May 8, 2006

Case Study: A Foster Child

Modified Paper from 2003 - "Case Study of A Foster Child’s Grief and Loss"

A non-profit organization in Minnesota known as, Resources for Adoptive Parents held monthly respite camps for adopted and foster children. Families dropped off their children for the entire weekend and adoption counselors engaged the children in a wide variety of activities. Most of the activities revolved around adoption issues, creating awareness, understanding, generating peer support, and making it a fun experience for the children. A key outcome was, that the children connected with others realizing that they were in the same situation as themselves. Thoughts and emotions were shared on a one-on-one basis and during group sessions.

One weekend, an adoption counselor and myself, held a group session in which we asked the children to share one good thing and one bad thing about adoption or foster care. A seven year old, Joey, waved his hand wildly asking to be called upon. Sensing his enthusiasm, my colleague asked him to share his thoughts. Joey proudly boasted, that the good thing about foster care was that he had been in fourteen homes in two years. The bad thing about foster care was, that he had not seen his mother in a long while.

After hearing Joey’s viewpoint, the other children shouted out the number of homes they had been in through their lives and within seconds the group became disorderly. Some stated, that they went through several homes before they were finally adopted, while others were still in search of a permanent home. What started out as an excited self disclosure turned into a competitive game, and the group had to be calmed down so we could continue. Ultimately, the children discussed their loss or losses, and expressed that being in many homes was not fun after all. They wanted permanency, security, and to leave behind the grief experienced with each departure.

In the case of foster children like Joey, they do not really consider being in several homes a plus point nor a competitive game. Joey wanted to make a statement and express his feelings, which did not appear to come from a sense of loss, but they did. When we dug deeper during a few one-on-one sessions with Joey, it explored the loss experienced by him when he left each foster home. His grieving was continuous and he was not given a chance to complete his grieving process and move on, because he kept moving on to another home. Each time he is abandoned by a set of foster parents, he keeps tally and knows exactly how many homes he has been in and out of in how long. It almost appears as if, Joey accepts this abandonment and loss process as a normal event in life which will continue and he will keep counting.

When we approach Joey’s story from another angle, it is rather strange that he went through so many homes in two years. Usually in the State of Minnesota, foster parents keep a child for six months or less. Perhaps, it indicates that Joey disrupted the homes he was sent to, and therefore, was removed from each home after a short period of time. When a child has experienced a certain way of life to be normal, however dysfunctional per the standards set by society, the child will see the dyfunctionality as normal. Children in foster care are abandoned by their biological parents, each set of foster parents they live with, social workers when they are changed, educators, classmates, and many others. A foster child like Joey has not even been allowed to go through the entire grieving process. For him, loss is added to more loss and the grief continues, until he is permanently placed or turns eighteen years old, at which point he will be allowed to exit the foster care system.

Thousands of Joeys’ lives have been tabulated into numerous volumes of statistical data. The material has been researched, analyzed, compiled, and presented to the nation decade after decade. Knock on the door of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or any other organization that focuses on child adoption or foster care research, and you will gain access to amazing statistical details regarding the race, gender, age, and even psychological profile of foster children, birth families, adoptive families, and much more. Despite all the facts, children still continue to enter, leave, and remain in the same system, but more so, for now, these children need to be allowed to grieve.