Imagine yourself without a permanent job, taking part-time work to provide a bare-survival income, constantly aware that the job is temporary.
Or imagine that you have a full-time job, but there are continuing rumors you may be laid off. This is quite serious. Your livelihood and the welfare of your family depend upon your job security. You are worried, scared, angry, even tempted to give up.
For a foster child, it’s not simply about employment. The anxiety permeates every aspect of his or her life. The child is in transit, with no firm base to trust, no place to truly call home.
Many foster children will typically move through five emotional stages as they wait for society to find them permanence.
1. HOPE. At first the child has hope, either for a return to the birth home or for a new permanent home. “Maybe this family will be the one. If only….” But in time, hope fades.
2. FEAR. As hope declines, fear takes over. “What if it will always be like this? What if no one really wants me? What if I never have a home? What if….” Fear hurts.
3. ANGER. After fear comes anger. The child gets mad, and often expresses his feelings by acting out, temper tantrums, foot-dragging, stealing, destroying property, and failing deliberately in school to frustrate the foster parents.
4. DEPRESSION. The anger may dissipate into darkness. The child becomes quiet and sad.
5. INDIFFERENCE. In time, the depression may be replaced by a coldness, a lack of caring. “It doesn’t matter! What’s the use? Who cares anymore? I don’t.”
Some case managers assert that they must wait until they are certain they have it right. Unfortunately, the child does not have time. The clock is ticking. The child is growing and developing, both physically and psychologically while the system dithers. The perfect becomes the enemy of the good. No matter how “right” the initial case plan or the final resolution may be, a sure way to get things wrong is to delay.
The institutions designed to protect children too often lack a sense of crisis. The longer a child is in temporary care, the more damage is done. The belief that children are emotionally safe in temporary care is false. Evidence shows significant correlations between the length of time in temporary care and increased mental and social problems. Unfortunately, case managers and courts do not feel this same sense of urgency.
Foster kids can’t just wait around for something to happen. Case managers and foster parents need to be proactive. When we have a health crisis, we don’t take our time to fill out forms, make appointments, and hold meetings. We go directly to the Emergency Room where the staff works carefully, but without unnecessary delay, to make us whole again. Foster care is an emergency situation, and needs to be treated as such.
Time is not on the child’s side. Start at once and stay on top of progress. Develop a case plan as soon as the child is removed and have a contingency plan just in case. Monitor compliance weekly. That’s how a profit-making business would do it. Our children deserve at least that much.