(And by them of course they mean our former foster children.)
A: One of the hardest things people have to overcome when they consider becoming a foster parent is the idea that they will bond to a child and then be heartbroken once the child leaves. I think this perception is a major deterrent for people who may otherwise consider caring for other people's children. In reality, it's not that the heartbreak doesn't happen, but those of us who choose to continue to foster parent do so despite the pain because we know that what we do in fostering is a good and necessary thing, something far greater than ourselves in the big picture. We sacrifice our comfort because there are children who are suffering on some level usually through absolutely no fault of their own.
I've seen too much now. If I know there is a child who is shivering in bed, filthy while their parent gets high or is facing some other abuse or neglect I can no longer sit back and be comfortable myself. It's just not an option anymore. I can't ignore what's happening beyond the comfort and safety of our home and stable little family. I just can't.
So we end up getting this question a lot because it's related to the idea that a normal parent can't get attached to a child and then never see them again. That just can't be right?
The ability to maintain contact with foster children after they leave your home has as much variation as their are different cases out there. For every parent, child, legal, moral, and purely logistical situation that's out there, there is a different ability to maintain contact in a different manner. It all comes down to the best interest of the children, really. At least it should.
Generally it would be in the best interest of the child to maintain some contact with the foster parents, assuming the foster parents and the child had built a fairly successful bond. This is clearly not a hard and fast rule and is affected by so many things. For instance, if the bond between the foster parent and the child is and continues to be stronger than the bond between the child and the biological (or adoptive) parent, it may be in the best interest to wean ties between the foster parent and the child to enable the other bond to form better. Then again, the foster parent may have the best shot at helping the child to be encouraged to trust the new family and therefore form a healthy attachment. It just depends.
It also depends on what's best for the foster family, but only second to what's best for the child. Sometimes the family the child returns to may be safe for the child but not for the foster family. Though I've experienced grateful bio-families, there are some who resent the foster family and could potentially seek to harm them. Though I think that is more rare in a reunification situation, it is something to consider.
Let's talk my situation(s) because that's what I know the most.
- Case 1 - haven't heard from them (#1 & #2) since they left. I've been able to follow their case online and then again a little bit when they asked us to consider adopting these two. Basically, I've been able to follow them from a very far distance and I know what happened to them, generally, but we haven't seen them or talked to them or anyone else in the case since they left. This makes me sad a bit because they were supposed to be adopted by a non-relative and I know that person doesn't have any early pictures. I have a ton from when they were with me and would love to give them to that person but have no way to know who it is or how to contact them (I've tried, but CPS won't cooperate, which is irritating).
- Case 2 - I talked frequently with his mom in the few weeks after #3 went home. She called me to ask if certain things he did was normal and how to handle some of his behaviors. We texted back and forth several times and she even gave me his social security number so I could claim him on taxes. I knew something was wrong when that communication stopped. I hoped that she'd moved on and was doing well and was just too busy to keep in contact or even that it was difficult for her to keep talking with us because it reminded her of her mistakes, but in my heart I knew better. Sure enough just a couple weeks later we got a call that he'd been removed again, this time permanently, and he moved with his grandmother. She created a page on facebook for him and I can follow him there (she invited me, or his father did...) but they don't keep it updated and I have no way of following him now. This was hard because his parents asked us to be his Godparents and we took that request seriously. Plus because of the way it was going my son believed there would be further contact - he still talks about it to this day, about how he misses him and wants to see him.
- Case 3 - we adopted her. Future contact secure :)
- Case 4 - We only had them for 2 weeks. There wasn't much bonding nor an agreement to keep communication open. They went to another foster home that was open to adopting them. I do wonder how they are and thought about #6 on her birthday.
- Case 5 - I do communicate with mom through email and text occasionally. We both reach out to see how each other are doing. She'll text me to let me know something cute #7 did or said, usually related to his relationship with us. One day she told mie that he said he missed us and loved us. One day just last week she told mie that he was playing in his room and drove his car to our house to see our son and said "Hi, I love you" to us as he "drove to work". I think there is an opportunity here to do more, maybe scheduling playdates and such. I haven't proposed the idea to mom yet because I didn't want to intrude during the first few months they were home. I'm hoping we can get back together because I do think it will be important for our kids.
- Case 6 - they're still here!
In reality, it's difficult to keep in contact with the kids once they leave and so, as you can tell I really don't have much contact with any of my kids now. Many times the parents or future families are resistant to that contact. They often want to go back to normal with their kids, kind of pretending the whole CPS nightmare didn't happen, and because of that they don't want to keep talking with the foster parent. Though I can understand that, I try beforehand to talk with them about how the transition will affect their kids and go out of our way to provide some avenue for contact.
They encourage lifebooks, a scrapbook of sorts for the foster parents to keep up with while the kids are in care so that the kids don't loose that part of their life. I haven't seen that work yet for a variety of reasons (not the least of which if they reunify and then get removed again it's unlikely the parents are going to send the lifebook with the child), nevertheless I still think ongoing contact is more important than pictures, which are better than nothing.
So no, not really, you don't get to talk with them or see them after they leave. I do my best to assume their doing well and pray for them and maintain as much contact as I can manage. It's just part of the gig.