Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Measuring Success in Foster Care

Miss E is moving. It has been decided.

The agency has found another family in town who will take her. If I understand correctly, they had to stop doing foster care for a while because of a the needs of an older relative. Now they are back and though they have a toddler in the house, Miss E will be the only teenager. No one hopes that she will bond to this family. Everyone does hope that she will stay there until she emancipates. No one expects that she will stay anywhere past her 18th birthday.

I have met Miss E when her adoption was being terminated. I cared for her when she insisted on leaving Mandy. Hubby drove her to the teen shelter, and I have picked her up and taken her to school while she lived first in one foster home and then with Annabelle. Now she will move again. Her fifth address in less than two years.

It is not a cruel system that is heartlessly bouncing her around. Each of the foster parents who have let her go have been very experienced, tough women. They were willing to keep her. They worked hard. They did not get tired and kick her out. Miss E walked away. They held on for as long as they could, but Miss E always walks away.

This morning Claudia wrote an especially eloquent post about children with attachment disorder. She wonders about whether it makes a difference if we stick with them or not. She has stuck with her kids. She has stuck with one even though he, like Miss E, succeeded in getting a court to agree that he should be removed.

RAD kids will do that. They will sometimes do everything they can to separate themselves from the ones the love.

FosterAbba also responded to Claudia's post this morning, wondering again about the possibilities of seeing results from what we do.

I think it is a mistake for us to evaluate what we do based upon results.

Wait...hear me out...

I do think we need research to better understand what works. We need to know what sort of interventions produce higher graduation rates and lower disruption rates. If there are parenting or therapy techniques that do a good job of helping kids recover from trauma, then we need to know about them. In very many ways, we need to care very much about results.

But at another level we have to put those results and the possibilities of finding them completely out of our minds.

See, in order for human beings to change they need many things, and one of the is that they need to be ready and willing to do the work. We can't do it for them. No matter how good our practices, no matter how carefully studied our methods, we are still dealing with human beings who have free will and may choose to walk away.

Teaching, parenting, therapy are three examples in which someone is trying to make a difference in someone else's life. No matter how good you are at what you do, you cannot make the other person learn, or grow or heal. So it is frustrating. Parenting traumatized children is exhausting and sometimes it feels futile. We poor energy in and often we see no results.

So I think we need to stop focusing on getting results. If we measure success by results we will burn out.

What we forget, as we are working so hard and searching for signs that it is working, is that we are giving the youths tools, pictures, a map. Whatever metaphor you want to use, we are giving them something. When they live with us they see that it is possible to interact without violence. They see new ways to deal with anger and frustration. They see that it is possible to find joy in life. They see that trust is possible.

They may take that picture of how life can be and shove it into a back pocket and never look at it, but it is there. Someday they may take it out. Some day they may decide that they are ready to heal, and it will be more possible for them than it would have been otherwise, because they will know what a (somewhat!) healthy family looks like. They will know that trust and love and anger without injury are possible. And even if they don't decide to do the work, they still know that it is possible.

Like the proverbial horse, we can show them the water, but we cannot make them drink.

We tend to forget though that we did show them the water. Because of that, they know there is water. And that is important, whether they ever drink it or not.

Next in Miss E's Story:
Moving in two days


  1. So very true. And yet, as a parent it's often hard to feel as though we've made a difference, especially when things aren't going well.

  2. This is true, I think, in terms of us being able to keep doinjg our jobs.

    But I do think outcomes matter. And It hink if enough of us did step up and help out kids, we would move the needle a bit (on average, of course, regardless of the success of any individual child or parent).

    I guess the researcher in me just can't get past the idea of finding results :-)

  3. We call it 'planting seeds'. Plant the seeds of love, stability, self worth, good character etc...and if/when they're ready, the seeds will grow, and so will they.

  4. I love the way you said this. At the end of the day, people still have to make their own choices about their actions....and that includes our kids.


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