Spoiler alert. As of today, two years after I almost quit foster parenting, I am writing this while sitting next to my nine year old son – who lived with us as a foster placement for 18 months before we adopted him. He is the love of our lives.
But two years ago this week, I questioned whether I should be a foster parent. In fact, I questioned the whole system. I questioned whether, by sending children into the homes of strangers after they have been, for example, raped; tortured; starved; sick; in constant pain with their teeth rotting out of their mouth; and ripped from everything and everyone they know; were we really helping as much as we should. Did they need a stranger to call mom and dad? And a golden retriever? Or did they first need something else?
I thought of myself. If I had been raped; tortured; starved; sick; in constant pain; with my teeth rotting out of my mouth; and was ripped away from my family and the only home I’d ever known in the middle of the night, would I want to be taken to a home with strangers and made to wake up, pretend nothing happened and go to school the next day?
No. The answer is no. And, in fact, I think it might break me. Think of yourself. What would you need if that happened to you?
Here’s what I would need: safety, security, healthcare; mental healthcare (maybe a counselor or support group with others going through the same thing); time to process what happened; time to heal; time to gradually build a new normal. Then, and only then, might I want a new family, a new home, a golden retriever.
What do we give these children? We send them to a home with two strange adults and strange rules; other strange children who may or may not have gone through the same thing; we make them wake up and go to a new school the next day where they are expected to sit in a classroom as if nothing happened; learn division even if they’ve never learned to add. Their whole life is falling apart; they have flashbacks; they’ve lost everything important to them; they aren’t sure if they will ever see their family again; we ask them why they can’t pay attention. We tell them not to act out. We tell them to follow directions and be quiet. We rarely provide them with counseling.
Do I think we should leave children in danger? Of course, not. Do I think we are trying to stick our heads in the sand and not acknowledge the intense and severe crisis support and mental health needs of a vulnerable child who had been victimized in this way by just sticking them in a foster family and expecting them to go on with life as normal without significant mental healthcare? Obviously, yes.
I have some very specific thoughts about what we should do to fix this and the role that residential facilities, such as children’t shelters, can play in helping children find stability and then a family (to either live with permanently or until reunification with their birth family). I will write about it in another post soon.
For the time being, however, I wanted to share this excellent piece by the Arizona Republic that calls out the lack of mental healthcare support for foster and adoptive families in Arizona. Click on the picture or the link to read this compelling article about a family who was forced to give up their adoptive son to get him the appropriate mental health treatment. It sounds extreme, but, unfortunately, this is a real problem facing foster and adoptive families.
Read more at: