Just recently I was watching TV with my foster grandson when the mattress company commercial came on the screen…the one that asks people to donate money so that children in foster care might have warm clothing for the cold weather. I asked Tony if the commercial embarrassed him at all. He admitted that the company probably meant well but “it sort of gives the impression that we are all poor kids and need to be pitied.”
His comment reminded me of the stigma our foster children are made to bear in our society.
I am proud to be a foster parent but I find myself sort of dancing around the word when I refer to Tony as my foster kid. He much prefers that I simply call him my grandson rather than his foster grandson.
Foster kids already know they are different from their classmates. They are aware that their school trip permission slips and Medicaid authorization slips are signed by “guardian” not a parent. They are conscious that their teachers and school administrators “know” they are foster kids and that in some cases they are watched more closely than other students. Wanting more than anything to merge in seamlessly as just another normal kid, their legal status makes them stand out in a crowd.
Ironically, their situation is made worse by the media, which throws a spotlight on the failure of our foster care system to produce successful outcomes for kids transitioning out of foster care. When the public sees headlines like “70% of incarcerated adults spent at least some time in the foster care system,” it doesn’t give them much incentive to welcome foster kids in our communities or make it easier for foster kids to own up to their status.
No one seems to “get” that kids entering the foster system were admitted because they were deeply troubled kids already. By definition, they came to the system because they were abused and neglected by their birth parents. Of course they have attachment and abandonment issues. Of course they act out.
There is no doubt that the foster care system has room for improvement but just as important is a change in attitude on the part of all of us, especially those who take care of children. From teachers to coaches to administrators, we have to begin to realize that the negative “tude” we have towards foster kids is part of the reason so many give up on life and waste their lives in prisons. When a kid says, “Don’t call me a foster kid,” he is already buying into the expectations that he will fail. That’s a tragedy for all of us.
Hank Mattimore, at the age of 77, finds himself a foster dad for a teen age kid. He is also a surrogate grandpa at a village for abused and neglected kids in Santa Rosa, CA