Who are the foster children?
When a family is contemplating becoming a resource for foster children, likely the first question that comes to mind is this: Who are the children who will be placed in my home?
Foster children certainly aren’t all alike, but they do have one thing in common: They’ve been removed from the care of birth family and, by definition, suffer some degree of trauma due to that loss. Otherwise, each child is an individual a unique history and diverse constellation of characteristics. Of course, these strands are all intertwined in different combinations and degrees of seriousness for each child.
The moment a family becomes part of Sierra Forever Families, the agency begins preparing them to meet the child (or children) by offering comprehensive training–long before a child is ever placed. Sierra also helps families develop realistic expectations and create a network of professional and natural supports. After placement, the SFF social worker is part of the child’s team, visiting the home regularly. Other supports include a 24-hour emergency line, support groups and ongoing trainings. Prior to placement, the professionals involved use all their tools to make sure the child is a good match for the family’s skills. They also give the family as much information about the child and his or her history as they can.
That history often includes neglect, which means that a child’s basic physical needs for food, clothing and shelter haven’t been met. Children of neglect often have a need for control because they have learned they can’t trust adults to care for them. They might hoard food, steal, try to be in charge or have poor hygiene because they never learned basic self-care. Neglect often goes hand-in-hand with physical or emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can include calling a child names, degrading them and/or exposing them as a third party to violence. Physical abuse, especially when caused by a parent or “trusted” adult, automatically also causes emotional injury. Scary experiences can cause post-traumatic stress disorder. Children who have PTSD may experience a fight-flight-or-freeze response even when they are not in danger.
A secure bond to a caregiver is key to a child’s healthy development. Children in foster care might experience attachment difficulties when they have had inconsistent bonding with the primary caregiver or have been in the care of several different people over time. The foster care system contributes to this when children are moved from placement to placement. One reason concurrent planning is so important is that it limits the number of placements a child will experience.
Prospective resource parents often express concern about placement of a child who has been sexually abused. Sexual abuse also is on a continuum. It could be exposure to sexual-themed material or activity. It could be victimization by a rapist or other sexual perpetrator, including family members. A smaller subset of children has been commercially exploited. Like any other victim, children of sexual abuse need special care and dedicated parents to heal their wounds.
It is extremely common for children in the child welfare system to be exposed to drugs or alcohol prenatally or at birth. Depending on the substance and the amount and timing of exposure, these children may suffer from short-term or lifelong physical and developmental difficulties.
Naturally, children commonly come in sibling sets. Even though the child welfare system has a sad history of separating siblings, research and compassion both dictate that it’s best for brothers and sisters to grow up together.
Foster children can come from any ethnic or racial background, but in California, African-American children are overrepresented in foster care. Children in foster care can be any age, from birth to adulthood. California law allows foster children to remain in the child welfare system until age 21 under certain circumstances. Some teenage mothers and fathers stay in foster care along with their own babies and children.
Finally, anyone who had delighted in hearing a child laugh or sing or tell a story knows that a child is much, much more than his or her history of loss. Each child—no matter what their past has held–has a unique personality, temperament, look, energy level. Each child has a unique, endearing way of playing hopscotch, running down the basketball court, holding a crayon.
Who will your child be?
Written by: Joyce Miller, LCSW