How Do I Prepare for Reunification?


min read

With the bang of a gavel, a judged abruptly brought an end to our 9-year-old's time in our care. We were instructed to return him to his birth parents by the end of the day. My heart stopped, dread filled my body and I began shaking. Our sweet boy was going home. And while I knew in my heart and mind that reunification is the goal of foster care, my mind still reeled at what lay ahead. My husband and I dropped off the court Zoom call and sprinted into action.  

I needed to go home, start his laundry and organize all his belongings. My husband would have to go to the store and buy some luggage and plastic bins. And we would have to do it all without the opportunity to say goodbye.

Whether you have two hours, two days or two weeks, reunification can be hard to prepare for. Here are a few suggestions to help make this big transition easier for everyone.

Pack respectfully. (No trash bags, please)

Imagine having five minutes to pack your entire life, and all you are given is a trash bag. Suddenly, your child’s entire world is uprooted, and all they have to hold onto is a black sack no different than the one you tossed in the bin last night. As a foster parent, we have no control over the way a child leaves their biological home, but we do have control over how they leave our home.

Whether you carefully pack their items in plastic bins, moving boxes or luggage, avoid using trash bags. Check with your local second-hand organizations to see if they have any luggage donations or throw a post out on Facebook for what you need.

By caring for their belongings, you are letting the child know that even though they are leaving your home, you still care for them.

Pack everything

Besides the belongings they brought with them when they entered your home, be sure to pack any items the child has an emotional connection with. Search high and low for the teddy bear you gave them Christmas morning. Send their favorite towel and the random shirt of yours they’re always borrowing.

If you have a little extra time, print some pictures and make a photo album or write each child a letter to keep. If possible, purchase their favorite snack and include it in their bag to find later.

*Practical tip: Remember medications, paperwork, backpacks, clothing and toiletries.

Pause and pray

Even if you only have an hour to collect all their things, take a moment to yourself. You will likely be feeling a million things at once — sadness, anger, fear, relief, exhaustion. All of these feelings are normal. However, if you push them down while going through your to-do list, they will likely hit you all at once. Instead, take a moment to pause and pray.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7  

Lay your frustrations, your fears, your anxiety at His feet and know that you are not alone in this. As foster parents we give our whole hearts to these children, and God gives His whole heart to us. Don’t shy away from feelings, but instead lean into the Lord and allow Him to carry them for you.

Create a routine

Once the child has left your home, it can be easy to fall into an unhealthy routine — avoiding their room, isolating yourself from others and shying away from your feelings. I remember when our first children left, I closed the door to their room and didn’t open it for a month. Every time I tried to open the door, I couldn’t control the tears from pouring down my face.

After our first placement, our family created a routine – sushi. You may not love sushi like we love sushi but find something that brings you joy and make sure to do it within the first week after a placement has left. A few ideas to try might be going to coffee with a friend, buying a new book, a family outing or a vacation. Find a routine that you can look forward to each time a child leaves your home and allow yourself to feel the joy of it.

One of my biggest fears before becoming a foster parent was that I would get attached to a child and then they would leave me. Over twenty children later, more than half of our children from foster care have either reunified or moved to a family member [kinship]. And while I am heart-broken every time, I celebrate with their biological family for everything they accomplished to get their child back.

In Montana 65.8% of children are reunified with their parents while the national average is 47%. Chances are you will take in a placement, and they will be reunified with their biological parents. While we may want to “keep” this child in our home, try to remember that reunification is the goal and our job is to love these kids while we can, whether they stay forever or move on to where they belong.  

As we have seen, reunification is a large part of caring for kids in foster care. When you get the call for your child to reunify, follow the steps above so you can find peace in the chaos instead of drowning in all the details.

Need more parenting tips?

Check out our parenting resources where you’ll find topics like trauma, reunification, tips for new parents and sibling dynamics.

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