An Inside Look at the Life of a Foster Child
One of my favorite people I have met since moving to Florida is Catherine Greer. Catherine serves in our kids’ ministry. She and her husband, Brent, went from having no children in their family to adding 9 foster kids since October of 2011. This year they had the blessing of adopting three of the girls. Catherine will be sharing the next three posts, as she shares incredible insight into the life of a foster family and the needs of foster kids in your ministry.
Children come into foster care for a number of different reasons, i.e. Death of parents, neglect from parents and abuse from parents. As these children are taken from their homes they literally have 30 minutes or less to get their belongings together and head out the door with the police officer or DCF agent (Department of Children and Family). They are then transported to the DCF office to locate a placement for them for the night. Frantic calls are made to find them a bed. And heaven forbid they are a sibling group because there is a 99% chance they will be split. Then they are transported to a home which they have never seen and welcomed on the worst day of their life by a smiling couple at the door telling them they are so happy to have them.
So lets get this straight…. in less than 24 hours this child has been taken from everything that is familiar to them, even if that familiar thing is bad or harmful to them, and placed in a setting with strangers and told everything is going to be alright. They wake up the next morning to start their “new” life (at least for the next 12 months, because that’s the length of time a parent is given to work their case and get the children back). It’s off to a new school, new friends and a long line of doctor visits and psychiatric evaluations.
As a foster parent to a new placement you can expect the worst or best from a child. Usually there is a honeymoon phase in which the child is exceptionally good and polite, generally the child is in such disbelief as to what is happening. A child at this phase needs a lot of love and care from the foster parents to start building up their emotional banks for when the anger phase hits. Although they seem like the perfect the child at this point you want them to get into the anger stage so they can begin their cycle of grief. This cycle of grief will help them cope with life in foster care with all the ups and downs of the system and the parents. I was told in MAPP class, the 10 week course taken to become a foster or adoptive parent, that you can give everything you have to the child and they will not appreciate it until they are older as young adults. So everyday you wake up, give them everything you have, all the love and hugs and good advice, and even a discipline or two to help teach them some social skills, poor behavior redirection or even physical or verbal fighting redirection. You finally make some headway with them as they begin to trust and settle in and then the coalition throws in weekly visitation with the parents. Once visitation begins on a regular basis, the child is emotionally shifted from one way of life to another and they begin to resort to their old behavior. These are called triggers, it usually takes a couple of days to get them settled back down to their routine. It starts all over again the next week after that visitation even if the parents are a “no show”, which sometimes can be worse. But because this is your ministry, God told you to do it and you love what you do, you pour everything into them with no gratitude in return.
The whole year is a rollercoaster with the court system, case managers and guardian ad litems coming in and out of your home on a monthly basis, doctor, dental and psychological appointments and the parents working or not working their case. And then there is the other side of it….the normal life side. No child likes to be labeled a foster child and so when they enter into school or social situations it is always a little bit difficult for them. They see others kids hanging with their parents, sisters and brothers and they feel out of place in their family setting, its not their parents yet these people are showing them a love and respect that they have never had before. It’s not their blood brother or sisters sleeping in the other bed in the room yet they live with them 24 hours a day 7 days a week and share and experience everything together that a family setting offers.
Also there is the factor of their anger and their rebellion…it can come out in a number of ways ie: violence toward others, misbehavior in school and at home, personal hygiene and toilet issues, and even outright public tantrums. Usually a child that you get is emotionally and mentally a few years younger than what their age is, depending on when the neglect or abuse began. So as a foster parent you can take them back to those younger ages and stages of life and try to help them develop those skills that will be so important to them later in life in their careers and personal relationships. But the outside world doesn’t get it….”they should act their age and quit misbehaving”. Its such a struggle for the child and foster parent to catch them up to speed.
Being involved in a foster community in which there are functions that are attended and meetings that continue to teach us new techniques or answers to our questions of how to reach this child, really helps, because the foster parents understand the delay issues or the poor behavior and are more accepting of it all.
I will never forget the sibling group of 4 that we received over a year ago and how long it took us to get a couple of them to realize that no matter how long they whined or threw a tantrum we weren’t going to give in. It’s the “move” that they would use on their parents to get their way and it was a hard one to break. Especially with the weekly visitation. The best thing we can do for these kids is inform others in our church and community about these delays that they have so that there would be more patience for them. They already don’t trust adults and the more adults can show them how to act, how God acts through us the better chance we have of changing the cycle of them having their kids enter the system when they grow up.
Of course I am writing this after a full day of having 9 kids under 12 by myself, since my spouse was out working, and am probably a little exhausted and frustrated with the lack of respect from the kids or the lack of respect the kids give each other. But, every morning I wake up happy and ready for a new day to make a difference in their life. One more day for me to “be there for them”, hug them and show them God through me. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in a few cases in which I could also minister to the parents, either through the kids or a quick word of encouragement at the visitation drop-off.