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Coping when foster children return home

DEAR AMY: My husband and I have been foster parents to a sibling group of three young children for the past year and a half. We recently found out that despite our hopes of adoption, the children will be leaving us soon, which is absolutely heartbreaking. We live in a small town where everyone pretty much knows one another's business, and I am dreading the inevitable questions that we will be asked about the kids' departure everywhere we go. We are not "career" foster parents and only became licensed to take in these children, so I've never had to deal with this sort of thing before. Any suggestions on how to deal with the nosy but well-meaning masses? I don't want to come off as rude but really have no desire to give anyone the play-by-play.

-- Sad Foster

DEAR SAD: You are to be commended for your effort to make life better for these three children.

As you know, reuniting with birth families is a priority for children in foster care, and more than half of foster kids are returned to their birth families. One aspect of the fostering experience is the bravery it takes to face the challenge of parting with children you love.

A simple non-nosy question: "Hey, where are the kids today?" could plunge you into a complicated grief state. You don't mention the specifics, but you should prepare a simple, truthful answer, such as: "The court made a decision, and they have been placed back with their birth mother." It's usually the second, third and fourth question after a loss that provide the biggest challenges. These come from people who have follow-up questions or unsolicited advice.

Prepare yourself with this: "We're struggling right now, and I'm not ready to talk about it." The agency that chose you to be foster parents can point you toward support. There also are many online discussion boards devoted to foster parenting, and you would benefit from connecting with other parents in this way.

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