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Session 3/15

Page 2/6: How does a child experience the start of foster care placement? Understanding the transition period

How does a child experience the start of foster care placement? Understanding the transition period

When the child arrives in the foster family you have prepared for the meeting, and you probably look forward to using all your skills to help the child accommodate in the new family.

It is important to realize that arriving in the foster family is much more difficult for the child than it is for the foster family: perhaps there have been chaotic events and confusion, especially if the child has been taken from parents against their will. Even if the child has been well prepared, being replaced is a very difficult experience for children, and they need a lot of time to accommodate before they start feeling secure in the foster family.



This is a typical story from a ten year old child in foster care about how she felt during the first year in foster care. At that time she was six years old.

I really didn’t like them (the foster family) even though they were kind to me, just because they were new. I missed my mother and my friends all the time, and every time my foster parents were nice to me it just made me think of my mother. I thought I must be a very bad child since they took me away. The room was new and their house had a different smell which I didn’t like. I was very afraid when I started and I cried a lot when they didn’t see it, and once I even tried to run away, but I couldn’t find the right bus, so I went back there. When they offered me something I just thought that my Mom couldn’t afford that and that was why I was taken away, so I just yelled at them that they were paid to care for me and that they didn’t like me at all. It made them very sad, so I also felt guilty because I made them sad, but I was just so angry for being taken away. I was afraid that if I liked them, my mother would be angry with me. I thought my friends and my Mom had forgotten all about me, so I was very happy when they (the foster parents) took me back to my old place and helped me write letters to my friends. Now I know that they really like me, and sometimes we talk about how badly I behaved when I started living here, and we laugh about it…

This story shows how the child starting in foster care can be in a state of alarm, sorrow and confusion while trying to adjust to a new environment. The child is really in a paradoxical situation of crisis – it has just lost important persons, and in the middle of this loss it must also cope with people who wish to parent it and get close to it. Imagine that you were fired from a job without any explanation, and when leaving you meet two very positive people who want to hire you for the same job – would you trust them? Probably not…

In other sessions (“Turning loss into resilience” and “Who am I?”), you can learn a lot more about how children react to loss. The following topics in this session will prepare you for how to cope from the start with the child’s first reactions during the transition from the former caregivers’ care to your foster family.