I, for one, cannot imagine allowing my child to go off with a stranger to visit relatives, which is a necessity for a foster child. I know that divorced parents must let their children go off with different relatives, such as husbands and wives, grand parents, aunts and uncles, and even girlfriends, boyfriends, new wives and new husbands. I am just very thankful that I am not divorced, nor are my children in foster care. However, I have found that sending my foster son, Coconut, off to visit his relatives is almost as hard as if he were my own.
Visitations are a very good thing, don’t get me wrong, as every child needs to keep that connection with the family that he or she has grown up with. When they are really little, it is very confusing to the child. Coconut knows who his family is, loves looking at pictures of them, but when it is time to go visit them he still doesn’t understand why I cannot go with him. Unfortunately, it is just something that he will have to get used to, and he will.
To make the transition go smoother, here is some things that I do for Coconut (who is only two, so you will have to adapt them based on the age of the child in your care):
1. Keep his family forever in his mind. You can do this by posting pictures of their mother and father, their grand parents, aunts, uncles, etc. I have a picture of his mother and him in a frame by Coconut’s bed. We talk about his family often. He always gets a perplexed look on his face when I bring the pictures out and talk about his relatives. Then, as a light bulb goes off in his head, he starts grinning, and will even kiss the pictures when I tell him to give ‘so-and-so’ a kiss.
2. Post a picture by the door of the relative that the child will be visiting that day. I will put one relatives picture up one day, then the other relatives picture up the next day. I will talk about that person the whole time we are getting ready for him to go with the visitation worker.
3. Get to know your visitation worker. Invite him or her in after visits. The child will see that the visitation worker is welcome in your home and that you enjoy talking with them. In turn, the child will feel more comfortable going with them. It is helpful to you as well to develop a relationship with the visitation worker, because they are your link to the visits. It is important for you to know what goes on at the visitation, so that you can be prepared if the child acts out because of it, or is sad, etc.
4. Do not make a big deal out of the child leaving. Sure, we love to feel needed and wanted and loved. However, when a child is Coconut’s age, he reacts to the feelings around him. If you make goodbyes very positive, yet very matter-a-fact, they will make the transition without too much fuss. I always try to hand Coconut to his visitation worker to encourage that bond, but if he cannot handle this on a particular day, I will take him to the car myself, strap in into his car seat, and simply say goodbye and walk back into the house. Yes, I peek out the window to see if he calms down, but even if he doesn’t as they are driving away, the visitation worker says he always quiets down within a few minutes. Some days, he goes right to his visitation worker, holds her hand as he walks down the sidewalk to her car, and will even turn and wave ‘bye-bye’ to me. Other days, he sees her getting out of her car in the morning and he completely freaks out and clings to me as if there is a tidal wave coming! Just as we have our moods, so do these kids. We just have to be there to make it go as well as it can for that day.
5. Remember that you are a child of God. It should go without saying that we are not to bad-talk the parents or relatives of these children. Yes, it will be very hard to do this. We have all heard the horror stories of the abuse that children receive at the hands of those that should love them the most. It is an entirely different experience to see the abuse first-hand. The bruises and fractures and cuts go away soon enough, however, it is the emotional toll that is so hard to watch. It is very, very hard not to harbor serious resentment towards the families of the child. What I do, is simply think of the worse thing I have ever done, how much I regret what I did, and how I would do things so differently if given another chance. Then I think that I have indeed been given another chance…..at salvation through Jesus Christ. Let God be the judge and jury.
6. Be prepared. Always pack a bag for the child that has everything that will make him or her more comfortable. I have actually heard of foster parents that do not pack anything for the child. No diapers, no snacks, no sippy cups or bottles, no nothing. Then when the child gets to the family, they are not prepared either. Some foster parents do not feel that they should use their money to supply the child with necessities for a visit with relatives. They feel that the relatives should supply those things. Well, we love Coconut, and I am not taking any chances that he might not have what he needs. Most of the time, his relatives will bring food, or a little toy for him to play with, but I cannot in good concience take that chance! I must know that he has what he needs, so therefore, I send it! Here is what is in Coconut’s bag:
1. a bag full of suckers
2. a bag full of animal crackers
3. a bag full of Goldfish crackers
4. his breakfast (sometimes he doesn’t eat before visitations because he is stressed out about leaving)
5. a sippy cup or two of his favorite beverage
6. plenty of wipes
7. 6 diapers
8. a full change of clothes with fresh socks
9. coloring book and crayons
10. Pepto for stomach aches and Children’s Advil for fevers and pain with medicine dropper and correct doses written on the bottles
12. swimmie diapers
13. swimmie floats
14. a bag full of small toys
15 a wet bag
7. Offer lots of love, hugs and kisses when they return back home to you. Most children will act out after visitations. Some good things and some bad. Just depends on his mood, the visit, and how he is feeling. We just love Coconut up and try to soothe away any bad feelings.
As with everything pertaining to a specific foster child, it all comes down to trial and error. What works for one, will not work for another!