Sunday, November 23, 2008

Preparing Your Kids

Okay, so now that I got a bunch of you thinking about whether you can do foster care, here are some ideas about preparing the kids you already have, if you have 'em that is.

If you are considering doing care with kids under 10 or 5, here are things to think about:

Children younger than 10 typically believe foster kids are in care because they were bad and their parents gave them away. That belief is confirmed by everything naughty thing the kids do, and since the kids usually have behavior problems, that is a lot of confirmation. This belief extends to infants whom children typically believe were given away because they cry too much. This believe is resilient. That means that you can't just tell them once. They must be educated over and over and over. Figure out your age-appropriate explanation and give it again and again. Talk about the children's families in ways that are sympathetic and supportive. Remember that a lot of the kids who are in care secretly fear or even believe this too. Even if they deny it is true for them, they are likely to believe this about other kids in the system.

If the foster kids are old enough to talk, talk to your kids first. Remember about ghost stories when you were a kid? Remember kids impressing each other with tall tales? Yeah, well kids still do that. Some kids have really impressive material and better imaginations. You need to respect the foster kids privacy, but your kids also need to be insulated against the stories. Stories of sex with animals and dinners made from trapped rats have been told in my house. I recommend explaining the difference between privacy and secrets. People are allowed to keep things private (not talk about them at all), but they are not allowed to keep things secret. If kids tell each other something, that means the kids are allowed to talk to it with the adult. Period.

One of the most anxiety-producing thoughts we tend it have is "what if my foster kid hurts my biokid?" Well, that could happen. This is one of the reasons to consider only taking kids younger than your biokids. HOWEVER, I suspect that if we were to interview all the foster kids and biokids we would find that more foster kids had been bullied by biokids than the other way around. I know you will have some anxiety about your bios being hurt, but don't forget that they have an enormous amount of power, they and the foster kids know it, and that power is easily abused. Your job is to protect everyone.

Their grief is as strong as yours. When kids leave a family, it hurts. It can hurt for a long time. When I talk to adults who were fostering children and I ask them what they liked the least they tell me all sorts of things. Their possessions that were stolen or destroyed is a big one. However, when in every case they have had a story about a kid they cared about and who was moved and they never saw again. I have seen fifty-year-old men choke up saying, "I never knew what happened to him."

Most of the adults who were fostering children say that it was a positive experience. Most of them are glad their parents did it, even if they would have changed some things. Most of

Most of the adults who were fostering children tell me that they felt the experience was a positive one. They are glad they did it. They say they are more appreciative of differences in the world. They care more about social issues. They can't imagine what their life would have been without doing it.

Children who foster show higher levels of separation anxiety than average. This manifests in more sick days and a tendency among teenagers to spend more time at home. (Not necessarily a bad thing). Interestingly, parents seem to get them completely wrong. The less the parents thought separation anxiety was an issue, the more the researchers found it. I think this is because the parents who were thinking about it were dealing with it.
So here's the bottom line: we like to keep our children in bubbles. We control what television they watch. We may not let them see the news. We want them to feel safe even if the world is not safe. When you become foster parents, you burst that bubble. You cannot just bring a child into your bubble. It just doesn't work that way. Your biokids will see things you might not have been ready for them to see. You couldn't have protected them from it forever, and growing up in a bubble is not necessarily the best thing for them. You just have to be prepared to help them deal with it.

I started when my kids were 5 and 10. Brian has lived his whole life gaining brothers who are older than he is. He has had to deal with all these issues, and I have not dealt with them as well as I should have. Even when I knew better, I did not do as well as I should have.

I know though that it has been much more of a positive than a negative experience for him. I could have kept him protected, but it is better this way.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. My kids never thought that the kids were bad (never verbalized it anyway). The say that they were in care because their family didn't have the means to care for them.

    Grief...that's a big one. Usually the kids are far closer to each other than the foster kids to the adult. I am still grieving our loss more than a year later. The grief of the children is something I don't think gets talked about much.


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