Monday, April 04, 2011

A Letter to a Bio Mom on Attachment

This post is part of Foster2Forever's blog hop recognizing Child Abuse Prevention Month in April.  For more information and to participate - please see the bottom of this post.
I wrote this email to the mother of a child after the first weekend he spent with his parents and then Sunday night had to return to me.  He cried to leave them.  Though he stopped crying immediately after the car door shut and was fine, the last thing his parents saw was his crying out to them...he didn't say it verbally but his face said "Please don't leave me again".  No one in the situation had a choice.  I did what I could do...I wrote his mom this letter.

I know it (leaving him with me) was hard. I felt really bad for you all because I knew it would be hard.

It's important to try to remember this is normal for any child this age, but especially for one who is in his situation. He has two sets of "parents" and it is a bit confusing for him. The truth is that in an ideal situation, you and (his dad) are the best parents for him. Any other parenting situation besides you two healthy, sober, and being "good parents" to him is second-best. No matter how good of parents we can be to him, we will never be better than (his bio dad) and (his bio mom) could be as good parents. I honestly believe you all will be great parents to him if you can stay sober/clean and continue to work on things as they come in a healthy way. We are here to support you as you do that.

The great news is that kids are really resilient. They can bounce back from a whole lot, especially at this young age if they have the right care. Even though we've only been foster parents for less than a year, we've been around kids of all ages for a long time and my degrees are in psychology and education. It is REALLY hard as a mom (and dad!) to watch your child go through separation anxiety in normal situations. Parents often feel guilty in "normal" situations when their kids experience separation anxiety when they have to be dropped off for daycare the first time or when parents go out on a date and get a babysitter. I'd imagine you all feel guilty as it is to have your son away from you with everything that has happened and it would just make it worse on you that he's experiencing separation anxiety now. (Bio mom), it's really important that you and (his dad) work through the guilt in a healthy way. I'm not sure what's in your service plan (foster parents really don't get that information...its confidential), but if I were in your shoes I would probably make sure I was talking to a counselor about what you all are going through in preparing for monitored return, including any guilty feelings about separation anxiety. I don't want to overstep my bounds here, but I do want you to know that what (your son) is going through is normal and will probably cause emotions in you and (his dad) as you get him back through monitored return.

The great news is, with separation anxiety, as I said last night this is a good reaction. Separation anxiety is related to attachment. Children (and adults) can build healthy or unhealthy attachments to people (or things). Ideally in good situations children build healthy attachments with their parents. This happens when, as a baby gets older they learn they can count on their parents to meet their needs in a consistent way. So, when they are hungry or cold or tired their parents give them what they need. As children with healthy attachments get older, they learn that they can trust other people to help them meet their needs in a healthy way. When kids don't get their needs met in healthy ways consistently, kids learn to cope, either by protecting themselves by attaching to everyone who comes their way too easily or attaching to no one. Both of those are unhealthy.

(Your son) has never demonstrated to us unhealthy attachment. When he came here he attached quickly, but not too quickly. He had his needs met here and learned to thrive. He has had good visits with you all on a frequent basis where you have been emotionally present and provided for his needs. Now he is right smack in the middle of the age where he has good memory skills but doesn't necesarily understand, that is why separation anxiety occurs so much during this age (8-36 months). (He) knows us and knows that we are safe, but he also knows you and is learning you are safe too. He loves you and enjoys visiting with you. So, now what we are seeing with his attachment is that he is learning to be attached to you, which means he is learning to trust that you will meet his needs consistently. If that happens, he will develop a secure attachment to you all. We will continue to meet his needs when he is here and support visits with you all so that he knows he is loved there and here so that by the time you get unsupervised visits and then monitored return, he feels safe with you all and is ok saying goodbye to us.

I am attaching a guidebook on separation anxiety. It's really long, but has a lot of good information. Here's a couple sections I'd recommend:

13-23 - describes healthy and unhealthy attachment, and signs and symptoms of both. I think you'll find that (your son) is demonstrating normal healthy reactions in this situation.

30 - 34 - the impact of neglect on attachment

36 - 39 - normal development and implications for kids in foster care from 0-2 years old

62-70 - child's reactions to separation

91-95 - Reactions children have to transitions - this is mostly about what a child goes through going into a foster home, but in some ways (your son) will experience this going back to your home because it is a "new place"

96 - 98 - how to prepare for the transition

98 - 102 - how you can prepare for him to come home (again, more written for foster families but you might find some things useful)

113-115 - how parent visits affect children

124-125 - preparing for a foster child to leave a foster home

I hope this is helpful. If we continue to work together (your son) will have a great chance of succeeding as he moves back home.

Here is another article I thought was interesting. Again its for foster/adoptive parents, but maybe it can be helpful.

I hope this gives you a bit of insight into a few things we do around our house, how we sometimes interact with biological parents, how we sometimes say goodbye to some of our kids, and to give you a bit of insight into attachment and bonding.

To participate in this blog hop:


Sunday Koffron said...

I’m a new follower here, I found you through Foster 2 Forever.

Wow. I love the letter how wonderful it is that you can have so much empathy for his original family and that you continue to be invested in his reunification.

I will say it always makes my hair stand on end a little when I hear people say that kids are resilient, they have short attention spans and are inexperienced, as a former foster I can attest to the fact that we can heal, but we don’t bounce. There is a limit to how much baggage adults can pile on a kid before they just break down. I hope those parents got it and keept it together, before the years started ticking away and the poor little guy is still in limbo.

Mie said...

Sunday - Welcome to my blog. I have definitely found a passion for ministering to bio parents. That being said, I've only had 1 case go to reunification. I feel it gives everyone involved the best shot if I'm actively showing love to people involved in the case - that's just the way I try to live my life. But, please don't get me wrong - being involved also means that though as a foster parent I have only a very small voice in the case, I take every opportunity to exercise that voice as loudly as possible on behalf of the kiddos first. I once had a caseworker tell me "you're a WORKING woman and you have time to do all that (attend cases)" - why yes - I make it a point to prioritize my kids before most other things.

I've been lucky (?) so far that I've only had little kids. I have my first older child (still a preschooler) now and can see how quickly the resiliency fades. I think some people have the idea that even infants adopted from an earlier age don't have much scarring - sure they do. With good stable care most can heal but I think they will live with that forever. Hopefully we can teach our kids that they are valuable and have great worth while they are with us while we fight for their right to safety, security, and love.