Foster Care Awareness Month. Or should I say Foster Care Crisis Month?
In Indiana – like many Midwestern states, the current crisis is rooted in opioids. Too many addicts neglecting their children. Too few homes willing to take them.
We’ve seen the resulting chaos before. Crack in the 80s. Meth in the 90s.
When I say chaos, I’m not talking about family courts or agencies being overwhelmed – because they are. I’m talking, instead, about children being lost in the shuffle.
After all, they are the ones who matter most.
Children who grow up in chaos often know nothing else. My two oldest sons are prime examples. In their all-too-common predicament, domestic violence and poverty meant living in filth, scavenging like animals for food and learning to survive on their own.
Yet one thing became clear. Their parents might have loved them, but they weren’t reliable.
As two young boys lost the ability to trust, they felt compelled to always be in control – regardless of anyone’s help.
Sadly, they found themselves trapped in a revolving door. Family reunification failed, not once but twice. One out-of-home placement led to another – until the number approached 20. As a result of their extreme behaviors, they ran out of possible foster homes.
Off to an adolescent group home they went – although just seven and eight. A sure way to add to their bad habits
You see, my sons quickly had become street smart. Within days of a new foster placement, they would ask themselves that one question. Did the new family really want them or were they simply going through the motions?
At one foster home, one son slept on plastic garage bags because he wet the bed almost every night.
At another, the other son was forced into compliance – not by a therapeutic approach but by frustrated, knee-jerk calls to the police. Not the way to gain the trust of an eight-year-old.
If the foster parent’s answer was “no” to truly wanting the two boys in their home, they sensed the unwelcome atmosphere immediately. And each knew his stay could be cut short. Very short.
Simply act out.
Break something – on accident, of course. Argue at every turn. By the end of the month, the foster parents would be on the phone with a case manager – demanding removal.
Could a new home be any worse? It might actually be better – and better to my sons soon meant less rules to follow, more junk food to eat. In other words, they would be able to do practically anything they wanted.
What kind of foster home is that?
But these incorrigible boys desperately needed a home where the caregivers understood childhood trauma – with the adults well-trained in the facts of attachment, not a fantasy of resiliency. In turn, that knowledge would create the empathy that could jump-start the healing process.
Start the healing. End the chaos.
What my sons received instead was trauma on top of trauma – which made their eventual placement in my home a rough transition. Love alone was not enough to help my sons heal after so much damage.
What does this mean to the current crisis in foster care?
The growing number of children raised in inadequate foster homes has devastating consequences. Frankly, some foster parents should be fired. Meanwhile, their expectations are often lowered – because of under-supply and over-demand.
Still in doubt? Ask one of the many prison inmates about their time in the child welfare system.
“I knew no one wanted me.”
We must do better. We have many wonderful foster parents, but more well-intentioned and well-informed families must be recruited – and supported from the start.
Fair compensation. Respect from authorities. Minimal bureaucracy. Ongoing education. Respite. Access to trauma-informed therapists. Crisis management. And no lies. That means absolute truth about the children’s challenges from the start.
At the end of the day, foster care must be more than room and board – because relationships matters in the lives of traumatized children.
Foster parents – not judges or case managers – build the connections that allow them to heal. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page. Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold