How Foster children feel and the safety they seek
Making a foster child feel safe in a new home
Understanding the 8 Losses of foster children
The Month of May is earmarked as National Foster Care Month. During this time, the President issues an annual Proclamation recognizing the contributions of the child welfare professionals and the resource and kin families supporting children in the United States foster care system by opening their homes and sharing their love.
When a child enters foster care through social services, it is seen as a traumatic experience for all children in foster care; they lose so much, regardless of how valid the reason the child was removed for their safety or how well prepared and well-intentioned the foster family is youth in foster care have all experience some type of child abuse or neglect from a birth family.
It is essential to be informed of these losses and their potential impact on how the children in care may feel and the mental health and complex trauma and trauma symptoms it may cause a child in Foster care.
This is why it is essential to take a trauma-informed approach when helping a child who has or is experiencing trauma to limit post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is found in so many kids after they have left long-term foster care and been a part of the child welfare system.
Loss of continuity
Foster kids often don't have "the full picture" of the events that led to their removal or the story of their early years; this loss is so hard for them. This lack of knowledge of their past can leave them feeling as if they are unconnected to their own life.
Once they enter their foster care program and a new foster home, they don't know your family history and how you do things. This lack of continuity impacts the foster child, particularly during family holidays, traditions, story-telling, and identity formation within your home.
Loss of safety
Many foster children are survivors of hard starts in their lives. Facing the "what if's" that come from feeling unsafe and coming to believe that they are safe in your home is essential to creating a sense of safety and security. Being willing to be a witness to their expression of that pain (even though you weren't the cause) is a true challenge that many foster parents face as they try and make a child feel safe.
Loss of control
So much of a foster kid's life before coming to the security of your home was at the whim of others. So many of the decisions happening in his life now are out of his control.
Everything in his life is at the mercy of others; this is a challenging concept for a child to understand. A foster child is considered "lucky" to have survived those moments that ultimately brought him to foster care, which is itself a loss, as Naftzger says.
"One shouldn't have to be lucky to have a loving family. To be lucky is to have no control whatsoever. That is the loss."
Loss of closure
Many foster kids don't even know what pieces of their lives they are missing or where those pieces fit. This "not knowing" creates unanswered questions, a struggle to predict outcomes, and a sense of loose ends left untied.
Naftzger uses the metaphor of a 100-piece puzzle with 99 pieces in place and one piece missing forever. That word picture is sadly all too-haunting and real for many foster kids.
Loss of trust in adults
Children are supposed to be able to count on the adults in their lives. When the outcome of trusting those adults becomes unhealthy, dangerous, or uncertain, as in many foster kids' experiences, those kids struggle to trust adults again. Understanding the depth of that loss and re-building the child's ability to trust you while they are in your home can be an uphill climb.
Loss of innocence
Foster children don't just suffer from the consequences of trauma or neglect by losing their home and their parents. The day their childhood stopped being safe and good, they also suffered the loss of innocence. They acknowledge that loss is a loving way to help them navigate unknown territory.
Loss of worth
The tween and teen years are typically full of self-doubt and self-consciousness regarding one's appearance, abilities, and identities. Foster and adoptive adolescents can be subject to a more profound self-hatred that goes to the core of their identity and focuses on hatred of their ethnic features or appearances as they are different from their foster or adopted family. That longing to look like the rest of their world can translate to a loss of self-worth.
Loss of accountability
Many kids come through the foster system through unjust and unfair circumstances. They never see justice or resolution for themselves. The lack of accountability for those actions committed against foster kids is a huge loss. Naftzger calls it "an inaccessible privilege."
The Good News: Loss Isn't The Whole Story
These eight losses can have a profound effect on foster kids as they navigate toward adolescence and adulthood. When foster parents take the time to think through these losses and their consequences, they can sit alongside their foster children in a deeper level of understanding and empathy.
The beauty of understanding these losses and navigating them with the foster children in your home is that the losses are not their full story. The children's stories in your home can be full of promise, as unique and evolving as each precious child.
The privilege of foster parenting is that you can equip yourself with this kind of understanding and then use it to guide the child to healthy attachments, improved behavior, and healing, even if they are only in your home for a short time. That guidance will make a massive difference in that child's future as they gain independent living skills or enter different types of foster care, if this is long-term or adoption. Children and youth need permanent homes and connections to our community as they navigate the US foster care system.
As the Foster Parent Advocate, I found the excerpts from Katie Naftzger's book incredibly insightful. As you navigate the fostering/adoptive journey, I hope you understand some of what these children may have and may be experiencing. It will give you a sense of calm as you both process through together. As you embark on the journey, remember to enjoy Enjoy the impact you are making.