April 13th, 2008
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Transitioning foster children back to their family home is a difficult process for everyone involved. Regardless of their ages, the children will act out if they have been in the foster home for more than a few weeks. The way they act out will depend on their maturity level. Younger children may start throwing temper tantrums and have difficulty sleeping at night that may include nightmares. If the child was recently potty trained, it could be undone by the transitioning process. All children tend to treat their foster parents with increasing disrespect, as their return home time grows nearer. They are less likely to obey requests or follow house rules. You may hear, “You are not my real parent,” with increasing frequency.


Try to continue being supportive of the return home. Realize that the acting out isn’t about you or your home. The children are acting out because they are confused and have mixed feelings about returning home. They may worry that if they go home everything will be the same as before and then they will be removed again. If they have been in foster care for a long time, they may worry about losing their relationship with their foster parents. If your foster children are not already in counseling you may want to begin before the transition home begins. Even young children can have play therapy to work through some of their mixed feelings.

If you have not previously developed a relationship with your foster child’s birth family, it might be time to begin. Perhaps you can meet with them to drop off or pick up the child from overnight visitation. It sometimes helps children transition when they see the people they love the most together and getting along. If you are able to develop a positive relationship with the parents, they may allow the children to see you or call you once they return home. This can be very helpful to the children who have become very attached to their foster families. You may also be able to help with advice if the family is struggling with an issue such as discipline or schoolwork.

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Rocking a Traumatized Child’s Tantrum Away

Photo Credit Julia Fuller 2007

10 Responses to “The Tantrums Associated With Transitioning a Foster child Back Home”

  1. bockelj says:

    In my experience, you are unlikely to “develop a positive relationship with the parent(s).” You are the ‘other’ and always will be. The parents do not want you in their lives; they want to forget you ever existed and will consider it interference if you try to insinuate yourself into their lives after transition.

    Their children will also not welcome it since their life is more comfortable to them when kept in neat little boxes (foster home box, real home box, school box, etc.)

    The acting out they do is a natural part of the process to draw away from you (much like what teenagers do when they rebel). It’s simply their way of saying “I don’t need you anymore; I’m going my own way and you’re going yours.” It is meant to help them deal with the pain. Your role as a foster parent is to reassure them that you will always love them and that they will always be welcomed back but that you understand the need to separate and that you also understand their love for their parents.

    If, by some miracle, they’ve never caught you saying anything negative about their parents (you shouldn’t be, but it happens) they may talk about their plans when they return home or their fears.

    One thing–never fool yourself into thinking that this child is acting out because they’d rather stay with you. BIG MISTAKE! You are not the love of their life. Their parents are #1 and always will be. Help them by treating the separation as a normal part of life and welcoming conversations about their parents. Swallow that lump no matter how big it is and hide the empty feeling you will no doubt have when they’re gone.

    You can act out later.

  2. Julia Fuller says:

    I’ve been a foster parent for 14 years and have developed relationships will nealy all of the birthparents. They let the kids come to spend the night after they have returned home as aunt and uncle relationship. I know many other foster parents with similar experiences. It’s too bad that it hasn’t worked for you. I’m very sorry for you. -Julia

  3. bockelj says:

    It works fine for me. I just know my place as a FOSTER parent. I’m not the biological parent of these children and never will be.

    As the foster parent it is my job to (hopefully) show these children what they may not have seen at home–kindness, respect, love, and a host of possibilities for their life in the future. Often that is enough to get them through the rest of the tough times that await them.

    It is my job to repeatedly set my own heart up for heartbreak, while strengthening theirs to withstand the storms they will encounter in whatever life they face down the road. My heart can take it; I’m an adult.

    Through the years I have been accused of wanting to “keep” or “steal” many children I’ve had in care. No doubt most foster parents have been accused by some biological parents and relatives of the same thing. Parents often can’t see past the ends of their own noses to see that the truth is just the opposite. I have often been anxious to rush the system when I see a child bond strongly to me because they have never been treated with love before.

    I have often been frustrated by the slow crawl at which the process moves while I scream in my head for “permanency” and a child looks at me as if I’m going to answer all her unanswered questions.

    I have only one answer–I don’t want your children parents! I desperately want YOU to keep them.

    Unfortunately, the last set of children we got who formed an attachment to us were never returned home. They were heartbroken by this, but their mother simply would not behave long enough to keep them. She refused to cooperate with even the smallest request, refusing drug tests, visitation, counseling, and wouldn’t take her meds. She finally disappeared for four months and still DHS waited, hoping she would improve. I was aghast, but she was a favorite of theirs and they cared about her. They finally admitted it was hopeless after two years of chasing her and they terminated her rights to the three children, two of which we had.

    They were advertised for adoption, and although we never considered having children on a permanent basis, we’d had two of them for two years and did not want them to go through the trauma of another placement. We knew the oldest one well enough and decided to take them all fearing otherwise they would be broken up.

    I do not regret adopting, but I am still angry with their mother for screwing the whole thing up. Shortly afterward she became pregnant again (mine were her second set of three that she lost). This time she married a man who had never been into the drug scene and has been clean for four years–a very long time for her. She now has two little girls.

    Now, my children ask me why she couldn’t do it for them and I don’t know what to say.

    When I say biological parents will always be #1, I speak from experience. They’ve lived with me now for four years, and I swear, if they had the chance to back to her today, they’d take off running and never turn around to wave goodbye.

    This is where I come from when I say children belong with their parents. Don’t feel bad when your worker says they’re returning a child to his family. Feel bad when he’s never going back. That’s when his life is really over.

    We visit with “Tummy Mom” every so often. They like to know she’s well and they think the girls are cute. I know my children are holding their breath until the day they turn eighteen. I know exactly where their feet are facing. It’s my job to make sure they’re happy adults when they get there.

  4. xxsurroundedbyxy says:

    I’m afraid I agree with bockelj. I have not bonded with the three bioparents we have encountered. Nor would I want to have these people as friends as they are unpredictable and violent. When I asked others at our local foster associational meeting, they all agreed that it was extremely RARE to have a relationship with bio parents that was positive and extended past reunification.


  5. clariefinch says:

    I have had an extremely close relationship with the foster parents of my youngest daughter. Unfortunately after 14 months, they have now started saying to my youngest to call them mommy and daddy, their parents are now grandma and grandad, and my daughter has accepted it. 6 months ago, all my daughter could do was talk about when she was coming home to me, and how much she missed me and how much she loved me and that she couldnt wait to come home. Now, i spoke to her on the phone last night and she isnt wanting to come back now, she wants to continue school at the place she is living now. And oh yes, mommy Eija bought her a ps2 and loads of games, and a new bike. Foster parents, please, give a thought to us parents who dont have the financial wealth to do all those things.
    And another thing, ive told my daughter all along that when she comes home to me, that she can have as much contact with her foster parents as she wants, that she can go and stay with them once a month if she wants and that they could come and see her and she could call them when she wants.
    I have appreciated so much that they were there for her when i was too ill with my fibromyalgia to care for her, but now im well and i can take care of her myself, but now, she wont come home. So now my relationship with her foster parents has definately deteriorated.
    Last week i spoke to my daughter on the phone on Monday evening, i tried to call her on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, with no reply, Finally tracked them down to the foster mom’s parents 600km away. They had taken my daughter away without even telling me. And what hurt even more is that when i spoke to my daughter that she said she was having so much fun at grandma and grandads.
    I dont want to be on the outs with my kids foster parents, I appreciate everything they have done for our family, but now, they wont let go :(

    • mummyc says:

      Really feel for you!my daughter was taken in to care when she was 11 months old..because i had a breakdown and was agrophobic…it was a long struggle but i got her back after doing everything social services wanted me to do!including many meetings to be told by the foster carer that she was starting to call her mum!which as you can imagine broke me…im now having to pick up the pieces the mess that child services have done and my daughter is only 2!
      I do have her back home which is a big bonus and thought the day would never come!14 months too long in my opinion and what ever i said in the meetings was never heard…she has bent toes from ill fitting shoes!dont eat inless its chips or nuggets!not to mention aggresive streaks that i must say my other 3 children didnt have…the list goes on to be honest..but as a mother that had a child in foster care..i wasnt heard and what i said is twisted…im waffling and have so much to say really…!!
      One thing i must say is foster parents think there doing a good job but they are up in the clouds as much as us mums and dads…child services are ruining many childrens lives!it has to stop!

  6. mmains0 says:

    My husband and i have been foster parents for almost 2yrs..We had a sibling group (2 boys) for almost 14mo. Now that they returned to their father and his girlfriend i am so glad that i gave them a chance. We still get the boys once a month and talk to them often. I think if the parents are willing you should give them a chance because if not and the children do return home you may regret it. We have had several foster children in the last 2 years and still have contact with most of them. In my experience most of the bio parents are understanding of your position and understands that you are there to help and love the children.

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