Myth Buster: Are All Foster Children Bad?
It is easy for the public who have not had the opportunity to interface with children from the child welfare system to have some general views of what children may be like who come from adverse backgrounds and “the system.” We have all seen some version of a “Dateline special” where we learn such things as the majority of inmates in prison were once foster children. For many of us who work in this field, our argument is that these incarcerated adults faced these unfortunate outcomes because they weren’t recipients of successful interventions early on nor did they experience the opportunities that come with being raised by supportive adoptive forever families.
Our agency placed a ten year old girl with a family who understood that a great deal of her bad behavior was a form of communication. They recognized that her adverse background of being physically hurt and neglected by her family of origin understandably led her to have little trust in adults, especially ones who were now responsible for taking care of her. In fact, the concept of “good care” often must be re-defined for our children in care.
Upon placement, this street smart and guarded ten year old verbally rejected the family. She called them names, left home without permission, displayed significant attitude, and often challenged their authority and parenting. Given this behavior, it would have been easy for the parents to conclude she didn’t want to be in their home and that, due to her age, perhaps her feelings and fears were not changeable.
The family knew that this little girl’s “bad behavior” wasn’t in her core but was a means of communication. Her behavior communicated her fear, her hesitancy, her confusion, and her uncertainty. How else could she communicate all those intense feelings? Her past had not shown her that her words or feelings mattered. So instead she acted them out, likely waiting for the family to reject her.
The amazing transformation that can happen for our children in care, who once displayed such behaviors, is that they can and do learn to trust. These kids incorporate new ways of living with adults and learn that their words matter and are meaningful. They no longer have to rely on certain behaviors to survive a dangerous world.
So what happened to our smart ten year old girl and our family? Over the course of the year, while she made her best attempts to get them to reject her, our family never reciprocated. Instead, they provided the safety our little girl needed to grow and feel a part of a loving family that is deeply committed to her. She no longer runs away without permission, can communicate her feelings verbally and most importantly, she can express her desire to be a part of the family. Recently they all posed for a family portrait. Our ten year old girl is hugging her mom and dad with a huge grin on her face!