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Julie has lived with us for nearly three years. As I pack up her belongings I feel many emotions. As a mother, I never would have imagined I would get used to letting pieces of my heart be packed up like this. Julie’s favorite stuffed animals, her Legos, her drawings and all of the art supplies needed multiple boxes. Her goodbye party was last week at school where her classmates signed a t-shirt displaying her favorite Pokémon character. We had a family goodbye party too. She picked her favorite meal and we all told her some of our favorite memories we have had together. We gave her two books full of pictures. One with just pictures of herself while living with us and another with pictures with lots of people she loved while living with us. She is excited and scared about the upcoming move.
We have helped kids transition to new homes many times over the last 20 years. Sometimes with lots of preparation and fanfare and other times with just a few minutes to gather their belongings. Each time though, has come with a few rituals, if we can squeeze them in.
Their Belongings – Children going through transitions value their belongings.
Children who have been through multiple placements attach special memories with some belongings especially items from their home of origin. I take special time to help kids take care of their special things. I help them identify the special bags or boxes where their most prized possessions are, so they can find them when they get to their next home. We also ensure that children leave with their belongings in a suitcase,or two or three. We want them to feel proud of their belongings and never move their things in a plastic garbage bag.
Pictures – Throughout each child’s stay we take a lot of pictures of them.
Alone and with many friends and loved ones. As their time with us draws to a close we publish a book of photos. Focusing on happy moments. Many of the kids who have come into our home come to us with no pictures of themselves. No baby photos, no photos from Kindergarten or Christmases past. We try extra hard to send them from our home with many happy photos because we know pictures can be so special.
Saying Goodbye in their own way.
Most children like a little fanfare or attention as they leave. We like to let the child’s school know our Foster Child is leaving so they can say goodbye to their classmates. We also usually have a family dinner and party. The child gets to pick their favorite meal direct the seating arrangements, of course dessert is included too.
We love to bestow our foster kids with a special gift to commemorate their time with us. We have sent special blankets, stuffed animals, Book Sets, and many other items they valued and that we knew they would treasure for a while.
During our family party we take time to speak words of affirmation over our Foster Child who is about to leave our home. We tell funny and endearing stories about our time together, and we tell them something that we really love about them. For some kids we have easy, funny stories to recall, and for other kids we have a harder time finding bright moments to share. But we tell each child how special they are in their own way.
Children have moved on from our home for a variety of reasons – their homes were safe once again or they moved in with a biological family member, or to an adoptive, or they reunited with a sibling in another foster home. Every time a child leaves our home we experience joy, compassion, pain and loss. These are felt not only by the foster child but also by my family, even when we are happy for the child’s move. We have bonded with them and we enjoyed our time together. Now, as this change occurs, the loss is hard. The rituals we have developed to help the transition from our home doesn’t make the hurt go away but it does give us a sense of predictability.
As Julie’s last things are packed away, I walk to the fridge to take down one of her drawings, a fantastical dragon in shades of blue and green. But she runs up and insists that I keep it. It is one of her best, she says. After she moved out I put it in a frame and added it to my collection of keepsakes from all of our previous foster children. Foster care is a different kind of parenting. Not less. Not more. Just different. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Olive Crest invites you to learn more about becoming a foster parent, a selfless ministry that gives again and again to future generations. Learn how you can make a difference in children’s lives, through Olive Crest through fostering or donating. Visit today!
Author Bio: Angelina Denver has provided foster care for over 20 years. She is mom to 6 children and actively involved in adoption and foster care ministry. She lives in the Northwest with her husband of 25 years, Allen.