Once again, all my training as a foster parent failed me, as I could not prevent this boy from experiencing the fear, grief, and sorrow that gripped his small body. Scooping him in my arms, I carried him to the library and sat down next to the pot belly stove. What could I say to him to make him feel better? What could I do to take away his fear and sadness? My heart cried out to him, as I shared his own misery. This poor boy; this scared, lonely, poor boy. Once again, I felt the anger swell inside me; anger that parents could do this to a child, anger that those who were to love him the most had placed him in this situation with their own actions and their own choices. Saying a silent prayer to myself, I then stroked his hair. “I know, Derrick, I know,” I whispered to him, wiping the tears that reddened his eyes.
Many psychologists state that it is necessary for young children to form a relationship with at least one main parental figure or caregiver in order for the child to develop socially and emotionally. Yet, the removal of a child from his or her home, and placement into another’s home through foster care, often makes this difficult, traumatic experience. Often, the removal of a child from a home occurs after a caseworker has gathered evidence and presented this evidence to a court, along with the recommendation that the child be removed. Indeed, most foster care placements are made through the court system.
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Without a doubt, one of the hardest parts about being a foster parent for me is the emotional turmoil and trauma a child experiences when first placed into our home. The children are often times confused, and full of fear of the unknown. As distressing as this may be for a child, even more traumatic may be the removal from the child’s birth home comes without any notification. These emergency removals oftentimes occur late in the evening. As caseworkers remove a child from a home suddenly, most are unprepared. Foster children leave their home with a quick goodbye, leaving behind most of their belongings, with a few clothing and perhaps a prized possession hurriedly stuffed into a plastic bag. Before they know it, they are standing in front of you, strangers, people they have never met before. Against their will, they are in a strange home, their new home. For most, it is a time of fear, a time of uncertainty, a time where even the bravest of children become scared.
Sadly, it is not uncommon for newly placed foster children to cry themselves to sleep during the first few nights. Do not be surprised if this happens. He may be scared and lonely. Let him know that you understand how difficult it is for him, and that his tears are normal and all right. Read to him a bedtime story each night; place a nightlight not only in his room, but in the nearby bathroom, as well. Let him know that he can get up in the night and use the bathroom whenever he needs to. Answer his questions as honestly and as openly as you can, and be prepared for his emotions to bubble over, to burst forth, and to overwhelm him. After all, this is a very frightening time for him, a time where he is simply afraid.
It is for this very reason that I wrote my newest book, A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story. As a foster parent, I have struggled trying to ease the anxieties and concerns of many children from foster care when placed into my home. There have been countless nights where my wife and I have tried to comfort a crying child; a child who only wanted to go home, yet could not understand why he could not. It is my hope that A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story is a book that foster parents and caseworkers can pull off the book shelves, and read it to their foster children during those first few nights of placement, those first few nights of anxiety and tears.
It takes great patience, understanding, and compassion to be a foster parent. During the first few nights of placement of a child into a foster home, it also takes a great deal of love. May you continue to love your foster child, and may we all continue to comfort them as they experience the loss of their own family when they move to ours.
Dr. John DeGarmo
For more, purchase Dr. DeGarmo’s new book A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story