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Grief & Loss in foster care (it's everywhere)

You will find the impact of grief everywhere you look in foster care.

The five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) were first articulated by a Swiss psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She wrote about her work with terminally ill patients in the book On Grief & Grieving, and it is widely regarded as the seminal text on grief in all its forms.

Important to remember that everybody grieves differently. Not everyone goes through all five stages of grief, and they don’t always go in order. 

In foster children grief can look like:

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  • Denial—refusing to ever relax or allow themselves to be comfortable in their foster home or with their foster family.

  • Anger—lashing out at foster parents with hurtful comments like “you’re not my real mom.”

  • Bargaining—working extra hard to earn favor from adults as if their performance (behavioral or academic or otherwise) will influence the trajectory of their case.

  • Depression—withdrawing from activities and relationships into a general lethargy.

  • Acceptance—seeking their place in the new and unusual social dynamic of the foster family.

In foster parents grief can look like:

  • Denial—avoiding appointments or emails which they know will trigger the end of a season.

  • Anger—blaming other members of the team for unfortunate but unavoidable circumstances.

  • Bargaining—advocating for solutions in their own interest more than the child’s.

  • Depression—failing to connect emotionally with children for fear of losing another relationship.

  • Acceptance—coming to terms with the love & let-go nature of foster care.

In social workers grief can look like:

  • Denial—delaying decisions which they know are inevitable.

  • Anger—speaking sharper or shorter with foster parents or other members of the team.

  • Bargaining—pushing harder than they would otherwise on infeasible plans.

  • Depression—a disinterest or emotional disconnection from the work.

  • Acceptance—trying a new riskier approach knowing that it might not work on the first try.

**And, I repeat, everybody grieves differently. So, it can also look a lot of other ways too.**

The point here is: in this community, everybody around you is grieving. Or was grieving. Or will be grieving (again) soon. So let’s be kind to each other. Let’s allow for less than pitch perfect communication every time. Let’s be safe places for the grievers around us, and ask for the space that we will inevitably need to grieve ourselves.

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