Attached Foster Mama

Dear Dena,
   I’m wondering what your opinion is regarding separating children from foster homes when that is the ONLY family they’ve ever known. Our little one is almost 8 months old, has been with us since birth and our local agency is now wanting to place with grandma, two states away. By the time the necessary ICPC procedure is finished, he will likely be between 10-12 months old. I have a hard time thinking this will be in his best interest. Your thoughts?
Attached Foster Mama


Dear Attached Foster Mama,
Oh, friend. This is such a messy and painful subject. I’m happy to share my thoughts, but I want you to know there are really no good answers to this one, at least none that will comfort the loss and anxiety that go into transitioning a child out of your home to family two states away.

There are two competing positions on this topic of birth family reunification and early permanency and both have validity…and both have holes. Let me try to explain what I mean.

Birth family reunification has, in fact, been shown to have better long term outcomes for children when the family is stable and when resources are in place to walk alongside the family in the transition process. The truth that biological family ties are profound and important just can’t be discounted. My grown adoptees still look in the faces of strangers for a resemblance or a hint of biological connection. That longing never goes away.

However, we also know from attachment theory that the sooner a permanent placement can be achieved the better for the child. And of course, an unhealthy biological family versus a stable and secure foster/adoptive home is never best. This is where the messy happens. Our competing goals of birth family reunification and attachment needs for the child both grow out of a genuine desire to do right by the child.

At the end of the day, we as caregivers, have to lean into the reality that whether our care for a child is temporary or permanent, we have given them the best possible chance for future attachment and health by providing a secure base from which they grow. Whether that secure base is in place for a month or a year…or two….or three….we truly are doing important work in shaping a developing brain that will learn that attachment is safe and good and therefore they will able and willing to attach again in the future. This is less true with multiple placements and with multiple transitions.

All that to say; I honor and celebrate the work you are doing for your little one. I acknowledge and grieve alongside of you as you process the loss. But I remind you that you are doing GOOD work that will provide a foundation that other children may have never received, one of safety and attachment and love. Your little one will take that with her wherever she goes and will forever be marked by your love.


-Dena Johnson MA, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Attachment-Trauma Focused Therapist, TBRI Practitioner