Fostering fears: The day I told my foster child his mum passed away

Wednesday 01 December 2021

Sally* wasn’t prepared for the devastating news. With support from her Action for Children social worker and a bereavement service, Sally broke the news to her foster child. Years on, Jack* lives with Sally and she continues to support him

In solidarity with National Grief Awareness Week, Sally reflects on her experience of sharing possibly the most difficult news  for any child to receive: the death of a parent.

How do I do this?

Being a foster carer is an amazing but challenging job. You'll have good days and bad days, but nobody could prepare me for the news I had to share with my foster child, Jack*.

The day I found out Jack's mum died was a day I’ll never forget. Panic and worry took over and my thought processes disappeared. The question I kept asking myself was, ‘how do I do this?’

I knew as a foster mum I needed to get this right

We’d just celebrated his seventh birthday. It was my job to tell this little boy his mum had died, but what words do I use? When do I tell him and how will he react? How will I react?  I knew as a foster mum I needed to get this right.

I was given lots of support from Jack’s social worker. He’d even offered to tell Jack instead of me. I was dreading seeing this little boy hurt, but I felt it should be me that told him.

I felt every one of his emotions

I remember thinking about where we could go that’s memorable, and with no distractions. So, I collected him from school and took him to a spot we had visited before. My heart was beating so fast, every time I tried to get the words out, I swallowed them back down.

I took a deep breath and shared the news. We sat for thirty minutes chatting and answering questions. I offered cuddles and tried to help Jack process what I'd told him.

I contacted a bereavement counsellor to ask for support

I felt every one of his emotions, I knew he was going to need me more than ever. The next few days were difficult, we spent time together talking and I offered lots of cuddles.

A few days passed and another dreaded conversation was coming. How do I start to explain what a funeral is to a little boy aged only seven?

I contacted a bereavement counsellor to ask for support. Afterwards, I spoke to Jack explaining what happens at a funeral. Giving him space to ask all the questions he needed to.


The Goodbye day

Jack decided not to go to his mum’s funeral. We chatted about different ways we could say goodbye to someone who had died. It helped to use my own experiences to talk this through.

Jack decided he wanted to send a photo to his mum in heaven. We visited the local beach with a bunch of flowers he’d picked out, a photograph and a balloon.

Jack had lots of questions, and honest answers were the best way to help him process his grief

Jack let go of the balloon with the items attached, to heaven. ‘The goodbye day’ was very sad but memorable, my children were also there to support Jack.

My foster child had lots of questions, and honest answers were the best way to help him process his grief. If I didn’t know the answer, I would tell him that but also reassure him that I would find out.

Remembering mum

We remember mum now in many ways. At birthdays and Christmas, Jack speaks openly about his mum and that really helps.

When you’re a foster carer, things can happen completely out of the blue and it can feel scary. This was a horrifying situation for my foster child to experience.

But we as a family give Jack support, empathy, and love - through the good days and bad. We’re making new memories while never allowing Jack’s memory of his mum to fade.

But we as a family give Jack support, empathy, and love - through the good days and bad

Many children in foster care suffer loss. This can be from the experience of being separated from their birth family, from bereavement, or from childhood trauma. They need caring foster families like Sally's who offer empathy, understanding and support.

*The names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the child and carer

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