It is funny, the peculiar kind of funny, to watch a child that was previously homeless enter a children’s home or the foster care system and quickly start thinking they are the child of some rich person and DESERVE all the benefits that entails. Several years ago, I had a young man that had lived in foster care the majority of his life tell me that the home we both lived at needed to sell the van and purchase a BMW to drive him to school in. The same child was nearly impossible to clothes shop with because he wanted the $150 sneakers, $100 jeans, and $50 shirts and would whine the entire time, because I chose to stick to the mandated budget, not that I would have bought any of that for him if we didn’t have a budget.
I have witnessed this several times in my career but have recently discovered a logical explanation for it. Dr. Richard J. Delaney, Ph.D. discusses it in his book “raising cain – Caring for Troubled Youngsters/Repairing Our Troubled System” He says that some of the children that enter care have come from such limited means that they have developed a “watch out for yourself if you are going to survive” attitude and are used to taking what they can, from whoever they can, whenever they can. Suddenly being put in a place where food, possessions, and attention are suddenly plentiful can be like turning a squirrel loose on a pecan farm. They are still going to horde, except now there is more to horde.
With these children you deal with the behavior by setting limits and following those limits consistently and fairly. They may continue to want the BMW and $150 sneakers, but they will eventually accept that you are NOT going to give it to them.
I have come to accept that I will see this behavior in many of the children that I care for, but where I struggle the most is when I see it in houseparents, or begin to start feeling it myself.
One of the things we had to do (several years ago) at a home I worked at was to go to people’s homes and pick up items donated for use at the home or to sell at the thrift-store. I on many occasions witnessed houseparents rummaging through the trucks a soon as they arrived back on campus to get the best stuff for their personal use. I have seen houseparents that will swarm on items that are left at the office by donors and will grab the best stuff for themselves or their cottage whether they needed it or not. When special food items are donated, I have seen houseparents snatch up a three month supply not at all worried that some of the cottages now won’t get any, and just so my readers won’t think I am all self righteous or something, I will admit there were days when I circled the boardroom like a vulture circles a dying animal.
I realize that we are not perfect but, we need to be aware of the behavior we model for the children in our care. If we have a sense of entitlement ourselves how can we expect the children not to. This sense of entitlement can also be our attitude toward the things we are asked to do as if the home is privileged to have us in their employment and whatever they pay us is not nearly enough for what we are expected to do, so there is no reason to do it. We have to set the example for the children and, if needed, for other houseparents.