A child entering foster care loses so much, regardless of how valid the reason the child was removed or how well prepared and well-intentioned the foster family. Foster parents must understand the eight losses foster kids feel to be the best parent possible for this child.
We go into foster care to help heal children – to love them and care for them for however long they are in our home. We hope to prevent loss for this child, but children experience loss simply by being in foster care. These losses can significantly impact the child’s behavior, his educational experience, and his attachment to his foster family. It can also significantly impact the relationship between the foster family and the birth family.
In order to help foster parents understand the types of loss that a foster child might feel, we’re sharing 8 Losses of Foster Kids, using the explanations of loss in Katie Naftzger’s excellent book Parenting In The Eye Of The Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years.
8 Losses Of Foster Children
Loss of continuity
Foster kids often don’t have “the full picture” of the events that led to their removal or the story of their early years. This lack of knowledge of their past can leave them feeling as if they are unconnected to their own life. Once they enter their new foster home they also don’t know your family history and how you do things. This lack of continuity impacts the foster child particularly during your family holidays, traditions, story-telling and in the formation of their identity within your home.
Loss of safety
Many foster children are survivors of hard starts to their lives. Facing the “what if’s” that come from feeling unsafe and coming to believe that they are safe in your home is essential to creating a sense of safety and security. Be willing to be a witness to their expression of that pain (even though you weren’t the cause).
Loss of control
So much of a foster kid’s life before coming to the security of your home was at the whim of others. So many of the decisions happening in his life now are out of his control. Everything in his life is at the mercy of others. A foster child is considered “lucky” to have survived those moments that ultimately brought him to foster care, and that is itself a loss, as Naftzger says. “One shouldn’t have to be lucky to have a loving family. To be lucky is to have no control whatsoever. That is the loss.”
Loss of closure
Many foster kids don’t even know what pieces of their lives they are missing… or where those pieces fit. This “not knowing” creates unanswered questions, a struggle to predict outcomes, and a sense of loose ends left untied.
Naftzger uses the metaphor in Parenting In The Eye Of The Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years of a 100-piece puzzle with 99 pieces in place and one piece missing forever. That word picture is sadly all too-haunting and real for many foster kids.
Loss of trust in adults
Children are supposed to be able to count on the adults in their lives. When the outcome of trusting those adults becomes unhealthy, dangerous or uncertain, as in many foster kids’ experiences, those kids struggle to trust adults again. Understanding the depth of that loss and re-building the child’s ability to trust you while they are in your home can be an uphill climb.
Loss of innocence
Foster children don’t just suffer from the consequences of trauma or neglect by losing their home and their parents. The day that their childhood stopped being safe and good, they also suffered the loss of innocence. Acknowledging that loss is a loving way to help them navigate the unknown territory ahead.
Loss of worth
The tween and teen years are typically full of self-doubt and self-consciousness regarding one’s appearance, abilities, and identities. Foster and adoptive adolescents can be subject to a deeper self-hatred that goes to the core of their identity and focuses on hatred of their ethnic features or appearances as they are different from their foster or adopted family. That longing to look like the rest of their world can translate to a loss of self-worth.
Loss of accountability
Many kids come through the foster system by way of circumstances that are unjust and unfair to the child; and they never see justice or resolution for themselves. The lack of accountability for those actions that are committed against foster kids is a huge loss. Naftzger calls it “an inaccessible privilege.”
The Good News: Loss Isn’t The Whole Story
These eight losses can have a profound effect on foster kids as they navigate toward adolescence and adulthood. When foster parents take the time to think through these losses and their consequences, they can sit alongside their foster children in a deeper level of understanding and empathy.
The beauty of understanding these losses and navigating them with the foster children in your home is that the losses are not their full story. The stories of the children in your home can be full of promise, as unique and evolving as each precious child. The privilege of foster parenting is that you can equip yourself with this kind of understanding and then use it to guide the child to healthy attachments, improved behavior, and healing, even if they are only in your home for a short time. That guidance will make a huge difference for that child’s future.
P.S. Do yourself a favor and read Parenting In The Eye Of The Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years by Katie Naftzger. It’s such a great guide for understanding both the foster and the adoptive adolescent.
Image credit: Espen Faugstad;Rob; Tök; firstname.lastname@example.org