Grief and Loss

grief_loss | Volunteer Resources | Health & Wellness | Grief and Loss
All children and teens in foster care have experienced profound losses. Every new loss reminds them of previous losses. When one has lost parents, siblings and everything that is familiar it is normal to grieve. When each day brings new losses; placement changes, changes in school, new housemates, a change in social worker, it is natural to revisit the first loss and again experience the grief , however children in foster care are not often supported in the work of grief.

As a CASA you have a unique opportunity to be an ally and support in a child’s normal grieving process. The work of grieving includes:

  • Telling the story,
  • Having someone normalize the feelings you are experiencing,
  • Having someone to attend to the normal stages of grief;
  • Denial, (I am going home and don’t need to engage with the new caregivers,)
  • Anger (often a feeling that is responded to negatively by caregivers,)
  • Bargaining, (if I am really good I can go home,)
  • Depression, (often not a symptom that is acknowledged in small children,) and ultimately, with support,
  • Acceptance.

As a CASA, the greatest gift you can give a grieving child or youth is to truly and actively listen. You can also normalize what is going on for the child by letting them know that the feelings they are experiencing are legitimate. Often, by labeling what a child or youth is experiencing with the other adults, you can help them be empathic and responsive rather than reactive. “I think he must be grieving,” after yet another placement change, can reframe an angry response as a normal grief process, rather than an “oppositional, defiant, disorder!”

It is important to understand what a child or youth is experiencing through a developmental lens. For more information on child development and the ages and stages of grief, go to the following links:

Children and Grief
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Facts for Families, a good overview of grief and loss in children and families.

The Effects of Grief and Loss on Children in Foster Care
A short article about the effects of grief and loss on children in foster care by Selena Berrier.

Jamie Lee Evans Speech
To view a firsthand account of what it was like for one child who ended up in foster care, read this compelling speech.