One part of my job with the agency I work for is to recruit foster families. I show a brief documentary about a foster/adoptive family to prospective families as part of this effort. The images and story of the family gives a brief yet insightful glimpse into the life of a typical foster home. It also does a great job of promoting and showing the struggles and work, yet joy that is found in being a foster family.
My favorite part is an interview with a 16-year-old boy who was residing in the home as a foster placement I’m not entirely sure of his whole story, but I get the feeling that he had been passed around a lot and moved from placement to placement. In his interview, the teen describes moving into the family’s home and how much he liked it. He then moved on to giving advice to families who want to foster and adopt out of the system. His words “Let Them Love You” are ones that are hard to forget.
At first, I thought he meant for children to let the foster families love them, but then I realized that he meant foster and adoptive families need to let the children love them. Sometimes, it seems foster families give in too quick when a child does not attach right away, or is not the right fit for their home. The matching of families and children is so difficult when placement is needed immediately. I also understand the complex and sometimes severe issues that cause disruptions in and out of homes. However, I just can’t get his words out of my mind.
I have heard many people say “I could never be a foster parent because I would get too attached.” I know the pain of being attached to a child, yet having to step one foot at a time into the unknown. I get it. Despite the hardship of it all, the children need attachment. They need for families to love them to the point of not wanting to let them go, but they also need families who will recognize that reunifying with birth family is extremely important.
There are over 1000,000 children and youth available for adoption in the United States Foster Care System. Many are children with medical, emotional, and behavioral challenges. Many are part of large sibling groups. Many have meandered through the system without ever setting roots anywhere. Many are like the teenager who spoke on the video I described above. Too many are not anywhere long enough to be allowed to love anyone.
I think the best thing those of us working within child welfare could do to make it better is to listen to the kids who are living life in a system made up of judges, case workers, lawyers, and temporary parents. They have so much to offer us if we just took the time to listen. We need to hear to their words and take heed to their insights. We need to give them the opportunity express their hearts and feelings just like the teenager on the video.
We need to let them love.