Monday, September 14, 2015


I've been asked to talk about bereavement and fostering. It's not something I have experience of and I hope I never will, but if it comes my way I'll give it my best shot. We seem to have built a nice community of contributers here, and I'm hoping other foster carers can find a moment to give the person who has made the request - a new carer - some thoughts and encouragement.

Children come into Care for a vast number of specific different reasons, but almost always the problems can be summed up as poor Care in their real home; abuse and neglect being the basis of the overwhelming majority of requests to courts to bring children into the proper Care which the system relies on; fostering.

We had a child come to us for another reason once, a shocking reason but not bereavement, I'm not opening his case here, not today, probably not ever. I mention it because it was unusual, so the point is we had to throw the guide book out of the window and worked with Blue Sky to provide  some custom-built care.

If my understanding is correct the person who has asked is a brand new foster carer, about to get their first placement, and the child has lost a parent through bereavement.
The child's privacy is terribly important, so we have to think about how to help the placement without knowing any specifics which might identify the child, or allow the child to identify themselves should they become a reader or contributor to the blog; unlikely, one might say, but in fostering you have to take no chances. Since the carer who has made the request has attached their name I'm going to ask the carer to make do with general observations rather than anything tailor-made. 

Every one of us in fostering remembers how trepidacious we were when our first placement was confirmed and the child was on their way.  

I suppose my first thought is that, as per usual, the carer will be told as much of the child's background as possible and in this case I assume this information would include the circumstances surrounding the bereavement including everything that's known about the child's relationship with the parent and the impact of the loss up until the present moment. 

I'd suggest; use your social worker's expertise.

The specifics of each unique foster placement are what your social worker is for. We mustn't forget they are highly trained in (almost) every eventuality and their advice and support is based on the decades of research and proven practices which are being constantly refined and distilled into the years of training they've undergone; trust them. I get peeved when I hear one or two foster carers moan "They should come and do my job for a week", I always think to myself "They could; you should go and do their job for a week, you wouldn't know where to start".

I'd suggest; ask anyone you know who has first-hand or second-hand experience of a child losing a parent when they were young, or lost a partner when their children were young. It's thankfully rare (well it is here, in modern Britain), but it happens.

One of my placements was due to start at a new Primary school one Septemeber and on the last day of the holidays we'd gone to the park to play, the child and me. Most of the other children were in little groups or gangs. We were on our own. There was another child, same age as mine, the mum had spread a blanket under a tree and was sitting, the child seemed detached and looked a bit lonely. We set up about twenty yards from them and our ball kept going over their way. Eventually the child started knocking it back to us and after about ten minutes I included the child in our game.
But the child never rocked with it; moved slowly - almost painfully - never spoke, had a long face, sad eyes. 

We started our picnic, they had one too, I got talking to the mum having sent the children to find dandelions to tell the time.

Turned out they'd both be starting the same new school on the same day. We swapped mobile numbers.

Her husband, the child's father had died of a heart attack aged 33.  

My foster child told me later they weren't going to be friends because the other child didn't have much to offer. I used to watch the child get dropped off at school in the morning; always alone, and stayed alone, staring into puddles. I watched the mum waiting at 3.30 to collect, always alone. 

I guess what little I know about the impact of losing a parent when young (and the above is my only recent second-hand experience) is that, in this case, it knocked the stuffing out of living for the child and the mum; and how could it not; the shock, the totality, the unfairness (all those other children with mummies and daddies, all those other mums with hubbies to share with).

I suppose one thought I could contribute is that the Carer of a child who has lost a parent must protect themselves against contracting the sadness and other negatives which might accompany the child into your home. Give them the best, but look after yourself and your own heart.

Sorry I can't be more help; I  lost my dad but I was 45. My partner's dad was killed by persons unknown when he was 24. I've seen strong self-sufficent adults need a year to get over it. I know a man who never has, and never will get over it.

There are plenty of books about the grieving process but I doubt there's much on helping a foster child grieve.

I wish you and the child every success; good times to go with the inevitable bad, peace and lots and lots of love.


  1. I hope someone with direct experience will come along and offer support and advice. I echo those of the Secret Carer and add the same advise I would give all new carers:

    Be patient. Be kind. Be silly when you can.
    READ as much as you can, and keep reading to refresh it.
    Expect tears and anger but do not fear them, let the child know its ok to feel this way.
    Get counselling via the school, PEP can be used for this.
    Support the child’s existing routine as much as possible, eg if they all drank hot chocolate before bed, then add this to your routine. Same with traditions, eg they always ate cake for breakfast on Birthdays- could you continue this? You get the idea.
    If the child wants - put up copies of photographs in the child’s room and if you have family photographs around your home add ones of the child and parent too.
    Add things the child is familiar with to your home, that ornament he/she brought mom two years ago, add it to the shelf with your other ornaments.
    Jot down any memories the child shares and keep them safe, these will be precious to the child as they grow older and forget things.
    Is there extended family? If so support contact, keep in touch. Get pictures, birthday dates etc and try to keep that bond. Send YOUR xmas cards/gifts out to them early so the family will be reminded to send cards/gifts back. Include a prepaid envelope if they don't seem the sort to arrange this (return address of the SW if appropriate).

    I really hope this is a temporary situation, that there is a family member being assessed or the child has a hope of adoption. Its painful to imagine a child in long term fostering due to the death of a parent.

    Good luck new carer, and please keep us updated.

    1. Thank you Mooglet, there are some nuggets in your post, especially the suggestion of maintaining some comforts the child is used to; that's brilliant. The tip about Xmas presents is also a gem.

      Thank you so much

  2. Ella here - One of our friends lost both parents at 17. She went to live with GParents. Another friend lost BF after she had timed out of Care. There is a old man blogger around who lost his BF to illness and went into Care in his teens when his BM had a breakdown. But I don't know of anybody who went into care young because of family deaths. Sorry!

  3. Thank You Mooglet and Eve& Ella.
    This is not temporary placement; plan is for long term permanent placement. We were told than we should think about this more "like about adoption".
    Social Workers and Our Team are preparing "plan of actions", including counselling. Thank you for all your advice; I will use it for sure. I like the idea of using some routines from child's home (even “crazy” one). We are planning to do proper research into child "life story". We want to collect all information about family. It will be not easy as extended family lives abroad. Luckily I can speak their language.
    Sometimes life is bringing unexpected surprises: I wasn’t particularly happy to do A-levels in this language; I got “C” and I was adamant I will never need it. I always thought that I am the last one to learn foreign languages; I am more science guy. And now, 20 years later: I speak 4 foreign languages – out of necessity. Gosh! I was wrong!

  4. Thanks for checking in on this one. When a foster carer asks for other people's thoughts and advice it's always supportive for them to hear from any readers, it shows care.

  5. It sounds like its a perfect placement for you Anon!
    I hope it works out, and if it does then I expect Social Workers will be talking to you about Special Guardianship in no time at all. x

  6. Im not a foster carer and probably can't give very useful advice but I hope it's ok if I comment anyway. Not sure if this will be any helpful at all. Also, I had a problem publishing my comment – sorry for spamming you.

    My mum died in an accident when I was nearly 8 and after the accident I lived with a foster family. I couldn't live with my father as he was violent and abusive and I had supervised contact with him prior to my mum's death and my extended family was either not able or not willing to take me.

    Depending on whether the death has been very recent or not, it might be good to check that there is someone taking care of the estate and any potential inheritances for the child. It's a very materialistic point but firstly it might be rightfully the child's and depending on how things turn out and whether you'll become the child's family, it can be nice to have some money when you turn 18 and might need to pay for a deposit etc. The same is true for any personal items of the deceased parent. I don't think anything valuable/nice would have been left by my extended family had some not taken care of this. Also; the flat will be cleared out and items which mean the world to me, aren’t necessarily valuable and will be kept: The items help me connect with my mum and see what kind of adult she was and what kind of interests she had rather than only having the memory of her being my mum.

    My foster mum and I made a beautiful memory box where I store all photographs and letters and post-its with my mum's handwriting and some of my mum's personal items so they don't get lost. Over time some particulate memories started to become foggy and they feel like a memory from another life and when I'm sad and miss my mum more than usually I look at them and it helps me to see my mum's items and to hear my mum's voice or see her in a video. We made a life story book and my foster parents wrote down all the little stories & things I told them about my mum and they managed to establish a relationship with my cousins and family abroad which is lovely! We visited them and it was great to be back even if my home was now in the UK – after all I lived there for a long time and mum is from that country.

    My family is from abroad and I had only lived in England for a year and losing my mum meant I lost my language, lost my food and typical smells, the overall community and TV shows - everything familiar was gone. It was a cultural shock to be in an English household and I had to get used to the rules and traditions and speaking English all the time and it took me some time to feel comfortable, relaxed and at home. I think you said you speak the children's language and I think it's so important that you keep this alive. My foster parents do not speak my first language but they organised for me to have language & literature lessons once a week and bought books in my language. English was still the main and dominant language but I had very opportunity possible to retain my first language. Please do acknowledge special days and traditions and even if you don't celebrate the events the same way or at the same scale, I think it's important to celebrate them. They all meant/mean a lot to me and they are part of what was home to me. We had something on Christmas Eve as that's the main event for Christmas in my home county and we also did something for St Nicholas Day and other days.

  7. For a long time I felt like I'm dishonouring mum if I bond with and like my foster parents. It was a huge thing for me and I was ridden with guilt for liking them and being happy and enjoying my time with them. I felt so guilty and terrible. What helped most is having some care for me who was understanding and patient and answered any questions over and over again. The feeling that there will always be someone I could turn to is a very powerful one especially because I just lost the most important person in my life. For a long time my mum's death didn't feel real and I thought if I'm behaving well enough and wait in front of our house long enough then my mum would come and pick me up. It took me a long time to fully process that I had lost my mum forever.

    The first weeks were dominated by sadness, loneliness and tears and for a long time I had to be reminded a lot that it's ok to feel this way and my foster family isn't not annoyed, they want me to stay with them and they would like me to talk about my mum and my feelings if I wanted to and I wasn't a nuisance. Counselling did help with this (and generally) and it was good to have on-going professional support, but it wasn't easy and sometimes very difficult. People were good at making space at the beginning when it feels like the world is stopping and everything fresh and raw but over time that diminished and there was this pressure from others to 'move on'. I think that's why my foster parents support and counselling were so import and useful. I think it's so important that one has time to process and not having to be strong all the time and it helped so much that my foster family and my counsellor made sure that there is always some space for grief and sadness and tears.

    I think having the same people around you, caring for you and feeling secure is so important so perhaps you could push for a decision to be made about the child's future as soon as possible or communicate any decisions very clearly. At times I felt really lonely and lost and knowing that there is somewhere where I'd be able to stay helped so much. My dad tried to have more access to me and even though it led to nothing and it was clear that my father did not stand a chance, it made me anxious and scared and the fear of losing my foster family was a very difficult feeling.

    My foster family became my family and I hope the same will happen for you and the child. I'm sure you'll do an amazing job and you sound like a lovely and thoughtful person. Good luck and enjoy your time together!

  8. Summerflower, you started by saying : 'I probably can't give useful advice', Summerflower, what you have told us is fantastic!!!!
    I've read both posts twice to pull down as much as I can, and I will have to read it all a few more times to get the full benefit; thank you so much for your time, your insight and your wisdom.
    I feel for you with what you had to deal with at such a young age; no-one shoud have to bear all that. And yet you have so much generosity and heart.
    Amazing comments, thank you.

  9. Dear Summerflower,
    I don't know how I can thank you enough. Thank you for sharing with us your story and for giving me very valuable advice. I would not think myself about many of your suggestions. I do not have personal experience with this kind of loss.
    When I read yours post I had strange impression that you know story of our children. It sound very similar :(
    I will do my best to help them.