Being a foster parent is an amazing experience.
Being a foster kid – not so much.
Even in the best of circumstances – oh wait, there are no “best of circumstances” in foster care.
Kids come into care because their circumstances aren’t best. Their families need help, and sadly, help involves the children not living with their parents for a time.
This is trauma and loss in its rawest form.
Attempts are made to place children with family members or fictive kin (a person already in the child’s life such as a teacher, godparent, pastor), but when that fails, children are placed with a foster family.
Can you imagine walking into a stranger’s home, even the kindest stranger, and being expected to live there?
I can. I did.
The night she came to our home she hardly knew me and had never met my family. I picked her up from a high school choir event and she’s been with us ever since. Our blessing, to be sure.
She had no choice in the moment of decision.
This is one of the most difficult things for foster youth – the lack of voice and influence.
Foster care is a whirlwind of appointments and people, and decisions made sometimes with the youth’s input, sometimes without.
What might it feel like?
When I was a foster youth, many decisions were made completely by adults without input from me, including life-changing decisions about the placement of my son.
Today we have the Foster Youth Bill of Rights which foster parents and youth sign together. When I read it, I passionately wished it had been in place many years ago when I was a foster youth. Properly observed, my experience would have been much different.
Which brings me back to foster youth today. We foster parents may be high-fiving each other over how great our kids are doing.
But how do the kids feel?
Do they have voice? Especially our older youth – are they being heard?
How many appointments should we expect them to manage in a week? How many classes should they miss at school due to foster care requirements?
I’m not saying case workers/therapists/all-other-professionals-involved-in-the-case aren’t doing their best.
When multiple family members with transportation needs are involved in appointments, plus professionals, plus kids, it becomes a logistical miracle to get everyone in one place at the same time.
Very big decisions happen in the lives of foster youth; what they think is tremendously important.
We could be the best foster parents in the world – but this is a very hard, often gut-wrenching experience for our foster youth.
We can probably all stand to work a little harder to wrap our minds around the loss of power and voice, the loss of home and family, even the loss of school and friends.
I know I can.
*Zoe is the name our foster daughter chose to use on my blog – it is not her real name.