Thousands of children and youth across the nation have begun or will soon begin school. Sadly, for foster children and youth, this ritual represents a foreboding process invoking fears of rejection, ostracization and trauma. For most foster children, school is not a fun or engaging place.
For the last couple of years, my wife has hosted a “Back to School Kickball Game” for friends and neighbors. The group that usually gathers is a very eclectic mix of parents and children. A fun array of ages, backgrounds and family sizes; including foster families, adoptive families, toddlers, teenagers, tweens, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts…and all of their different connections, temperaments and beliefs would make this list almost exhaustive.
The more a human being has been hurt, the more natural it is to be self-protecting and to believe that the only person you can count on is yourself. But many great philosophers, spiritual leaders, artists, therapists and social scientist have come to the same conclusion: relationships are what heal.
When was the last time you heard a political talking head say anything about helping homeless families? Probably never. One political party continually demonizes these people, mischaracterizing them as lazy parasites who just want to live off of taxpayer dollars. Shame on these heartless morons because nothing could be further from the truth!
Let’s create a clearer picture about homeless families, the awful impact homelessness has on children and some strategies to address this problem.
I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up in a home, with two parents who loved me and provided for me. I was safe and secure. This was my “normal” and I assumed everyone else had the same. The first time I realized I was lucky, was when a boy named Anthony moved in with us. I was in the first grade, my brother was in third grade, and now we had another person joining our family, a foster brother, and he was a fifth grader. I had heard the word “foster” before.
When I joined the California Katie A Therapeutic Foster Care litigation settlement workgroup, the lead attorney quipped, “California is like the Wild-Wild West; 58 counties doing what they d***-well please!” How true. Sadly, how very true.
When I started the Family Care Network in 1987, there was certainly a different approach and philosophy driving the foster care system; now, looking back, it seems like the Stone Age. The system has come a long way, but it has been a tough, hard row to hoe.
In full disclosure, by day I am a licensed therapist and work in a therapeutic foster care program; and by night I am an adoptive and foster parent. As a therapist, I have quoted evidence-based practices and suggested all sorts of strength-based and solution-focused interventions to foster parents, adoptive parents, bio-parents and, in moments of desperation, even to my wife. As a parent, I have also given the proverbial eye roll to the same advice when given to me.
Have you ever seen a picture of a child who is starving from malnutrition? It’s difficult. It’s haunting! Images of this severe level of distress either compel you to look away or strongly motivate you to want to make a difference. Similarly, seeing children starving emotionally from mal-parenting, abuse and neglect, and a lack of love and nurturing can ignite the same feelings.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” What a great metaphor for the process of guiding any youth, but especially foster youth, to successfully take flight as an adult.