Tuesday, July 1, 2014

 Living in Limbo—Longing to Belong

Thousands of “border children” will become foster children, living in limbo.  They will be continually seeking a place for themselves.  Whether they are infants or older, these children feel deep seated longings to belong, to be accepted and to be loved within a family that will be there for them for life.

Most foster children are intelligent and have active intuition.  They know they are displaced. They have suffered a great loss—that of their family and homeland. They naturally feel an emptiness that cannot be filled by temporary living arrangements.  They need a genuine sense of permanence.  Every time they are moved from one foster placement to another, they lose some of their trust.  They often become skeptical about their own worth.  After several moves, foster children may begin to build a psychological wall to protect their own sense of self.  The result may be real or imagined: 

  • “Why was I given away? 
  • Who cares about me?
  • I must not trust anyone because every time I begin to get close in a new relationship I get moved. 
  • What is wrong with me?” 

Foster children can be expected to have problems at home, in school, or in childcare because they are preoccupied with thoughts such as: 

  •  I wish I could go home.
  • I must not be worthy enough to have my own family. 
  •  I wonder where I will go next.
  • Will they take me from this place?

These children need lots of support from their foster parents and family members.  Where there are several foster siblings, the challenge becomes even greater.  They also need support from school personnel, professionals, and friends.  They are, after all, pursuing life with the absence of permanent commitment and emotional stability.  Both the foster child and the foster family are in a “swinging door” relationship—in and out of one family and on to the next.

Foster Parents

Foster parents have the monumental task of caring for a foster child without making an attachment that has deep emotional ties.  This is difficult, especially with very young children.  Those who work toward adoption with a foster child are helping solve the problem of a child living in limbo.  However, most foster children get moved from place to place.  This is very heart wrenching for both the child and the foster family.  Psychologically, these foster children often feel betrayed, stolen away, and unable to bond with parents and a family. 

I have been a foster parent, myself.  My husband and I had two teenage girls, each living with us one after the other and later, for a short period, a teenage boy.  We put one through two years of college and the other through one year while living with us. 

But, our objective was to help reunite them with their parents.  We took no money for this task.  This was a time consuming venture.  I often stayed up until one and two in the morning talking with one about all her problems.  She had been estranged from her mother who was divorced from her father.  She had not seen her father for years.  

After two years of college she became engaged to a young man and when it came time for the wedding, I helped her with her wedding gown and then we, together, made arrangements for her to connect with her mother.  When it was time for the wedding, I had taken a job in another state and it was convenient for me to be unavailable.  This opened the door for her mother to step-in, reunite and work together to make final wedding plans.  She did not have a relationship with her father, so my husband gave her away; but, her mother was truly the proud mother of the bride and they have been close since then.  I have not had contact with her for many years because there was no obligation from either of us. 

The second foster girl, after living with us through her first year of college, married and moved to another state.  This, too, was an opportunity for her to reunite with her family.  The third was a high school senior boy who had been raised in an orphanage until his last year of high school.  He lived with us only a few months until he entered the military and was inducted into the intelligence program.  We have never been in contact since. 

This was a wonderful time in my life when I learned that foster parenting is challenging but must be entered into with the intent of bridging a gap in someone’s life until a permanent arrangement is possible. 


Foster parents must examine their own motives—ask themselves, “Why are we doing this?  I believe it was the key to a successful foster parenting experience.  I also gave workshops and seminars for foster parent organizations.  What dedicated people!

The most successful foster parents are those who take no money or subsidy for their role or for the expenses they encounter.  This sets the parents up for commitment without expectations.  I know there are hundreds of excellent foster parents who receive funds for fostering.  I simply think it compromises the intent.  I’ll admit this is a personal judgment; but, I have to emphasize its importance, and I say it not to offend anyone.

Fostering very young children is especially difficult because there is a natural tendency to make a close emotional connection with the child.  When the child is moved out, everyone suffers a sense of loss.  Another factor that interferes with the foster parent-child relationship is knowing the child will, at some point in time, be removed and placed elsewhere.   

What will be the plight of the border children? 

While many foster children can succeed in school and in life, they must have a strong sense of self, hope from within, and motivation to pursue life regardless of the difficulties.  This requires commitment and devotion on the part of foster parents that goes far beyond providing for immediate needs. 

What are we going to do now?

 These problems of what to do to help these children will last for decades.  A coordinated effort will have to be led by someone who has superior organizational skills and who understands child development and how to work with people.  What to do with these children will, no doubt, be one of America’s most monumental tasks.  There are no easy ways to fix this.  I’d be interested to hear some of your ideas.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Plight of the “Border Children.”

There are some things that only money can buy and there are some things money can never buy.

Our wallets can be open to buying food, clothing, shelter and transportation, but opening our hearts requires more than money.

How do we help abandoned children fill the emotional gaps and heartaches from separation?
·         Separation from parents and family
·         Separation from friends and community
·         Separation from culture and familiar surroundings

How do we help abandoned children continue to grow and develop into healthy people?

The US is not prepared as a society—as a nation—to successfully transition thousands of children from other countries—other cultures.

How will these children develop to meet normal expectations?

They may cross the border, but how do they cross the cultural divide—the cultural and social barriers—the language barriers?  Bringing down the walls and cutting out the fences will not eliminate the emotional and psychological trip wires that these children have to cross.

Many of these children will die along the way—many already have; some have starved alone and some have starved in the arms of their parents or siblings when they were dumped by “coyotes” north of the Mexican border—without food or water.

Are these abandoned children moving on a pathway to a better life, to a better education to a better family life, to a happier childhood—or are they moving down a pathway to a living hell?

Separation from parents and family will result, for a great percentage of these children, in attachment disorders.  Their initial bondings have been broken and so will their hearts be broken when they begin to realize they are not returning to their homeland and their families.

Thousands will suffer from mental and psychological, social and emotional problems brought on by feelings of betrayal trauma cause by their abandonment.
·         They will experience disorganized attachment
·         They will experience communications problems and lack of social skills for transitioning into American families and the American culture.

Where will the abandoned children be housed?
·         In strange foster families?
·         In strange group settings?
·         In orphanages?  Will we become like Romania? (I’ve been there and worked in the orphanages and most of those abandoned children were living a life worse than prisoners in the most deprived prisons in this country.)
·         In day care centers?  Are caregivers prepared for the transition these children have to make?

What will happen to the children “on the loose” after they cross the border?
·         Many will be picked up by human trafficking—raped, used as sex slaves, used as unpaid workers, shipped and sold abroad, and even starved or murdered.
·         Many will be vulnerable to petty crime.    
·         Theft will be a natural outcome for many who feel they have been “stolen” away from their families.  These feelings are often manifested in acts of stealing. Many will be in search of water and food—in any way they can get it.

What will be the outcome for those abandoned children who are sick or have diseases?
·         How long before health care is administered?
·         Who will comfort them when they are in pain?
·         Who will take away their feelings of fear?
·         Who will treat their complex trauma?
·         Who will diagnose their developmental trauma disorder?
·         Who will help the rape victims to prevent PTSD?

You only have to travel to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to witness the plight of many of those babies and young children waiting for transportation and a place to go.  You will see:
·         Filth
·         Fear of the unknown
·         Frightening cries
·         Need for toilet paper
·         Need for diapers—and a place to dispose of them
·         Need for medication and food
·         Need for water and soap and a place to bathe
·         Need for a little privacy
There is a relationship between childhood development and later adulthood behavior—for better and for worse.

            Having worked on over 100 capital murder cases, and studied the behavior of the incarcerated, I can understand why there is a relationship between severe early childhood problems such as disorganized attachment and later criminal behavior. 

In our current American society, we have 25% of children between the ages of 8 years and 18 years that are involved in such illegal behaviors they are considered beyond rehabilitation.  These youth will be adults in ten years and will make up about one fourth of our young adult population.  We have problems—most of which are related to early childhood development.  Yet, how much do you hear about these real problems?

In my opinion, it’s going to take a lot more than what money can buy to bring about a miracle for every abandoned child who crosses the border and survives to go on to develop into an adult who can meet the challenges and reap the joys of becoming an American in the United States of America.

Yes, there are many things money can buy and there are many things money can never buy.