Transition Planning

Making Oragami Boat - Transition Planning

The reality had set in that the situation had become unsustainable with David, the 12 year old boy in our care (fictional name used) and we needed to shift the focus to transition planning. Some of you may be thinking why say ‘transition planning’, isn’t this just a ‘placement breakdown’? Why don’t you call it what it is? It’s true this was a placement breakdown and all the negative aspects associated with breakdowns were being experienced here: feelings of failure, being overwhelmed in the current situation and a fear of what will be the next step for the child and how they will cope. The whole situation sucked, there is no other way to describe it.

We had a choice: we could dwell on all the negative aspects, or we could do our best to minimise the disruption to David and focus on making the transition as smooth as possible. Have no doubt, placement breakdowns are challenging and traumatic experiences and this would be no exception. However we wanted to do whatever we could to help improve the situation no matter how small it may seem. This is why we focused on ‘transition planning’ and the positive aspects of what we could do to minimise the disruption of the transition rather than focus on ‘placement breakdown’.

“We had a choice: we could dwell on all the negative aspects of going through a placement breakdown, or we could do our best to minimise the disruption and focus on making the transition as smooth as possible.”


Once we had agreed that the placement was unsustainable we communicated a specific target date it had to happen by which was within the next 2-3 weeks to our agency. Our understanding is many placement breakdowns happen ‘immediately’ as a result of some immediate emergency (of course circumstances leading to breakdowns can vary) so our agency was a little perplexed by the buffer time. However we wanted to allow some time for our agency to work through what they needed to so the transition could be planned for as best as possible. The situation was already very difficult with my wife withdrawing from almost all involvement due to the severe transference and anger we were encountering and I had already been given much grace with my employer with work suffering and had to be realistic about my employment responsibilities as well.

Information gathering

David was at the beginning of a long journey re-engaging with psychiatric care to help him. One thing we had done from the beginning of the placement is document any important information in a diary format. With a transition looming it would have been easy to give this up. This is something that after a long day at work, followed by afternoon/evening of frequent intense anger/violent outbursts, once he finally was asleep typically well after his (and our) bedtime – the last thing we felt like doing was writing down details of new triggers and behaviours or things brought up not previously said. However we ensured anything which might have been important was captured and shared with his clinician who we were working closely with at the time in the hope some of it may have been useful information in developing strategies or providing support of David’s needs.

Tidying up loose ends

These may have seem like insignificant things on their own but the rationale was any burden we could remove from the new carer meant more energy they could put into the settling and attachment building. This included things such as collating a folder of all the relevant paperwork we had, resupplying needed medications as far as we could to keep him going for a while, ensuring we had a good supply of clothing and footwear, completing annual medical check-up and stocking up on some important creature comforts any 12 year old needs to survive (the specific brand of hair gel he preferred to help get the look in selfies just right, for example). Many of these things would have been far easier to overlook as they certainly didn’t make life any easier for us. But we wanted to do what we could to give the transition the best chance of going well.

“The rationale was any burden we could remove from the new carer meant more energy they could put into the settling and attachment building.”

Keeping things simple

Previously there was focus on trying to set appropriate boundaries and routines to work on the foundations for the future of our family life. While working towards transition we let slide on some of these things. The reality was we were already struggling with aspects of routine anyway. However this point is more around minimising the escalations and behaviours as much as possible rather than a focusing on long term improvements – basically picking our battles (or avoiding them altogether as much as possible). Examples include not completing homework, or too much screen time, etc. By minimising escalations as much as we could practical do we hoped to help rest conserve David’s energy which would be needed to work through the transition (at least when compared to continuing to focus on the elements of establishing a normal routine).

Packing up belongings

This could vary depending on the situation but when David arrived from his previous placement breakdown he only had an overnight bag and it took weeks before all his things were moved to our place. In the mean time this caused him much anxiety about if he would ever see his things again and if anything would go missing. We had some things he didn’t immediately use stored in our garage we were able to pack up and have prepared to move, and ensured we were caught up on washing and had suitcases and boxes ready to pack up his bedroom. We wanted to be ready to ensure all his belongings could go with him the same day – we had the space and were not worried about things taking time to move but more we wanted to avoid any anxiety for him at the other end so he knew all his things were with him so he had one less thing to worry about.

Planning the transition

We had to think about where and how the transition would take place. We did not want to take the easy option (where the case worker picked him up with a different agenda and we didn’t have to be involved at all). But we were concerned how he would react either to us, himself or property. We were adamant it had to be us to break the news to him as we had always been transparent and honest with David and we didn’t want to break with that consistency. We also decided it made the most sense to break the news in our home as he would have a familiar and safe place to retreat to (his bedroom) to process things if necessary. Breaking the news at the agency office or a public place would just add to the anxiety. The hardest part was coming to the conclusion we had to tell him the same day he would be removed. There was just too much risk in behaviours escalating to a dangerous point (for him or us) if we gave him days of heads up, there would be no reason to holdback with property destruction, and all things considered having days to process things may not have made the already difficult transition any easier.

“The hardest part was coming to the conclusion we had to tell him the same day he would be removed.”


Family life was the most difficult we had ever experienced. However we had invested too much and loved David too much to do anything less than everything in our power to make the transition as smooth as possible. No one wants to go through a placement breakdown, they are difficult for so many reasons. I am also not overlooking the seriousness of these situations and the negative impact they have to the children in our care But the reality is unfortunately placement breakdowns happen and transitions are necessary. If you find yourself in a similar situation which is unsustainable, think about what practical things you can reasonably do in your power to make the transition as smooth as possible for the child and minimise any impact as much as possible.


I will publish another post soon describing how the transition went. If you would like an email notification when my latest posts are published you can subscribe here. Thank you for sharing my journey.

Image: iStockPhoto

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