Why Foster Children Need Extra TLC

. Ten-year-old Christie is a foster child. She was removed from her home because her father sexually abused her. She is shy and unmotivated at school. Her classmates try to be friends with her, but she keeps them at arms-length.

. Twelve-year-old Braydon and his two younger siblings were removed from his parents’ home and placed in foster care because of ongoing domestic violence. For years he has witnessed his father beating his mother. The last time it happened, he witnessed his father pull a gun and hold it to his mother’s head. He got between them to try to stop it, and his father shoved him away. His mother screamed at him to run. Panic-stricken, Braydon fled next door to call 911. Now Braydon lives in another county, attends a different school, and is acting out, saying all he wants to do is go back home to his parents.

Except in cases of children being beyond parental control, foster children have been removed from their homes via court order because they are victims of extreme neglect, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Imagine your child, or even yourself, being in these circumstances:

You don’t get to choose where you go, who you live with, or how long you will be there. You leave your home, family, siblings, friends, school, and seldom get a chance to say goodbye.

You go to live with a strange family in a strange neighborhood–maybe you’ve met the foster parents and maybe you haven’t. It could be in the middle of the night. You have new clothes, a new room, and new toys, but you miss your old ones and wish you still had them.

You go to a different school, have different friends, meet new teachers, and get used to new classes. People look at you and wonder who you are, where you come from, and why you’re here. They are all nice and friendly, but you’re still scared.

You have to go to counseling and talk about your family. People ask you a million questions, and sometimes you don’t know how to answer.

Then one day a social worker comes to the foster home or to the school, and tells you that you have to move to another foster home, and you have to make these same adjustments all over again. You say goodbye to the friends you just made, the school and neighborhood you’ve just grown to like, and leave it all behind.

Foster care was established to protect and nurture children, and almost always does, but it’s not a perfect system, and has its downside too.

Foster children are at the mercy of the very court system and social services policies that are designed to protect them, and rarely have a say in what happens to them. It’s difficult enough that a child is uprooted from all he knows for his own protection; now he has to be maneuvered within a network of court hearings and helping professionals too.

Some foster children are shuffled from home to home, live out of a suitcase or a black garbage bag, and are surrounded by strangers who constantly tell them they have their best interests in mind.

Though foster children are out of their homes for safety reasons, they often experience guilt, confusion, anger, and depression. Some foster children cope with this better than others. Some have emotional problems or low self-esteem.

Braydon feels like the family break-up is his fault. “If I hadn’t called 911, I would still be at home, and my dad wouldn‘t have gone to court.”

Christie suffers depression and guilt too. “I wanted Daddy to stop doing what he did to me, but I didn’t want him to go to jail. Now Mommy is mad at me and it‘s all my fault. I shouldn’t have told my teacher what happened.”

They feel as if they are the ones being punished, while the perpetrator is often the one who gets to stay at home and in his home town.

Even in the worst cases of abuse, some foster children want to be reunited with their families. Their homes, as abusive, neglectful, and dysfunctional as they are, are the only sense of familiarity and “security” they know.

These children may have behavior problems at school or in the foster home that are rooted in real anxiety and uncertainty, or they may act up in hopes that they will be too difficult to manage and will be rejected and sent back to their natural homes. They may even go so far as to recant their allegations of abuse. Counseling and other supportive services should be provided to help these children cope.

No two foster children are alike. Some are happy to be in a safer environment, have an easier adjustment, and will bloom into their full potential. Some seem to be ambivalent and aimless. Some will have ongoing problems and will appear to regress. The most difficult to understand are those who are not happy at all to have been removed from their families.

Foster care is a noble idea, and, unfortunately, a necessary one; but in reality, a child isn’t mysteriously “fixed” when they enter a foster home. That is often when problems begin. That is why emotional support and continued services are so important to a foster child.

Some foster children are reluctant to form attachments to people, while others attach too easily to unfamiliar adults and children because they seek closeness and attention.

Foster children are in a sensitive position. While in care, they are free from abuse and neglect and have new clothes, new toys, and a small allowance, but each word they say and everything they do is evaluated “for their own good”. Their words and actions suddenly carry weight, when they may have been ignored or overlooked before. Foster children can carry a burden of guilt, even after they are assured that their parent or parents are the responsible parties. They simply don’t have an adult’s reasoning when it comes to the dynamics of abuse.

Child welfare agencies, courts, foster homes, mental health agencies, schools, and other community services do their best in an imperfect system to address the needs of a foster child.

What kind of extra TLC do foster children need?

Time. Patience. Understanding. Support. Smiles. Attention. Compliments. Space. Privacy. A listening ear instead of a talking head. Permission to feel whatever they feel. A sense of belonging. A sense of value and accomplishment.

These things cost nothing, yet yield lifelong benefits.

If you know a foster child, think about Christie and Braydon, and how you may be able to make a difference in his or her life.

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