By Carol Jones
Relationships can be a source of strength. Foster children do not usually have many positive relationships. When they were removed from their parents they lost the life they were familiar with, even if it was not a good one. They lost their parents, their siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and the rest of their extended family. They also lost their school, church and neighborhood.
Many times the foster child’s memory of the people in his/her life are not that accurate. They will bring up all of the wonderful things in their old life to let you know their new life stinks. Birthmom’s spaghetti was the best. Their “real” grandmother’s cookies were much better than yours. Most of the time these memories were untrue, but to like a new life seems like a betrayal of their birth family and everything they knew.
It is important that foster parents clearly tell the child that it is wonderful that they had good things in their life before coming to the foster home. Stress that it is OK to enjoy things at the foster home as well as having good memories of their previous home and family.
Make sure that they know there is room in their hearts for people who care about them. Talk to them daily about the people that love them even if it is a small group. Stress that they are loved even if they make a mistake or say something that is hurtful.
It is fine to tell children that God loves them, but make sure you also have people in the foster family that love them and people outside the family they know that love and care about them too.
Don’t forget about teachers, coaches, pastors and maybe even a librarian that spends extra time with him or her.
Think about who the child communicates well with. Communication does not have to be verbal, it can be through facial movement, touch/pointing, music, or other non-verbal cues.
There are ways we can help our foster children develop relationships, coping skills, develop their interests and connect to groups where he/she can feel a part of a larger community. Some ideas are:
A. Include people that help the child including their doctor, teachers, social workers, church members, friends and family members.
B. Look for situations where the child is comfortable or happy. Try to replicate these situations by figuring what makes it so good.
C. Encourage the child when he/she expresses an interest in being someone like a teacher or a policeman even if it is not likely.
D. Make a list of the child’s talents.
E. Look for clubs that will be inclusive for the child. Church groups or scouts or clubs where you see the child being successful are possibilities. You might have to get involved too to help your child be successful.
Connections with other people are what most of us live for on a daily basis. No matter what your foster child can and can’t do, they need people who love them, people who care. Paid caregivers are great, but it is a fact that if they were not paid they would not be there. All of us need people in our lives that are not paid to be there.