Saturday, February 10, 2007

"It took me years to figure out what a foster child was"

My agency sent me to a meeting the other day. It was long, and interesting. Being the studious person I am, I found the main parts really interesting and was bored and frustrated by the "fun" things they put in between the serious parts to keep us awake and entertained, but that is not the point.

There were foster parents, foster alum, and one birth mother who had a child she had successfully got back from foster care a couple of years ago. There were supposed to be two birth parents, but that did not work out.

We talked about plans the agency had and gave them some feedback. It was interesting.

I surprised myself by bursting out into tears when they talked about the goals of helping kids to finish high school and get post secondary education and training. I was thinking about Miss E, about how she plans to walk away on her 18th birthday this summer, about how she thinks she will be able to finish high school and go to college with just the transitional services the agency will offer. I blubbered out, "But what is the use of all the services we offer them if they just walk away? What can we offer them that they will take?"

Though I learned many interesting things, I got a perspective from the alumni that I had never thought about before.

See, I deal with teenagers. In my agency the kids are presented with a document that describes their rights and responsibilities. When they come into the agency there is a meeting where everything is explained to them: what this agency is all about; what is expected of them; what services they will get; who all the people are who work there. They aren't officially admitted into the program until they sign a documents detailing the rights and responsibilities of the workers, the youth, and the parents. They sometimes get confused about what they can expect and what they can't, but by the time I get them, they are pretty savvy about the system in general and this agency in particular.

But the alumni at the meeting explained that when they were little no one told them that they were foster children. They figured it out by listening to the adults talk to each other. They experimented a little with telling people that they were foster kids, trying it out to see what people said and how they reacted. Invariably they were asked why they were in foster care. They did not know.

They did not know what they had to do so that they could go home again, and it was obvious to them that there must be something they were supposed to do. If they could just figure what it was that all these adults who suddenly appeared and had so much power over them wanted from them, they might be able to do it and go back home. But nobody every explained it to them. Nobody every told them what foster care was, how it worked, or what might happen to them.

So they made up their answers, and of course came up with nightmare versions.

I know that foster parents often neglect to tell their birth kids why kids are in foster care and how the system works, but it had not occurred to me that there was no place in the process during which the foster kids were told what was going on.

Of course these were women in their late twenties.

Maybe it is better now?

Does anyone know?

Do we explain anything to kids?

I want to hope that it is so...but FosterAbba's experience with Danielle does not encourage.


  1. I've never actually thought about this, which is probably telling. When I remove a child, I try to give age-appropriate information, but I don't actually say, "Okay, you are in foster care now, and what that means is..." To very young kids, I say something like, "You are going to stay with ______ while your mom does some things she needs to do so that she can take care of you." In my experience, older kids seem to know the term "foster care," and some things about being in foster care. But you're right, no one every gives them the big picture. I don't work with families for more than two months, so I don't know exactly what workers who have kids long-term tell them, but I think what probably happens is that kids are explained things as they come up, on an as-needed basis (of course you could argue that the big picture IS needed.) I'm not sure what we should tell them, or when.

  2. my kids had never been told, not until just before the adoption.

    My son is still afraid that strangers will come suddenly and take him away for no reason.

    Dear God.

  3. The ones I have now..The oldest knows that she is in foster care. I'm not sure how she knows the term, but my understanding is that some other family members have been involved with DFS before. She said something similiar to what Process said...that she was going to stay with me for a little bit until her mom XYZ. I had a five year old once who kept saying, "I knew they were going to come pull us kids. Why did they have to pull us kids?"

  4. For all the talk that goes on about how children are placed into foster care or are adopted to serve "their best interests," I am honestly coming to the opinion that only "best interests" that are being served here are those of the bureaucracy itself, which feeds upon the misery of others.

    With the exception of being told she wasn't going home, which we deliberately left up to the social workers, "Danielle" knows what she knows about the system because we told her. Her caseworkers didn't explain things, or if they did, their explanations were too short, and too rushed to really stick. If it hadn't been for our careful explanations of things, and our insistence that the social worker tell "Danielle" the news, she would still be sitting in the dark wondering what she did wrong and what she would have to do to go back home.


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.