Written by Washington Foster Team
“They have a culture, they have a family, they're meant to be together because there is a true bond.” — Sara Cunningham, Washington State foster parent
When Sara Cunningham and her husband became foster parents in 2007, they ended up adopting a brother and sister who were placed with them. After that, they continued to foster, but always with the goal of reunification.
It’s never been easy, but they’ve seen firsthand the incredible impact reuniting a child with their family can have on everyone involved.
Reunification is the goal of foster care. Yet, depending on your reasons for becoming a foster parent, it can be mentally draining and even emotionally damaging to go through if you expect to adopt. Here are a few ways to soften the impact.
Start With Reunification In Mind
Today, reunification is the goal in the vast majority of foster care cases. While some foster parents still end up adopting children that have been placed in their care, it’s become more rare.
When you become a foster parent with the expectation of reunification in mind, it’s much easier when you come face-to-face with the reality of giving up a child who you’ve loved and shared your home with.
One way to help make that transition easier is to understand why reunification is preferred. Studies have shown that reunifying a child with their family improves permanency outcomes for both the child and the parents. In other words, kids and their parents thrive more as individuals when they’re able to reconnect as a family.
Plus, as Cunningham and her family have noted, there is nothing like the bond that a child and their family share. Protecting that connection is one of the most incredible gifts a foster parent can offer.
Stay Connected With Birth Parents
“We text back and forth. We send pictures, and she spends every other weekend with her great grandmother. And whenever she has questions, or I have questions, we communicate. We always communicate.” — Sara Cunningham
Some of the most powerful stories of reunification come from bonds formed between foster parents and biological parents who connect over the shared love of a child. When possible, staying connected to a child’s birth parents provides an important bridge between family members. It also keeps your mind on the goal of reunification.
There are other benefits too. Connecting with biological parents gives them the opportunity to share things about their child you might never have known.
From simple things like their favorite bedtime story to more complex needs, communicating with a biological parent can also help you connect with your foster child.
Even when making the transition into reunification, you can find ways to connect with biological parents. For example, Cunningham and her family create a simple scrapbook with pictures from a child’s time with them. They give one copy to the biological parents and keep a copy for themselves.
“We have an extra book for our children, so when they say “I miss so and so,” we can get their book, look through it, and see those experiences and memories. It’s so nice to have that momento of what we did to succeed with them,” says Cunningham.
Surround Yourself With The Right Support
No matter how much you prepare, no matter how much you support the end result, no longer caring for a child you’ve come to love is a challenging process. But you’re not alone. Seek out support groups in your community, in your agency, and among your close friends to help you during and after reunification.
Reach out to other foster parents who have been in your shoes and find the help you need whenever you need it. Remember, you’re never alone in this. We’re here to help.
For more information and advice on reunification, click here to read our full, in-depth guide. Then, when you're ready to start the process of becoming a foster parent, download our free checklist on preparing your home and family for foter care.