Loss is an unavoidable part of life, but that fact doesn’t make coping with it any easier. For those involved in foster care, the grief of loss is often associated with the child who was removed from his home.
However, not much thought was given to the loss felt by the foster parents who have watched as the child in their care for years was reunited with his parents. That is, until recently.
Across the country, states now offer different forms of loss and grief training focusing on the loss foster parents feel when a child is removed from their home. While foster parent message boards offer moral support, states have moved towards offering programs to truly help foster parents cope.
That wasn’t always the case.
The Start of Loss and Grief Training for Foster Parents
In New Jersey, it wasn’t until Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) created a training course in 1994 that specialized in helping foster parents cope with their loss. The course, called “When I Go,” focused on the grief felt by foster parents and other family members after a child was removed from their home.
“It was important to help people understand,” FAFS Director of Education and Human Resources Fran Gervasi said. “It doesn’t matter how long you had the kid in your home. You opened your home up, your heart up. You are feeling a loss.”
The course was born out of Gervasi’s own personal tragedy. Her son committed suicide years earlier and she was continuing going through the process of grieving.
“You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, and you can’t go under it,” Gervasi said. “You have to go through it.”
Gervasi’s personal tragedy informed her understanding of grief and loss and became the basis for the course that focused on helping foster parents deal with saying goodbye to children in their care, as well as helping them prepare.
“It’s all about helping them deal with that grief,” Gervasi said. “You’re not going to relieve the pain, but you can help them understand it.”
Back in the early days when trainings were done in person county by county, the grief and loss training was always well attended with people sharing their own personal stories of loss. The quieter foster parents often waited until after the training, but they’d often approach Gervasi and explain how much truth the course touched on.
“There is really a need for it,” Gervasi said. “You hear it. You recognize it.”
Loss and Grief Training: The Empty Seat at the Table
The online course, which is now called “The Empty Seat at the Table: Resource Parent Loss and Grief,” provides two hours of in-service training and can be found here. It continues to focus on the loss felt by foster parents and family members as well as discussing the different types of grief.
The course also speaks about how foster parents can prepare themselves for inevitable loss.
“They are opening themselves to this loss over and over again,” Gervasi said. “Part of it is they need to know when to stop. They need to know how this affects their children and family.”
The issue remains relevant to every foster parent who opens their home to a child, no matter how long the child stays in the parents’ care.
“In loss, you’re open to a world of hurt,” Gervasi said. “There’s a lot of guilt involved.”
Grief doesn’t disappear, Gervasi points out. But people can still heal over time, despite the gravity of loss.
“What helped me heal, I stopped asking why,” Gervasi said. “Why did that happen to me? Why did my family have to suffer this loss? I was never getting the answer.”