Each child is different and unique. That stands for each child that comes out of the foster care system as well. Living in the foster care system will be a unique experience for each child depending on the circumstances of their stay, their length of stay, and the complexity of their trauma.
My children had relatively short stays in foster care. And by short, I mean way too long. My children struggle with lying, stealing, and hoarding. If you look at their histories, it makes complete sense. They try to control what they can, and when they can’t, their bodies compensate by triggering their flight-or-fight response and developing tics to deal with stress or bringing back other stress-related behaviors such as picking (skin, nails, feet) or biting nails. I try to implement as many opportunities to choose as possible. Letting them choose meals, snacks, hair up, hair down, shoes, clothes, etc. and allowing them some control has alleviated a lot of our less savory behaviors.
In both of my children, the ability to bond was also affected. Now that I’ve learned more about trauma and its effects on the brain, we can see the strides we are making in bonding. I firmly believe that my son, who has been with us for two and a half years, really does miss me when I’m gone, and I would say our bond is becoming stronger and more comfortable.
Depending on the prenatal history and social/medical history before the child was placed in foster care, the effects can be long-lasting. A lot of children with experience in foster care have educational and developmental delays, and they can have issues with food, reaching far beyond pickiness. When my children first came home, they would devour any food put in front of them and drink to the point of making themselves vomit. With patience and love, we have conquered most of those behaviors.
In our home, my children are quite literal. If I ask them to bring me their plate once they’re finished eating, they will not relinquish that plate to someone else. It is imperative that they bring it to me because that’s what I requested.
Other children become violent, destructive, and inconsolable. As the children age, impulse control becomes a larger issue, especially once sexual behavior becomes a component. Children in foster care are often highly sexualized due to their history. Asking the right questions, doing the research, preparing yourself for what happened to the child you’re taking in will help you prepare to help him in the best way possible. Just because life in foster care can affect a child in these ways doesn’t mean it will. We believe in preparing for the worst and knowing what resources and services are available in your area. Love goes a long way, but chances are high that a child coming from the foster care system will need more than love to learn how to live successfully in a world that has betrayed him.
Karla King is a passionate open adoption advocate, adoptive mom, foster mom, wife, reader, avid creator of food, a stay-at-home mom, and Christian. She loves taking care of her family, supporting others on the adoption journey, and watching the world through her children’s eyes.