The very first thing we learned on the very first night of Foster Parent Training, that can also be applied to residential childcare, 11 years ago was this: Children don’t want to be in placement and with few exceptions would rather live in a nasty studio apartment, with no electricity or running water, have very little to eat and little physical affection with their birth parents, than with you in a 5000 square foot house, with all the luxuries and amenities; where they are cared for, nourished, and receive constant affection. I can truly say that in the years since I first heard this it has proven itself on countless occasions.
Most recently by a young lady in our cottage who has just had a birthday. She has basically lived with us since she was a toddler (over 6 years) and can’t even remember living with her birth mother, but if you were to talk with her she would tell you that her birth mom was the greatest person in the world and it’s not her mother’s fault they are not together. It might be the courts fault, or it might be the homes fault, but in her eyes it will never be because of the choices her birth mom made that caused her to be in placement.
She has very nice sponsors that take her to their home at least once a month, and threw her a very nice party with wonderful gifts and lots of fun. Other home supporters have provided her with numerous cards and gifts, but her most prized birthday gift was from her birth mother. It was a plastic case, probably from the dollar store, that had several toys that you would find in a children’s meal from various fast food restaurants in town. Her mother wasn’t even allowed to deliver it because of visit restrictions. However, the young lady could not have been any less excited about that gift. Her response was, “This is wonderful, and she knew exactly what I wanted for my birthday.”
You would think that as often as I have seen that scene repeated with other children I would be used to it, but I’m not. I have however learned that the best thing for me to do in that situation is keep my mouth shut and smile. That is not the best time to point out the faults of their birth parents. We are very upfront with the children we care for and don’t whitewash what their birth parents have done or do. But, I have also learned that we cannot make the birth parents our enemy. Once you start bashing the birth parents, you instantly make your job about 10 times harder. That said, I don’t think I will ever stop being amazed when I see children placing their birth parents on a pedestal, even when their greatest accomplishment is giving birth to the child I am allowed to love.