I read something recently about disruptions in foster care and it stirred some things up in me. A disruption is when a child is removed from one foster home and placed in another. I hate disruptions, and I know sometimes it’s the only safe option for the sake of the child, but they still just break my heart. I wonder sometimes if we really understand what to expect from these kids, the ones who have been hurt.
If a child has been removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, you can probably throw your baseline out the window. On any given day, a traumatized child can go from their actual age to their traumatized age in a matter of seconds-due to a smell or taste or color or sound that neither one of you even understand to be the trigger. This can happen multiple times in one day. You may have a child with a chronological age of 14, but they can go back to 5 *like that* and then back to 14 again. This will exhaust you and you will not understand it and it will push you to the edges of your sanity. But what do you expect from a traumatized child? This is the point where you realize this must be a calling, not just some sweet desire to do good. What besides a calling will keep you in it when the going gets not just tough but brutal? There’s so much sadness and anger when a child is forced to leave their birth home, directed at the system AND at their birth family. These are feeling that so many adults will never have to deal with, yet these children do.
So you take that traumatized child and you remove them from their birth home. Then you not only move them from their birth home but MULTIPLE foster homes, if there are disruptions. This results in more trauma. Homes with different family structures, different rules… some nice people, and some not. The pain this child carries goes untouched, other than adding more. Why won’t this child connect with anyone? Why won’t they listen to rules? Why are they acting so strangely? How is it that they could sell ice to an eskimo but they freeze out their foster parents?! There are lots of scientific reasons involving the amygdalae or the prefrontal cortex or the hippocampus. This explains some things well-better than I could.
Do you know how many kids need someone who is willing to fight for them? How many kids need an adult willing to say, “This is where you are staying unless you go back to your birth family. You cannot scare me, you cannot yell loud enough or wreck enough rooms in this house to make me waver in my commitment to love you.” Because, deep down, these are children who are longing for that-no matter how much they push up against it or how much they make it seem like they hate you…these are kids who NEED you. They might not even know it. But you need to know it for them until they can know it for themselves.
These hard behaviors are symptoms of a problem. That problem was brought on not by choice of that child but by the choices of the adults around them. Your child gets a fever as a symptom of the flu, and you help the fever go down while you ride the flu out. A child lies and manipulates and is violent because they’ve been wounded so deeply and don’t have any other way to express it, so you manage the behavior while you work through the healing. It’s hard work. But somebody needs to do it.
I read stories about children who are placed in care for various reasons and the behaviors they exhibit and how adults respond to them. I often think that if we put most adults into those situations they would emerge with scars and likely some negative behaviors… why are we surprised when children do? What do we expect?
But how do we deal?
To the trauma mama’s who are reading this… my heart is tied to yours. You are reading this and you are like, “Sister, you don’t even know.” You are in it, and it is just more than you know how to explain. But I want to tell you this- for every percentage and risk factor and number assigned to your kiddo-know that there is a Creator who can make crooked paths straight, even in the brain. He knows the science of your child’s mind more than any PhD ever could and He is more than able. This may require hard work from you- sleepless nights and explosive days- but He will carry you through it if He has called you to it. Don’t let those numbers stick and don’t believe for anything but the best for your child. That may not mean college but it might mean being employable. It might mean autonomy or it might mean leading a Fortune 500 company. Believe the best for them, even when no one else will.
And find a way to laugh. Maybe it’s putting some music on and listening through your headphones while your child rages and you are there to make sure they’re safe. Maybe it’s choosing C-Span during your time-in’s just because you know it’s more boring for your kiddo than for you. Maybe it’s being playful with that tough child when you feel like giving up, because then you can each see each other in a new light.
And you receive the grace you need for every second of the day. Because you will not always respond in a therapeutic way. You will lose your cool or after staying in it for a long time, even gain a lovely version of secondhand PTSD. You will receive grace and you will seek the help you need to be healthy for yourself and for your family. You are not alone in this-seek community, and make sure they’ll be empathetic not just towards you but your children as well.
Edit: I wrote this and had it sitting here for awhile, not sure when to post it. In light of the most recent school shooting, I felt like now was a good time. Traumatized children are OUR problem. They don’t belong to someone else. They belong to all of us. It takes a strong community to walk through these times with our children. I watched the videos these students shot, shaking hands raised in the air as the police came into their rooms. These children will be affected by this. They experienced the sounds of a war zone in their classroom. So pray for them, my gracious yes. But may our lament lead to our action.