Letter from a Foster Parent
by Hillary Chaney, LMHP
To you, the wild heart. The one who stands up, covered in mud after slipping and sliding. The one who goes left when the rest go right. The one who sees beauty in the fog. On behalf of the young ones and the seemingly overlooked population of foster kids, this is for you.
There is a little voice calling out to you, saying, “Here I am, choose me. Pick me. LOVE me!” (Thank you Grey’s Anatomy, for the effectively dramatic line.)
Will you hear?
Will you listen?
Will you allow me to share a bit of my heart with you?
There she lay, a tiny infant in a brand new world. She didn’t come with any anger or preconceived notions about the world. She came, innocent as anyone, to a mother and father who would make some poor decisions. A mother and father who would turned to drugs and alcohol when life and parenting became too overwhelming. A mother and father who, maybe unknowingly, neglected her emotional, and sometimes, physical needs and were ANGRY when the state got involved and said, “You are unfit to care for this child.”
There she sat, a frightened little child, in the home of a stranger, not knowing what to expect, but wanting so desperately to be accepted and lovable to these strangers. There she was, so confused, hurt, and ashamed when she was mistreated, misunderstood, and then rejected by the family she tried so hard to love and be loved in return.
There she stood, an angry teenager. Upset by a world that seemingly cast her aside and said, “Take care of yourself, because, clearly, no one else will.” Feeling alone among all of the professionals who have come into her life; case workers, lawyers, foster care specialists, judges, mentors, and foster parents. There she stood alone, being told, “We are trying our best to find a good home for you, but we are struggling to find one willing to accept a kid your age.”
Here she stands, so close to becoming an adult, but still feeling like a child. Terrified by the world, but faced with the intimidating truth of independence and adulthood.
How will she get by?
Who will she call when she is lost and confused?
Where will she go for holidays?
Who will teach her about finding a career, changing her oil, and filling out her taxes?
Here she is…
There he lay, grieving over his mother who left this earth far too soon, with a father who has never had to take responsibility over him. There he was moving from house to house with his father as they tried to survive, but just couldn’t get onto their feet. There he sat, living with extended family who also grieved his mother’s passing, and didn’t know how to care for a teen. There he stood, just trying to manage the stress of being a student, the sadness of losing a parent, the confusion of getting to know his father for the first time, and the uncertainty of living in a relatives home. There he suffered, completely afraid and frozen when the relative taking care of him disciplined his, seemingly defiant behavior, with aggression.
There he stood, face to face with Child Protective Services talking with him about his safety. There he stood scared, standing in entryway of a new home, and a new “family.”
Now here he is, telling this once new family, after moving back with the father, “You saved me. You saved my life, and I don’t know where I would be without you.” Here he is, still calling you for help in school. Asking you to help him pick out his formal wear for the dance. Introducing you to his new girlfriend who he desperately hopes you will approve of. Here he is…
Can you see them? Can you hear them? Will you look the other way? There are SO many kids in the foster care system. They range from age 0 to 18 (19 in the state of Nebraska). They need a warm bed to sleep in while their parents try to figure out how to get through the challenges of life. They need an understanding ear when they are fed up with being “different” than other kids. They need a patient heart when their behaviors scream, “I am so lost and confused!! This is not fair!!”
Yes, the infants need you. Yes, the toddlers need you. But also, the teens. The teens NEED you. They are so close to aging out of the foster system and losing their professional support. These teens are alone, have likely been in more than one foster home, and are learning survival techniques because the world has been unkind to them.
Every time a child is removed from a caretaker, whether it is their biological parent, or another home they have grown comfortable in, their attachment is disrupted, and their brain responds to the disruption like a trauma. And like anyone struggling with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), they need predictability and consistency, the safety of knowing you will be there. They need the predictability of your reactions to good and bad behaviors. And they need the security of knowing you will be there when they get home from school.
They need YOU, caring and wild heart.
Hillary is a licensed mental health professional with experience working with foster kids at Boys Town. She also has many years of therapy with clients who have experienced significant trauma. Along with that, she and her husband have foster multiple children…all teens.