There are many foster children that encounter the child welfare system at young ages. They come in at 3 or 4, go back home and come back in the foster care system a couple of times. Before they know it, they are almost teenagers and they find themselves staying in foster care until it is time for them to age out. In some states that age is 18 (can you believe this?) and others it is 21. Either way these young people find themselves returning to the same family and the same parent/s that they were taken away from when they were young children.
When this happens, they look drastically different from when they first left home. They are beginning to look like an early form of what they will be as adults (physically). They feel that with their physical developments they are ready to face the family that never really provided what they thought they should receive from them when they were younger.
After aging out, they have this sense of courage that they are stronger and more equipped to deal with the dysfunction of the mother and or father that brought them into this world. They now believe the feelings of rejection and abandonment are long gone and they are “time enough” for any disrespect that they may encounter when they return home. For them, it is certain that the “adult” has arrived; order has returned to the chaos. All wrongs will be made right because their presence demands it.
The truth is, they are just merely an adult shell protecting the same child that was abandoned, hurt, rejected and cast away. The truth is, they are in no position to right any wrong because they are STILL dealing with the pain of the past. The truth is, their parent/s, their family, their loved ones can say the right words that will make them willingly hand over their power and all reason, wrapped up with a pretty red bow as they regress into an infant, a harmless little babe waiting to be fed and hoping to now be given the love they have been yearning for all these years.
You ask how can I describe this process so vividly and with such emotion? It’s because I have been there. GOING HOME AGAIN. You see, so many children are taken away from their families and so much emphasis is on their “well-being” that people seem to overlook the “well-being” of the family. There is this notion that children should be taken away from family parent/s that are a bad influence or who are neglecting them and I agree with this notion; however, what work is being done to make sure the family is given the support they need to grow and to be in a position to provide a better experience for the children in their care?
What happens is the same young person that was removed from their biological family as a child is going to find that same family and expect to be brought back into the fold. You know why? Because that is their FAMILY! They will always go through whatever is needed to find and reconnect with their biological family because their need to is genetic. Many foster youth stay in contact with their family WHILE they are in foster care – they still visit them, they still call them, whether or not the social worker or foster parent is aware of it. There is no way a bond can be broken between a child and what they consider to be HOME.
This means it is imperative for child welfare agencies, those in charge and those on the front lines to equip young people with the appropriate conflict resolution skills. It is imperative that there is an expectation that EVERYONE a foster child encounters within the foster care system is helping them to realize their strengths and providing them with trauma-informed coping mechanisms….EVERYONE! You cannot have a foster parent or group home staff belittling foster children. You cannot allow people to make a foster child question their worth!
It’s like preparing a young person for emotional and mental war. YOU HAVE TO EQUIP THEM WITH THE “WEAPONS” THEY WILL NEED TO PROTECT THEMSELVES. If you do not, you are merely prolonging the inevitable. You are spending federal and state dollars to prolong a problem that you are unwilling to address. You are creating a situation where funds are being poured into breaking up a family that will ultimately be reunited in the SAME state that you felt was decrepit enough to remove the vulnerable child/ren from.
For young people in foster care who are anxious to reunite with family, I say this to you: it is normal and natural to yearn the family that you know and the family that you will always love no matter what. What I have learned is that you must guard you heart and be smart about who you allow to guide your decisions. If after you leave foster care, you find your parent/s or family exactly the way you left them, be cautious. You can indeed love them from a distance. It is up to you to break the cycle that has kept you emotionally crippled for so long. IT IS UP TO YOU! YOU DECIDE who you want to be and who you want to share your space with. If it hurts in a way that is debilitating or that makes you question your worth or place in this world, IT IS NOT FOR YOU. You cannot convince others that what they have done to you or not done for you is their fault. In my case, the people who caused the most strife in my life as a child are STILL in denial about their role. They STILL believe I am mistaken and that they did all they could for me. They STILL say I think I am “better than them”. In the end, it is not what they say, but what you know to be true. It is NOT your responsibility to make them admit their wrong doing. That will have to happen without you and at a time that is brought on by circumstances beyond you.
If you want more for your life and they just can’t seem to support you or want to move forward to make things better now, love them from a distance and go on to create the life you want with people who are going to support you. When they tell you “oh, you think you’re better than me. You think you’re better than us” you say “I am better than you think I am. I am powerful and I deserve EVERYTHING that is good. I am sorry that you don’t believe the same for yourself.” And you KEEP IT MOVING!
Listen, neither of my parents are alive and I know the feeling of wanting to come back home but not being able to because home no longer exists. I know the feeling of wanting to be a part of the different cliques of extended family but never quite fitting in. If there is not a place for you, do not try to force it. Create your own family made up of people who you have met along the way that have encouraged you and who have believed in you and who make you feel like the blessing that you ARE.
Do not allow people to control your emotions or to dictate your life, not even your family. Blood is not necessarily thicker than water. They will always be your blood, but they will not always provide the sustenance you need to survive and thrive. That, only YOU can do.
Be strong. Be wise. Whatever you do, Keep. Moving. Forward.