Since we have talked about what happens when kids come to join us at Joy Ranch, the next logical question is:
What happens when they leave?
When kids leave is determined by a lot of factors – in the end there are times when our kids leave having completed a transition plan (meaning it has been planned and we know to expect it) and there are times when they leave us suddenly (perhaps a foster home has been located or there is a change in circumstances). Either way, it’s hard.
Just today, for example, a girl who had been with us for a grand total of six days was moved to a foster home. I cried when she left, and so did she. Six days you say. That’s not enough time to get attached (especially since we were off for two of those six days). Part of me wishes that were true, part of me is glad that it is not.
All our kids, while they are here, earn a spot on our ‘family tree’ in the hallway. They add their hand-print to the collage by the front door. And are given a spot in our hearts. So, when they go, we like to do what we can to shine a spotlight back on all the cool things they’ve gotten to do and the ways that they have grown. One of the ways we do this is through a photo book.
So, when they go, we like to do what we can to shine a spotlight back on all the cool things they’ve gotten to do and the ways that they have grown.
After one of our residents is discharged staff will sit down at the computer and collect photos of the resident who has left. Then, using an online site we put together a book full of photos, their favorite recipes from their time here (we ask them which ones they would like included) and leave places for signatures. When the book arrives, EVERYONE who works here at Joy Ranch signs it; then we send it to the child.
When each of our children leave we remind them that we love them and will remain in their lives if they chose. The kids know they can find us on Facebook, by calling Joy Ranch, or using our business card which has our cell phone numbers. But, we leave it up to them if that is what they want. Why? Because for some children this is a particular difficult time in their lives and, at least for a time, they would like to not have to remember that they were not able to stay at home.
With scheduled discharges we take the time to plan an evening to celebrate the resident. We have what we often refer to as ‘the last supper’ where the resident leaving can chose the meal. Sometimes we go out to eat, sometimes they request we make a certain meal at home. Additionally, we buy them one or two personal gifts. Currently a resident is scheduled to be discharged near Christmas and we have purchased a set of Narnia books – because she loves the movies and loves to read; as well as a copy of a book she brought from home – a board book of nursery rhymes illustrated by Tomie dePaola. While she was with us this book, having arrived already well loved, fell apart. A couple weeks ago it “just so happened” that we found a copy of this book, in paperback form, brand new, at the Goodwill; and we got this for her as well.
A Reason and A Season
There are also, times, when a discharge, scheduled or not, does not end up happening. (Again, reasons why are many, and varied.) At these times, as at all times, we are straightforward with the child when explaining what has happened and what it will mean. Most often discharges are delayed, not canceled and the children do well handling this. A small part of that is because we prepare them from the beginning, as we do with all things, by being honest. Anyone who has ever made plans knows that even those best laid can fall apart and I cannot even begin to tell you how many sentences I say each day which begin with the phrase “The plan is, though you know how plans are . . . . . .” We tell our kids they are here for a reason, and a season; and if that season is longer than expected it is still just that – a season.