Foster children are a band of exiles; like the children of Israel, they are banished from everything they were familiar with and placed in an environment that is as strange as a foreign land. They enter into a strange home, are introduced to strange people, must sleep in strange beds, and are escorted around to strange places. With so much of what was once known to them being supplanted by the unknown, foster children, in a very real sense, find themselves aliens in a strange land. And so, they too ask, How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? How can we adapt to our new way of life? How are we to behave when our pain of loss is so excruciating? How can we sing the Lord's song?
It is not easy for foster children to adjust to a different way of life—away from everyone and everything they had known. It is extremely stressful and traumatic. When a child is removed from literally all they know and understand and have come to accept as “their world” and placed in a totally strange environment, it is only natural for them to grieve the loss of their family, their friends, their siblings, their pets, their toys and everything else they were familiar with.
So is it any wonder then that it is initially difficult for foster children to form attachments to new caregivers until they have at least been allowed time to grieve their many losses. Grief for children is the disruption of a bond, and in any foster care situation, significant bonds have been disrupted or severed.
I agree with Friedman who points out in his book, When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal With Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses, that “even the phrase ‘foster child’ implies several losses, making the very foundation of the child’s experience one based on grief. It is impossible to be a foster child and not experience grief. ”
We must also realize that even if the foster child has contact with their biological parents, they still experience significant grief and feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Many attitudes about children and loss are myths. Children react differently to loss and separation than adults but that does not mean they do not feel the losses as strongly or for as long a time as adults. Often losses occur before children have the necessary skills to put into words what their hearts are feeling. Children do not understand loss in the way that adults do but that does not mean that they are less affected by the changes that have turned their life upside down.
Even infants grieve that someone is missing from their tiny worlds. Many psychologists believe that babies attach rapidly to the primary caregiver and there is no question the baby notices that something is not right when the primary caregiver is no longer there. The baby will most likely protest the loss by crying more than usual, sleeping more or less than before, eating patterns may change, and so forth.
I strongly encourage all committed foster parents to be diligent in acquiring the essential tools necessary to help children through the grieving process. Take advantage of every opportunity to increase your parenting skills as it relates to grieving children.
Of course, one of the most potent ways you can help a grieving child is to be a constant source of support.
For me, the gift of my foster mother’s unwavering understanding, support and “healing presence” was lifesaving. She was always there with comforting words of reassurance, genuineness and love. Sometimes she just sat and rocked me as she hummed soothing, comforting tunes with intermittent, “you are going to be fine baby girl, don’t you worry now; momma’s love is “going to” get you thorough this, don’t you worry now…. . ” Even today, whenever I am experiencing difficulties in my life, I can still hear momma’s melodious voice echoing those encouraging and strength augmenting words.
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