have had a difficult relationship with foster carers as they wanted to adopt our LO but were not approved by social services. They were angry, bitter & upset throughout intros and visibly so in front of LO who was 4 at the time. We have tried keeping in contact but every occasion sparks 3 weeks of upset for LO and seems to confuse her. Probably not helped by their allowing her to call them mum & dad. We have recently decided (with heavy hearts) that LO needs a clean break so she can fully invest in our family. I know current wisdom would not agree but only you can make these decisions for your child and each situation is different.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear that you had such a difficult experience with your child's foster carers. You have made the best decision you can about contact - this is why there is no hard and fast rule about it, as it really does need to be up to the adoptive parents who know best where their child is up to at any given time.

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  4. I love this post.
    We adopted 3 boys 16 months ago and feel blessed that we have such an amazing foster family. They couldn't have done more to make introductions week go smoothly but my husband and I also tried to be compassionate to them and the fact they were effectively losing the boys that we were gaining. We have become firm family friends and meet up every few weeks, we're actually going for a sleepover weekend this weekend. I appreciate that it's fairly unusual to have as much contact as we do but the way we see it, they loved ours boys when they felt they were unlovable and are a huge part of why they are such happy, lovely boys now. They will always be considered family to our sons and so will always be family to us too. Our viewpoint is that we have gained 3 sons and as an added bonus we also have some new life long friends.
    For the last few months I have gone on the adoption course to speak to prospective adopters and always make a point of discussing the foster family and what we as adopters can do to make that introductions and any further contact as smooth and happy as possible. I believe the boys transition was relatively easy because they could see that their foster family and their forever family were all happy with the move. Understand each other's roles in our children life is key to making it easier.

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    1. You make a very good point about children seeing the foster family and the adoptive family getting along. As foster carers we need to give the children 'permission' to become attached to their new parents without guilt or conflict and so we must show our approval at the crucial time. I'm so glad to hear things worked out so well between you and your children's carers.

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  5. Wonderful post that all adopters should read pre introductions. As an adopter I have to admit that we were so engrossed in our own emotional journey it was only halfway through intros that I felt how hard it would be when our son left the house, and it was. We have stayed in touch, though the second meeting seemed to upset our son and we have not seen them since due to that, but once he can speak more we intend to meet again. I feel their love for him helped shape the happy boy that he is, they were a wonderful family. On a practical level, in the early days texts and phone calls helped to provide some insights and consistency to his care that would have not been possible otherwise. Also, when life story work begins who else can provide such a clear account of their early life? That seems critical to me though we are not there yet.
    I would also acknowledge that actually it's quite awkward trying to develop a loving relationship with your new child/children in the house of the folks who already know them so well and may be struggling with the impending change. I can't advise anything other than we all just need to do what is best for the child, and just navigating some awkwardness may be a part of that. Be gracious. You will need to be able to do that a lot in the adoptive parenting journey anyway so why not start then and there!! Easier said than done of course, as per the post emotions are high all round. I remember sobbing in a cafe the day before we took our son back to our house as the grief that would hit the foster carers had suddenly seemed to hit me, it was a strange experience.
    Personally I look forward to maintaining and growing the relationship with the foster carers as long as it works for our son.

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    1. Connecting with so many adopters through this blog and via social media has really helped me to understand the enormity of the task adopters face walking into a stranger's home and having to take their first steps in parenting a child they've just met under the eyes of the person who was parenting them before! Tricky times! As foster carers, and professionals, we ought to be smoothing the way for adoptive parents during the time before, during and after intros. It always cheers me when I hear adopters say that they had a good experience.

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