Kris’ Corner – Dealing with Uncertainty in a Case

February 10, 2022

In today’s post, I’m once again touching on the similar (but altogether different) vein of uncertainty…only this time I’ll be discussing what it’s like in regards to a case.

As you may or may not know, when you accept a placement of a child in foster care, you never, ever, ever know how long they will stay. Even if the case worker says “it’s just for the week-end” or “there’s no way this could last fewer than 6 months” …that’s always subject to change. Always.

And it is for that very fact that most foster families find that it’s difficult to plan too far into the future because there’s so much uncertainty about a child’s future living situation. Such as: Will he/she still be here? Will they be moved to another foster home that’s a better fit/pre-adoptive home? Will they be moved to a kinship placement? Will they be reunified? etc.

These thoughts of uncertainty are not without good cause…one never knows what kind of twist or turn a case may take; and try as we might to “know” what will happen, we never quite do until it is, in fact, actually happening.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, you should know that about 50% of children in care do end up reunifying with their primary caregivers (usually one or both birth parents). However, it may take several months or possibly years for that to happen. As a result, foster families can feel left in a bit of a holding pattern as they wait to see what judges and advocates will decide is in the best interest of the child.

Options which would affect a child’s residence status (aside from reunification) include, but are not limited to: being placed with relatives, having parental rights terminated (which makes the child eligible for adoption), moving into a group home, remaining in foster care, or aging out of foster care (if they are close enough to 18 for this to happen).

Sometimes, foster families receive a lot of notice about what is going to happen in the future (or what will most likely happen…but of course a judge can always throw a curve ball at court). At other times, a move may happen quickly and/or unexpectedly.

And throughout the process of a case, there are typically a number of court dates, meetings, and changes to the plan (i.e. reunification, adoption, guardianship, etc.) …which translates to several instances where the child may be moved to another home.

As a result, foster parents often find themselves in a tough position when planning for the future: Do they make future plans that include a foster child? Will they even be here to participate? Do I buy a plane ticket for him/her for our family vacation? Do I sign him/her up for spring soccer? Do I treat him/her like my biological children and allow them the benefit of extracurricular activities?

So yes…clearly dealing with the uncertainty is super-tricky to navigate…so here’s what I recommend and it’s what’s gotten us through: just plan what you want to plan; and do what you want to do. Life is too short to put everything on pause simply because of “the maybe.” Will plans have to change last-minute? Maybe. Will you potentially lose money on something you purchased for a child or enrolled them in, but now they’ll no longer be there? Maybe. Will there be disappointment that you have to navigate if plans change? Probably so…and these are not going to be easy with the added layer of trauma.

But by the same token: will you get the chance to go on a vacation as a family (including kids in your care) if you don’t plan it (because you’re afraid it might not happen)? No…you won’t. Will your child in foster care get to experience an organized sport or club or summer camp for possibly the first time (if you think they might not be there by the time it rolls around…so you don’t sign them up)? Absolutely they won’t.

Yes, there is definitely risk involved, but so much of what we are doing as foster parents is creating trusting relationships, and a good way to do that is through activities as a family, as well as with other children. If not given the opportunity to do that, you not only take that away from the child…but you also potentially put your own life on pause as you walk through the uncertainty of foster care. And how long can (and should) you do that? You can’t and you shouldn’t…so go ahead and make those plans…because you never know what might happen!