How Much Sleep Does A 4 Year Old Boy Need The Stigma of Being a Foster Kid

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The Stigma of Being a Foster Kid

“Please don’t call me foster”

I was watching TV with my grandson recently when a commercial came on for a mattress company…the one asking people to donate money so that children in foster care would have warm clothes for the cold weather. I asked Tony if the ad embarrassed him at all. He admitted that the company probably meant well, but “it kind of gives the impression that we’re all poor kids and should be pitied.” His comment reminded me of the stigma our adopted children have to carry in our society.

I’m proud to be a foster parent, but I’m kind of spinning my wheels when I refer to Tony as my foster child.. He much prefers that I just call him my grandson than his grandson. I’m fine with that. I understand that teenage children in the foster care system do not need to have their legal status stamped on their chests. It’s hard enough being a teenager without attracting attention by adding an extra tag to your name.

Foster children already know that they are different from their classmates. They are aware that their school travel permission slips and Medicaid approvals are signed by a “guardian” and not a parent. They are aware that their teachers and school administrators “know” that they are foster children and that in some cases they are watched more closely than other students. Wanting more than anything to blend in seamlessly as just another normal kid, their legal status makes them stand out from the crowd.

It’s no secret that many foster parents, even those whose parents would allow it, are uncomfortable inviting their friends over for sleepovers. This is especially true for children living in group homes, but it is also true for children in family homes. As Tony would say, “It’s too awkward.”

Ironically, this “awkward” situation is exacerbated by the media, which shines a spotlight on the failure of our foster care system to produce successful outcomes for children transitioning out of foster care. When the public sees headlines like “70% of adults in prison have spent time in the foster care system,” it doesn’t give them much incentive to welcome foster children into our communities or make it easier for foster children to own their status.

No one seems to “get it” that children who enter the foster care system are taken in because they were already deeply troubled children. By definition, they came into the system because they were abused and neglected by their birth parents. Of course, they have attachment and abandonment issues. Of course they are acting. Those early childhood years were traumatic. Considering that the foster care system needs to be improved, it is more than a little simplistic to blame all those who try to save the children when the children are deeply hurt before they are even placed in their first foster home.

I would like to see a dramatic change in the way we view adopted children. Of course the system can be improved. We need to invest in these children by providing better training for foster parents and giving foster parents adequate resources to do their job properly. We need to ensure a more stable system so that children are not transferred from one foster home to another. We must do more to ensure that brothers and sisters are together in care.

But it is equally important to change the attitude of all those who take care of children. From teachers to coaches to administrators, we must begin to understand that the negative “attitude” we have toward foster children is part of the reason so many give up and waste their lives in prisons. When a child says, “Don’t call me foster,” he is already accepting the expectation that he will fail. It is a tragedy for all of us.

I told Tony that I would agree to his request that he not be called a foster child until he understood that there was nothing wrong with being a foster child, that he had done nothing wrong, and that foster children are perfectly capable of succeeding in life. “Is it a deal?” I asked him. “Yeah, grandpa. That’s cool,” he smiled and gave me a high five.

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