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Understanding Foster Parent stress, loss and grief

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Dr. John DeGarmoBy Dr. John DeGarmo


Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of being a foster parent is the moment when your foster child leaves your home. As a foster parent, your home becomes a place where children come for a period of time, with the goal of being reunited with their family in the near future. Reunification is not possible for some foster children, and the birth parents’ rights are terminated. As a result, these children become available for adoption, and some foster parents do indeed end up making their foster child a permanent addition to their family through adoption.


If reunification is not possible with the birth parents, many foster children instead are placed into a birth family member’s home. Whatever the reason might be, reunification can be a difficult time for foster parents, as the child they have come to love leaves their home. Indeed, for many foster parents, the lack of contact with a former foster child after reunification is a time of deep sadness and

When any foster child leaves your home, no matter the level of attachment, there will be emotions when it is time to say goodbye, for both you and the child. Rest assured, many foster parents do feel grief during the removal of their foster child, as the child has come to be an important and loved member of their family. After all, the removal of a foster child from a foster home is akin to a loss, and any loss can cause grieving.


Stages of Grief 

Grief can be expressed in variety of ways, as it is personal. Some will shed tears while others will hold it inside. Some will busy themselves in a task, while other will seem detached and far away. The departure of your foster child from your home can be one that is devastating to you and your family. A brief look at the stages of grief (Kubler-Ross 1969) is important in order to fully understand the feelings that may come along with the removal of your foster child from your family. These same feelings may be felt by your foster child when he is removed from his own home, and first placed in yours.



The removal of the foster child may bring feelings of shock to the foster family. After a family member has formed an emotional attachment to the family, the sudden removal may cause deep shock and uncertainty, leaving the foster family confused.



With a sudden departure, some foster parents may deny that they ever formed a relationship with their foster child, or feel any sadness towards the removal. Even though they deny these feelings, they grieve believing that they were unable to provide the help the child needed.



A foster child’s removal from a foster home may bring feelings of anger and severe disappointment with the caseworker, as well as with the child welfare agency system. Foster parents may blame the system or caseworker for the placement of their foster child into an environment they feel is not productive, or even harmful, to the child.



During this stage, foster parents may experience feelings of guilt, blaming themselves with the belief that they are at fault, and try to comprehend what they did “wrong” in the removal of the foster child. Still, other foster parents may experience guilt if they were the ones asking for the removal, as they were unable to continue caring for the child.



Some foster parents will try to substitute the grief they have with helping others in need, in an attempt to justify the loss of their foster child. Others will try to substitute the loss with the placement of another foster child in their home, hoping that this new placement will help them forget about the child that just left.



There are different components to depression brought on by grief. Some foster parents will become easily irritated; others will experience a constant state of feeling tired. Others will feel as if they can no longer continue with their day to day lives, and have a difficult time with the tasks associated with family, friends, work and marriage.



After the passage of time, the grief from the loss of the foster child decreases, allowing the foster parent to accept the removal of the child, and move on. The emotional well-being of the foster parent improves, and a sense of understanding of the child’s removal becomes clearer.


Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, and he and his wife have had more than 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several books, including "The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home," and the foster care children’s book "A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story."  Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John, heard each Monday at 8 p.m. EST. He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both in the United States and overseas. He can be contacted at, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website.  





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