So, Your Child Wants to be Friends With a Kid in Foster Care…
School has started and your child has come home talking about another kid in class. As you begin to quiz your child about this new friend, you start to suspect the new kid is in foster care. Your child wants to invite their new friend over to your house.
“Ummm…is he/she allowed to come to our house? This might be complicated.”
“Will they feel pressure to bring a gift? That might be awkward.”
Let’s get real for a minute…you wonder if this is going to be safe.
Why do I bring up this topic? Two foster moms recently told me they had each lost friends by doing foster care. And it wasn’t because the foster moms were too busy to have playdates. It was because other parents were too scared to have their kids interact with kids in foster care.
“This mom friend was fearful of my kid who was in foster care—that they would be a bad influence on her kid,” one of the foster moms revealed.
Simultaneously, I felt both sad and disgusted. In a world where we are finally recognizing beautiful children with Down Syndrome as models and homecoming queens, where we build playgrounds and classrooms that are inclusive, where we have stopped using the R word and N word (mostly), and where we accept kids who are not sure what pronoun they prefer, being in foster care STILL carries a stigma.
A safety-first mentality will never heal the brokenness in the world. It only further divides it. And a safety-first mentality won’t raise a generation of compassionate and just young adults, either. It just further polarizes our world.
What I think these fearful parents don’t understand is the impact of trauma a foster kid has experienced and how to be an advocate for healing. So how do we continue this fight to destigmatize foster care and get the community at large to engage with less fear?
Here are six foster care tips:
- Don’t call them foster kids. Call them kids. These kids just happen to be in foster care. Language matters. I remember when I stopped labeling people “homeless.” It was because I had made friends with someone without a house, and I just could not label him, or anyone else for that matter, simply by their housing situation any longer. What is the toughest thing you’ve been through? Would any of us want to be labeled by our hardest life moment?
- Talk to the foster parents. Part of the stigma in the world of foster care has to do with the unfortunate stigma of foster parenting—that people only do it for the money. There is rarely a news story about the thousands of great foster parents who are doing amazing, healing work every day. Instead, the news highlights awful stories of children being abused in foster care. While it is true that this can and does happen, get to know the child’s foster parents just like you would any child’s parents.
- Trust the foster parents. Once you get to know them, trust them to know what their kid in foster care can and cannot do. It’s true there may be a few circumstances where kids in foster care need extra permission, but foster parents know what their kids can and cannot do. There are federal guidelines allowing foster parents to give kids in foster care as much normalcy in childhood as possible—like attending birthday parties and being involved in activities– without having to jump through too many hoops.
- Don’t make assumptions or judgments. Know that kids of any age in foster care are not in that situation because of anything they have done. One HUGE FOSTER MYTH is that teens in foster care are there because they got in trouble.
- Be informed, not scared, of trauma’s impact. Yes, kids in foster care have been hurt by neglect or abuse, and yes, it can sometimes impact the way they interact with others. But trauma, grief, and loss manifest themselves in many different ways—especially in kids. Go back to numbers 2 and 3 in this list. Talk to and trust the foster parents! Don’t be afraid to ask a simple question like, “Is there anything I can do to help your kiddo have their best time while they are with us?” If there is anything that comes up, just call or text the foster parents.
- Practice empathy, not sympathy. Pity doesn’t heal hearts, but empathy does. If your child is talking about their friend in foster care, simply remind them of how he or she would want to be treated.
While it’s true that kids in foster care have experienced some of life’s hardest situations, more than anything, kids in foster care just want some semblance of normalcy in their lives. They want to be seen, picked for the team, asked to be a partner in science, invited to the party and to belong…just like every kid.