This interview is with Kelly who’s been a foster carer for over 14 years. I’m really pleased Kelly has taken the time to do the answer my questions as it gives us a fantastic insight into introductions from a foster care perspective.
How many children have you fostered and how many have you moved on to adoption?
We’ve fostered 28 children and moved 10 on to adoption.
At what stage do you start to introduce to children that they’re not going to stay with you forever and that they’re going to move to their forever family?
We usually have an idea on the permanency plan a couple of months before it happens. But I have seen introductions start a couple of days after the judge has made the decision. As soon as we have a clear idea of which way the decision is going to go, we will start talking (in an age appropriate way) about forever mummy and daddy. It’s so difficult talking to a child about moving on, but we always speak excitedly and positively about the new family.
We generally know a little bit about the new family and will plant seeds in the child’s head. So for example, if the new family have a dog or live near a park, then we’ll talk about how exciting it would be to have a forever family that have a dog or who live near a park. Then it can feel like it was their choice when they meet their family for the first time and discover they have a dog.
The adopters provide a book that they’ve made with photos of them and their home so we make a big fuss about everything in the book! We go through the book hundreds of times, reinforcing the fact that “they wanted a dog or to be near a park”. And how exciting it all is.
About a week before introductions start we receive a DVD that the adopters have made and sit all the family down together to watch it. Everyone would be really excited and make a big fuss of the child, pointing out things like, “look at your bedroom! You wanted bunk beds!” The DVD would be watched hundreds of times!
What do you do to prepare a child for introductions?
We talk about what is going to happen in an age appropriate way. With younger ones it was more about going through the book and watching the DVD to keep them fresh in their head.
We once had two little girls from two different families being adopted separately around the same time. The first to be adopted noticed that her new home had a blue door when we watched her DVD. The second little girl was telling everyone that she wanted a pink door. When I met her adoptive mum, I mentioned that she wanted a pink door. When we received her DVD she had painted her front door pink!!
What kinds of things can adopters provide to foster carers to help the child learn about them?
It’s age relevant really. Little ones need visuals, so a book with photos of them, their house, their bedroom, any pets, the local park etc. Older children the same or a video. But hopefully if the adopter has some feedback from the foster carer, then include photos of things the child likes. So, for example, a bike, Lego, plaiting hair etc. Don’t overthink it. The video doesn’t have to be long. Make it fun and engaging.
One family sang row, row, row the boat but it went on forever!! The child lost interest after a couple of minutes. Another mum filmed herself putting lots of strawberries in her mouth that the child absolutely cracked up and loved!
What advice would you give to adopters about introductions? What can they do to prepare?
The most important thing is not to rush in and try and take over. It upsets the child and the carer. Be patient and move at the child’s pace. Don’t feel upset if after the first and second day if the child still isn’t coming to you for things. If a child has formed good attachments to their carer, they will go on to form good attachments with you. But it won’t happen overnight.
Feel confident that if the child absolutely adores the carer, then the carer has done a good job and the child will move their affections to you. Listen to the carer. The introductions plan may say to do one thing, but the carer may suggest something else. They aren’t trying to be difficult, they want the best outcome for the child. I think patience is the key.
Please also be mindful of how the carer is feeling. We open our homes to adopters at a time when we’re emotionally exhausted because we’re about to move on a child that we’ve loved and cherished for a long period of time. That’s tough.
How long do introductions usually last? How do they work?
Introductions usually last between one and two weeks, depending on the age of the child. It’s very intense for all involved!
The first day the adopters arrive, we don’t make a big fuss. They come in and have a cup of tea and everyone is sussing everyone else out. They stay for a couple of hours and go. The next day they stay for a couple of hours longer. The next day we might go out to the park and I’ll start to take a back seat.
The next day they will take the child out for most of the day then come back and do dinner, bath and bedtime routine. We slowly build up until they have taken over our routine. Depending on the age of the child, a sleepover at their new home will happen. We drop the child and pick them up the next day. It’s an exhausting time for everyone. As the end approaches, everyone should be ready for the move.
How do you and your family prepare yourselves for a child leaving and moving in with their forever family?
It’s the hardest thing in the world to prepare for. It’s like a bereavement. Of course you are always happy for all involved but inside a piece of you is dying. I lose weight, spend most nights crying leading up to the introductions. I used to keep the babies pyjamas under my pillow so when they left I could inhale their smell!
We really try to get to know the adopters and make them feel comfortable and at ease. We keep in touch with almost all adopters we’ve moved children on to.
Our boys were three and five when we started fostering and it has really played a massive part in their growing up. Moving children on really affected them as well. Also my parents and my husband’s parents would be upset. I always say it never gets any easier moving children on, but I’ve learned to cope with it better.
We’ve not had any support from Social services either during or after introductions. But we’re lucky to have amazing friends to pick us up and look after us and a big glass of wine always helps!
If you’d like to read more adoption stories, click here