Parents' Perspective 2
Helping children settle into the placement
The interruption of a relationship with birth parents, or other foster parents, can be a difficult experience for a child. Children are often faced with abrupt changes: new routines, having to learn to trust a new family, and having to adapt to a new way of living. It was not surprising that settling in was rarely described as an easy process by either foster parents, adoptive parents, or birth parents.
Almost all adoptive parents, foster parents, and birth parents believed that the children had eventually settled in well to the placement. However, most reported some difficulties that both they and the children had experienced, particularly at the beginning of the placement.
“She banged her head against the walls, she slapped herself round the face, she bit, she couldn’t eat off a spoon anything at all …” (Foster parent)
Adoptive parents mentioned challenges, such as: adapting to the demands of parenthood; and understanding and managing the child’s emotional and health needs, for example ADHD, chronic asthma, or anxiety.
“When he was first placed, he was insecure and unsure of himself and basically didn’t like to let you out of his sight … I found adapting to that very difficult.” (Adoptive parent)
Adoptive, birth, and foster parents used different strategies to help ease the settling-in process, such as creating and building on ‘a shared history’, and establishing a family routine. They also said that as they gradually relaxed with the children, it helped the children to relax as well. It also appeared that a successful settling in was very much helped by the children’s ability to say where they belonged, where their home was, and who they were going to live with in the future.
“… the biggest issue was where she was going to be and we could never honestly say to her: you will stay here ... So the fact that you could come to her and say to her you will stay here; she has settled so much better, she has fewer problems with access [to her birth family] as she knows she is going for a visit and not staying.” (Foster parent)
“She didn’t understand whether she was going to be here full-time or whether somebody was going to come and take her away again. So she was worried about this until we actually sat down and talked to her and said ‘No, you’re here for good now.’” (Birth parent)
Developing good child-parent relationships: What helped?
Despite some difficulties at the start, adoptive parents, foster parents, and birth parents said that they had eventually felt an emotional connection (bonded) with their children. They mentioned some factors that had influenced this process. A particularly important factor for adoptive parents and foster parents was age: the younger the child was, the easier the process of bonding.
“[Our foster child] is ‘part and parcel’ of the household and that’s it and that way he’ll remain until either he or powers beyond our control decide otherwise.” (Foster parent)
“Because we got him from a baby he was just ours from the beginning ... he moulded into our way of life.” (Adoptive parent)
Adoptive parents felt that the security and stability of the adoptive placement itself, i.e. it was a placement for life, helped the children develop an emotional connection (attachment) to their adoptive parents. These views reflected the comments of foster parents who said that it was easier for the child to form an emotional connection when they understood that they would be living with the foster parents for the remainder of their childhood. Some foster parents also explained how good relationships with other relatives and children living in the home particularly helped this process.
“[our children] would see [our foster child] as his brother, he sees our older daughter as his big sister, they all get on very well ... [our children] treat him as a smaller brother, there’s no conflict.” (Foster parent)
Adoptive parents, foster parents, and birth parents, linked the bonding process to a commitment to and willingness to make personal sacrifices in order to meet the child’s needs, and much satisfaction was reported from seeing a child thrive and grow.
“It’s like an inner warmth ... simple wee things are so rewarding and so warm.” (Adoptive parent)
Contact: What helped?
What foster parents said:
Some foster parents believed that contact visits disrupted the children’s routines and described how children were upset or unsettled after they returned from the visits. However, others commented that they had invited birth parents or grandparents to celebrate significant occasions such as a birthday, First Holy Communion and Christmas.
“That was extremely difficult when he came back [from visiting his birth mother]. He would have been very hyper, very cheeky, he just really didn’t know what to do. He was a different child really when he came back to us.” (Foster parent)
What birth parents said:
Birth parents felt that contact had been difficult for themselves and their children. Some birth parents described contact visits as emotionally difficult and stressful, particularly when they were highly supervised, short and in awkward places.
“Seeing him like in a wee ... children’s centre up there for an hour in a wee pokey room with somebody sitting watching us ... you weren’t allowed to take them out ... I felt strange when I did visit them. You didn’t know what you could do with them and what you can’t do with them.” (Birth parent)
What adoptive parents said:
Adoptive parents mentioned some benefits that contact could have for themselves and their children, such as:
· being a useful source of information on the child and his/her background;
· facilitating an ongoing exchange of information between the child and his/her birth family;
· gaining the practical and emotional support of some members of the child’s birth family, like a granny;
· helping children to make sense of the key people in their lives; and
· reducing feelings of abandonment.
Others also mentioned some concerns that contact could have for themselves and their children, such as:
· the child being too young to make sense of contact;
· the child being upset by birth parents not availing of contact;
· contact with siblings could raise issues of rough play and jealousy;
· difficulties in retaining anonymity (in the case of letter-box contact);
· complicating life; and
· difficulties regarding parental role identity.
“Grandparents would baby-sit for us, he stays weekends with his (birth) granny ... they’re just everybody’s granny and granda now ... they just have the right to call in and they’re great, they’re lovely people.” (Adoptive parent)
“I feel that she just can’t come to terms with contact ... I feel that it’s maybe something to do with memories, I’m not sure what it is.” (Adoptive parent)