Being removed from their home and placed in foster care is a difficult and stressful experience for any child. Many of these children have suffered some form of serious abuse or neglect. Some children 'in care' have emotional, behavioural or developmental problems of varying degrees. Physical health problems may also be apparent. Most children, however, show remarkable resiliency and determination to go on with their lives.
Children in foster care often struggle with the following issues:
- Blaming themselves and feeling guilty about removal from their birth parents
- Wishing to return to birth parents, even if they were abused by them
- Feeling unwanted if awaiting adoption for a long time
- Having mixed emotions about attaching to foster parents
- Feeling insecure and uncertain about their future
- Reluctantly acknowledging positive feelings for foster parents
- Grief as a result of the separation and loss of their biological family
Children in care have special needs. Many children in care have experienced traumatic separation and loss, as well as other difficulties and may require more understanding and patience than parents are used to giving their own children. Often they have lost confidence in adult caregivers as capable of meeting their needs. Foster parents with an understanding of how children express feelings of loss or confusion can often help the child adjust to a new home.
Children who have experienced abuse often do not interpret family routines, traditions, gestures, comments or ways of communicating the same way your children do, or the way you might expect. What might seem innocent and normal to a child brought up in a secure, loving environment - such as a hug, a joke, a light- hearted wrestling match - might be frightening and full of emotional significance to a child who has been abused. This does not mean that you shouldn't include foster children in normal family activities. It means that you must be aware of the child's background as much as possible, and be sensitive to any signs of discomfort or fear and address these issues as they arise.
Many of the children in care of our department are age 12 and older. The lack of ability to give and receive affection during the teen years can be expressed through such behaviours as becoming withdrawn or aggressive. Knowing how to channel these behaviors is crucial to assisting children in this time of great change.
The objective of foster care is to help children learn that they can have supportive relationships with adult caregivers and that they can return to their homes with increased skill in relating to others. Caring for someone else's child may not be the same as caring for one's own.