Maintain the relationship: Meet with the child for lunch, or for an outing to a park. Do not talk about the conflict, stay on topics that are neutral, such as the weather, the family pet, etc. If the parents cannot manage this, then send a less engaged relative, such as a grandparent or aunt with whom the child has had a close relationship.
Do not be bullied by social services: Parents have the right and the responsibility to maintain a relationship with the child even though social workers or counselors may be trying to end the relationship. Go to the supervisors, government officials, or outside sources of advocacy to ensure that the relationship is preserved. That means, the parents maintain the right to visit the child, to have the child visit the family home on certain occasions, to participate in the child’s life by watching him at sports or school events, to continue sharing in educational decisions and to receive a copy of the report card, to have regular telephone contact, and to ensure that the child in placed in a foster home with caregivers who will work with, not against, the parents.
Remember that adoption is a life long commitment: Even though some one else may have to finish raising the child, the parents can still have a relationship with the child as an adult. That means being a grandparent to the adoptee’s children, sharing time together at Christmas or holidays, and staying in touch through calls and visits.
Continue to tell the child that he has a place in the family: Be clear with the child that he is still a member of the family even though he has to be in foster care, or a residential treatment setting, for a while. Help him to understand that his last name will not change and that he still belongs with the adoptive family.
Use extended family members to bridge the hostility gap: If either the parents or the youth are still too angry to have a peaceful meeting during the first few weeks after the youth goes into foster care, then ask older siblings, grandparents or an aunt or uncle to do the visiting until tempers have cooled down. This will allow the youth to understand that she is still a valued part of the family, but will not create yet another scenario for confrontation. However, make sure that it is a family member who is able and willing to be neutral and loving toward the youth.
Do not feel guilty for what has happened, but be responsible about what will happen: In other words, while the parents should not waste time and energy feeling like failures, they should be taking concrete action to recreate something positive with the child or youth. This may mean counseling to help the parents get a dispassionate look at what they need to be doing for the child in the long term. Or, it may mean actively working with the social worker and foster parents on building a healthier relationship with the child.
Take some time out, refocus, and rebuild: Once the child has entered foster care or a treatment center, take time from the stress and refocus the family energy. Stop talking about the things that went wrong or the negative behaviors. A therapist can help everyone debrief, but outside of counseling sessions, find other things to talk about. Usually, during the months before the child leaves the home, the acting out child has been the focal point of the family. This is the time to start finding other people and things on which to put energy and time. At first, many parents just want to sleep and rest. Siblings may also need to sleep and recoup the energy that the conflict has taken from them. After a few days, or weeks of this, start filling in the energy void with healthy activities. Join a group that has nothing to do with children, get active in the garden, or put more time into the neglected workplace. This is also a time to rebuild the relationships that have suffered while the child was acting out. Other children in the home may have felt neglected as the parental attention all went on the one child and they need special attention and time from the parents in order to heal from their experience of recent months. Extended family and friends may have felt alienated as the parents developed a siege mentality while dealing with the everyday conflicts and hostilities. Take this opportunity to spend time with them and work get back on track with friends and loved ones.
Remember that the negative feelings will pass: The feelings of anger, despair, hopelessness, loss etc. will pass with time. These are common feelings during the crisis, but they will fade as the mental exhaustion reduces.
Do not be bullied into taking the child back into the home before the family is ready: Crowded caseloads will result in most social workers trying to return the child to the home as soon as possible. However, if he returns before all family members have healed and are ready to deal with him again, then it is a plan which is doomed to fail. Resist the efforts for a premature return and, again, use outside advocates if necessary. The most common threat by social workers is that if the child does not return ‘soon’ then the adoptive parents will lose custody. That is a risk that must be faced. However, loss of custody does not mean loss of relationship. Contact can continue and the parents can re-adopt the child at a later date.
Document everything: From the point at which the plan is developed to have the child leave the home, the parents should begin documenting every contact with the child, the social worker, the foster parents, the therapists, etc. Also, let everyone involved know that this is being done. It is a good idea to write down minutes of each meeting and send them back to each participant. This can prevent confusion developing later about what the plans for reconciliation are and what each party has agreed to do at every phase of the temporary disruption.
Know the legislation: Have a lawyer explain all of the legislation regarding the custody and services provided. Some parents have thought they were only placing the child in foster care for a specific length of time only to find later they cannot get him returned. Or, they thought they would have full access only to be told that they cannot see the child at all.
- Acquire knowledge about the child’s needs
- Become skilled in meeting those needs
- Create support for the child, the siblings living in the home, and the parents
- Develop patience and tolerance
- Embrace the adoptive relationship as a lifelong commitment.
- Face the facts, and accept the child for who he is now.
Source: Handout for NYSCCC 2003 conference workshop presented by Brenda McCreight, PhD, May 9, 2003, Albany, NY. Reprinted with permission of the author.