Last post I began our strike notice with the first 4 facts foster parents want you to know. Today, I continue with the last 3 and hopefully help foster a new understanding of the journey we walk.
5. Children are Not Resilient
Many professionals are quick to throw around the term “resilient” when it comes to children experiencing trauma, neglect, abuse, and multiple transitions. So many professionals in this industry think that a child will bounce back and recover from the many horrendous atrocities they might have faced. Because of this belief, many decisions are made under the assumption that a child will be OK. Current research shows, however, that children are not as resilient as we once thought, and multiple foster and adoptive parents can attest to that. Children who have undergone trauma show high rates of behavioral and physical challenges, similar to children with special needs. Trauma can include (but is not limited too): abuse (physical, sexual, emotional and verbal), repeated moves/homes, removal from a birth family or foster family (even at birth), living in an institution (group home, orphanage, juvenile detention), and neglect (lack of basic needs met). Due to these experiences, children are often left unable to navigate their world the way a neurotypical child might. Perhaps a teenager now requires the same care an infant would (bottles, rocking), or a 5 year old might require constant affirmation that food will always be present. Some children might require constant reminders that they are loved, might not be able to handle the holidays, and might struggle with sensory needs such as loud noises, water, large groups, and more. The effects can be long term and require extensive therapy, parental skill, and time to recover from. Many children never fully recover and are left with diagnoses such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, Institutional Autism or PTSD. Many social workers, however, are quick to move a child from one home to another stating that “children are resilient, therefore they will be fine.” Often they are placed back in a bio family that has not yet worked through all of their challenges, again citing the fact that “children are resilient.” I have even seen social workers remove children from the only parents they have ever known (the foster home), where they have lived for years, stating that if a child attached to those foster parents, they can attach to someone else. Unfortunately, however, many behaviors associated with trauma present themselves similar to a child misbehaving. This results in new caregivers or parents being unable to manage them, and children find themselves bouncing from home to home. If we can prevent that from the very beginning, their outcome is much more optimistic! Further training on attachment and trauma is SO BADLY NEEDED so this sort of perspective doesn’t remain in place. Great harm is occurring to these children because of this misguided viewpoint. Children are left in an unending cycle, unable to parent their own children in the future.
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6. Grief, Loss and Mental Health
The grief and loss of foster parents is something that is rarely acknowledged or talked about. The truth, however, is that fostering is one of the most unnatural forms of love out there. Being a foster parent means you are bringing in an unknown child, one you likely have no previous connection with, and are working on creating a loving bond and attachment with that child while supporting them through the biggest crisis of their life. It is then falling in love with that child and loving them as your own; They become a part of your family. The difference between your bio/adoptive children and your foster children is likely nothing. Fostering is then losing that child as they get moved to another foster home, get returned to bio family, or get placed for adoption with a new family. Often the children are returning to dangerous situations where their future, safety and well-being is unknown. There are a few key factors to take away from that process:
- Foster parents are continually forming new attachments and bonds with unknown children.
- Foster parents are navigating life with a child in crisis.
- Foster parents are repeatedly losing a child that they love.
- Foster parents are experiencing no closure.
- Foster parents experience no support through this grief and loss period
- Foster parents are often labelled as “not coping” if they vocalize these struggles.
When a child dies, the crisis is over. A parent is able to process their stages of grief, know their child is free of any future pain, and can move on with concrete closure. In foster care, closure is often impossible. As much as we hope it isn’t the norm, it is very common for children who are returned home to continue to experience abuse or neglect, and return back into the foster care system. This can happen repeatedly. Often these children are unable to return to their previous foster home (they fill up quickly due to shortages), and because they have now experienced even more trauma, their behaviors begins to escalate. They likely get moved from home to home, often finding themselves in group homes when their behaviors become too much to manage. Foster parents are left to worry about these chain reactions for a child they love deeply as their own, agonizing over their hearts, their future and more. Foster parents are forced to say goodbye to a child, never to see or hear from them again (with exceptions of course). They are left wondering if a child thinks they have been abandoned by the very people they called mom and dad. The guilt is immense. More care and acknowledgment needs to be shown for just how hard this really is for foster parents, and that brushing us off during these hard times only pushes foster parents further away from the system and their longevity in it. The pain of this process results in many foster parents experiencing depression, secondary trauma and even PTSD. Since any sign of foster parents struggling is viewed negatively or as a sign we are not coping, foster parents are left to suffer in silence, often unable to seek supports.
7. Foster Parents Deserve Respect!
One of the easiest, quickest ways to improve relationships with foster parents is to simply show respect. As evidenced by this post and Part I, it is very clear that fostering is hard. The one thing that foster parents want from other professionals, is to be respected. Instead, foster parents are usually treated like bottom of the barrel trash, often used as a scapegoat, and ignored in every way possible. E-mails and phone calls go unanswered, requests ignored, vital information kept secret, social worker responsibilities passed off to foster parents, and concerns we bring forward are left overlooked. In all fairness, I can say after working the other side, that social workers are over worked, underfunded, and do not have enough staff to get everything done. But the lack of respect goes so much further than staffing. Myself and others have been told heartless comments including:
“You signed up for this,”
“You only do this for the money”
“You’re just the caregiver”
If a birth mother began suffering from post-par tum depression, or a parent of two children complained of the challenges of parent life, would the automatic response be “you signed up for this?”
There is a complete lack of understanding for just how much we go through, how much we invest into these children, and how much value we can bring to the table. In a recent survey by Home for Every Child, they found that more than 76% of foster parents have a university degree, and more than 8% have a graduate degree.
I once accompanied a child I had since birth (who we were in the adoption process with) to a 5 year old assessment at our local children’s hospital. The assessment included comprehensive questions about the child’s behavior. The social worker for the child had been sick so instead a duty worker was present. The case manager walked out and said that only the social worker was allowed in the meeting. The social worker, who was lovely, politely tried to explain that she had no information on the child and that I should be present. The manager refused and took only the social worker into the meeting. The feelings I felt at that assessment still bother me today. I felt ignored, undervalued, and disrespected. Sure enough, a few minutes later they called me into the meeting because the assessment clearly couldn’t continue without my input. It was too late though; The lack of respect had already occurred. Despite me being that child’s mother in all ways but one, I was viewed as nothing more than the “caregiver” with nothing to offer.
Respect is vital in supporting foster parents, allowing them to feel validated, and maintaining a positive environment for foster parents and other professionals to work alongside in. In many ways, respect is the very foundation of moving forward and truly understanding the life of a foster parent.
If you have made it this far, thank you! If you haven’t read Part I, please check it out here. Of course these 7 facts are only touching the surface, but hopefully it will aid in the understanding of the life of a foster parent and how much we desire to be seen, heard and respected. If you want to help make a difference, please share this post so others can be made aware! And please share other facts below that YOU want people to know about foster parents!!
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