Tell the kids. We sat the older kids down to explain that they'd be moving. We included our daughter on this talk. We wanted to talk to all the kids at the same time so that they'd all hear the same information, and so that no one would have the opportunity to tell anyone else about the move before they heard it from us directly. We decided to tell them after school so that it wouldn't interfere with their school day and so that they'd have some time to process the information and burn off energy before bed time. Before talking to the kids we thought about how to say what we needed to say. We were very kind but also very direct. Kids are very literal thinkers, so we wanted to make this information easy for them to comprehend. Here's the basics of what we made sure to cover in that conversation:
- Who: Each time we mentioned the move we specifically said all three kids' names so that everyone would know who was (the three siblings we were fostering) and was not (my bio son and daughter) moving.
- Where: We told the kids where they were moving. We reassured them that we were very happy for them to be making this move, and that although we'd miss them very much, we thought this would be a very good home for them.
- When: One of the first things we told the kids was that they'd be moving in two weeks. We didn't want them sitting through the conversation thinking that they were packing up and leaving right away.
- Why: We explained very clearly who made the decision to move the kids. Kids in foster care have so little control over their lives, we at least owe them the truth about why things are happening the way they are happening. At the same time, we remained very positive about everything and shared that we supported this decision and were very hopeful that it would be a wonderful move for them.
Alert the support staff. We emailed or called all the teachers, schools, and therapists serving the kids to let them know about the change and discuss how to move their records and transfer their services to their new home.
Finalize Life Books. Life books are basically photo albums for each of the kids chronicalling their time with your family. Some kids will come with Life Books started by previous foster families and future families add to those books. Other kids come without any Life Book or previous pictures so the foster family will want to start a new one. Life books are an important tool for helping children remember large chunks of time in their life. Using the children we fostered as an example, we don't know what the future will hold for them. They may be separated from one another and moved several times. They may lose all contact with us. They may end up with no one in their life who can tell them anything about their eight months in our home. Hopefully each child's Life Book will move with him or her throughout life, filling in some of those memories. We included pictures of our family and all the special people they've met while staying here, stories of special trips we took, and even a favorite family recipe that they loved. Ideally you'd work on the Life Book from the week that the children first move in, adding to it periodically.
Write goodbye letters. Mike and I each wrote our own goodbye letter to each of the kids who stayed with us and we added those to their Life Books.
Pack, pack, pack. I'm a firm believer that the kids should move with anything that belongs to them, as well as with anything they will need. That includes: anything they came to our house with; anything they received as a gift while staying with us; anything their family members gave them while they were staying with us; all of their clothing; coats; boots; toothbrushes; hairbrushes.
Type notes. When the kids came to live with me I knew nothing about them. Absolutely nothing. So I typed out some information about the kids that I hoped would help make this transition a little easier. I tried to balance giving enough pertinant information, without at the same time setting everyone up for expecting the worst by outlining every little behavior issue we'd had - after all, the kids may behave very differently in their next home. I focused on listing the routine and schedule that we followed, the kids' favorite foods, and a detailed medical history outlining every doctor appointment they'd been to while in our care. I also included three "key issues" that we were working on with each child, such as respecting privacy, or encouraging using language to communicate instead of grunts and gestures.
Plan goodbye parties. We wanted the kids to have an opportunity to say goodbye to all the important people they'd met. Skype helped them say goodbye to out-of-state foster-grandparents. Local foster-grandparents had our family over for dinner a few nights before the move. I asked their teachers if I could send cupcakes for the class on their last day. As for our own immediate family, we went out to dinner at a favorite restaurant the night before the move.
Be prepared for backsliding. This was one I wish I'd seen coming. Once we got notice the kids were moving I was looking forward to a relaxed and enjoyable final two weeks together. However, once the kids found out they were moving we started to see some regressive behaviors. As I mentioned in a previous post about the move, the kids have never been very forthright about their emotions, so instead they often express themselves through behavior. And this was a very emotional time for all of us, so it resulted in some more extreme behaviors. It was frustrating to see them slipping into old habits, and heartbreaking to miss out on enjoying our last days together in the way I would have liked to. But that's the thing about healing hurt children - their hurting doesn't end just because I want it to. I can't wave a magic wand and erase their past. I wanted to relax and enjoy our last days. But they needed to express themselves the only way they knew how. And they needed me to be understanding and compassionate about that need.