A reader asks . . .
What to tell our friends when children reunify?

We’re members of a tight-knit community and many people know we are foster parents. The children in our home are transitioning back to their birth parents. We know we’ll get questions from the community about where the children went. How do we explain?

Social workers and their agencies often encourage resource parents to use their natural supports and resources while providing care to children in foster care. And rightly so! Having a strong support system and being members of tight-knit communities help resource parents weather the surprises and occasional storms that inevitably come their way.

Yet when children must leave your home due to the need for a placement change that better suits the child’s needs or because permanency has been achieved, the people you rely on and are close to may have a lot of questions.

Here are some tips for responding to those questions, managing the event within your family and community, and making sure the overall transition is healthy and positive for everyone involved.

  • Maintain the confidentiality of the children, their birth parents, and any others involved. Specifically, avoid sharing significant details about the progress made by the birth parents or the child’s needs.
  • Educate and celebrate. Use this chance to make sure your friends and family understand how important resource parents are in your community. This should be an opportunity to celebrate your role in the successful return of the child to their birth family or transition to an adoptive home.
  • Don’t neglect yourself. Do not overlook your own needs. Seek support through your licensing agency to make sure you are managing your losses as the children return to their birth parents. While reunification is a positive moment for all involved, there are inherent losses you need to acknowledge and grieve.
  • Prepare a response. If this is an emotionally difficult transition for you, prepare a stock answer such as, “The children have returned to their biological parents. We are excited for them but sad for us and not ready to talk about it yet.” Remember that all of the parties involved–including the child–need the opportunity to feel sad, angry, concerned, and happy. Honor and validate everyone’s feelings, even feelings that are conflicting.
  • Smooth the way for the child. It is very important that children receive the same message from all of the adults involved in this transition, including “emotional permission” and approval to leave the home and community. Make sure the children get a chance to say goodbye to friends, family, and community members if they will not remain a daily part of the children’s lives. This will also prepare everyone for the transition ahead and prevent you from having to answer questions once the children have left your home. Some suggestions would be to have your community add things to a child’s life book such as letters, drawings, and pictures; host an achievement party for the children and their birth parents; talk to the children about who they want to share with and allow them the opportunity to say farewell.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. Do not assume that because the children are leaving your home, they’ll no longer be a part of your life or community. The intention of shared parenting is for birth and resource parents to work together to parent children. Shared parenting can continue after reunification, with you and your community providing ongoing support and love to the birth parents and children.

Many emotions and dynamics occur when children transition out of a foster home. Always plan for transitions and work together with your licensing agency to manage the conversations and information you share before, during, and after a child’s transition.

Response by the NC Division of Social Services. If you have a question about foster care or adoption in North Carolina you’d like answered in “A Reader Asks,” send it to us using the contact information found here.