I recently came across a post on social media stating that it was harmful for children in foster care to hear the words “I love you” from their foster parents.
Sadly, I have found over the years as a foster parent that so many children have never heard these three important words. Yet, these three words are the most important words that they need to hear. Indeed, one can never say “I love you,” to a child enough times. They need to and deserve to hear it several times a day. “I love you,” reminds children that they are valuable, that they matter, and that someone truly cares for them.
As a foster parent of over 60 children, I have loved being a foster parent, and I have found one thing is true. Like all children, a child in foster care has one true wish and one real desire, more than possibly anything else, and that is to be loved. As foster parents, we can protect the child from harm, provide a safe and secure home, offer nutritious meals, and open up a doorway of opportunities for foster children, granting them new and exciting experiences that they may never have dreamed of. Yet, with all of this, with all of the wonderful opportunities and safe environments, foster children really crave love the most. They want to be loved, and they need to be loved. After all, every child deserves to be loved.
Not only do children deserve love, they need it in order to grow in a healthy fashion. The greatest gift you and I have been given is love. While there are many forms of love, the strongest one, and most important for a foster child, is that of unconditional love. Sadly, many children in foster care either do not receive this love at all, or receive it too late, after too much emotional damage has been done.
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Children in foster care often come to our homes with a variety of illnesses, lice, scabies, and a host of other problems, due to previous living conditions, as well as neglect. Many times, these children also suffer from mental health issues. These might include anxiety related disorders, anger issues, panic disorder, depression, and so forth. To be sure, there are high levels of mental health problems with children under foster care.
For a foster child who may have been abused, beaten, or neglected, this type of love is most important. Without this type of love, a foster child will not form necessary and healthy attachment with others, resulting in a number of attachment disorders. Emotional difficulties such as a of lack of self worth, trust, and the need to be in control often result in the lack of unconditional and healthy parental love. As anyone who has worked with children placed into foster care will tell you, most of these children in need face an enormous amount of emotional issues, many times stemming from the lack of healthy love.
Let there be no doubt; children in foster care need stability, security, healthy diets, education, and a strong advocate fighting for them. Yet, what they need the most is for you is to love them. Despite all their challenges; despite their conditions; despite whatever label society might place upon them.
They need you to love them.
And they need to hear those words from you and from me.
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With this in mind, it is especially important for us, as foster parents, to communicate that we love the child in our home at all opportunities, and in a variety of ways. A strong foster parent is one who is not afraid to say “I love you” to his or her own spouse, to his children, and to her foster children. These simple words, these three words, can make a significant difference to a child who has only known violence and abuse. Along with this, we need to be nurturing to the children from foster care in our home, as well.
As I wrote in the book Faith and Foster Care, years later after a foster child has left your home, he may not remember your face. He may not remember your name. Yet, that child will remember one this; that he was important, and that he was loved. Thank you for loving children in foster care. Thank you for changing the world, one child at a time.
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