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From Foster Care to Forever Family: Helping Your Child Transition

If your family has adopted, or is in the process of adopting a child from foster care, one of the most important things to be mindful of is the child’s transition from foster care to a permanent, forever family. While adoption means a child has a safe, permanent home forever, it also means he or she has experienced loss and endured tremendous life changes. Some transitions may be smoother than others, and it’s important to be mindful of the child’s history and past experiences. In some cases, maintaining connections to the child’s birth family may also play a role.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers the following steps for parents to help children understand their transition from foster child to forever family:

Talk with the child about the changes

When parental rights are terminated, the reality of not being able to safely return home to his or her birth family can be hard for a child to accept. It’s important to listen and engage with the child throughout the adoption process, as well as crucial to tell the truth if the child has questions about his or her birth family – even if it’s difficult. Explain the importance of relationships, plan regular events that focus on building family memories, and encourage contact among birth family members if appropriate.

Help the child understand his or her history and losses

On a child’s road to permanency, he or she may struggle with questions relating to his/her identity, relationships, connection and safety. A lifebook is one resource that can help children understand their unique history and build a bridge between foster care and adoption. Their lifebook may include the following:

  • pictures of his or her birth family, relatives and past foster families
  • milestones: first steps, first day of school, getting a driver’s license, graduation
  • report cards and awards
  • birthday cards and souvenirs from family vacations

Help the child cope with trauma and loss

Children often experience several stages of grief before they can transfer attachment from their birth family to their adoptive family. Integration can help children cope with their separation from their birth families. Here are the steps:

  • create an accurate reconstruction of the child’s placement history (lifebook)
  • identify the important attachment figures in the child’s life
  • gain the cooperation of the most significant attachment figures possible
  • clarify “the permission message” (the child should hear and feel from the people who are important to them that it is ok to love another family)
  • communicate the permission to the child

Help the child transfer attachments

The integration process helps children cope with and accept their past while transferring attachment helps them move forward in their future. Relationships and routines can reinforce the child’s status within the family. Balance structured activities with unstructured time, hold family meetings, involve everyone in writing out family rules, discuss expectations for special occasions and holidays, and incorporate family traditions into celebrations.

Since 2005, KVC has matched 3,385 children with adoptive families and provided support throughout the entire process. If you or someone you know is considering adoption, learn more about becoming an adoptive parent or meet children in need of a forever family on our  adoption website.


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