Michaela is 12 years old and has been in foster care for six months. Until recently, she was having supervised visits with her biological mother every other week. Those visits have now been moved to just once per month due to her mother’s non-compliance with her drug rehab treatment plan. She has relapsed yet again and is now back in an inpatient rehab after having spent 30 days in jail for possession.
Her foster mom has noticed Michaela’s frustration and anger gradually increase over the past three months each time she returns from a visit with her mother. Her mother has a long history of making promises to Michaela that she can’t keep. Promises like, “I’ll be getting out of rehab soon and then we can live together again!”—or, “When I complete my rehab time, I’m going to take you on a trip to Disney World!” – “I promise you, Michaela, this is really the last time—now I’m really going to get clean and stay clean!” Of course, the promises are never fulfilled. When Michaela was younger, she would hang on to her mother’s every word and then forgive her over and over again. But now it’s different. Michaela is almost 13 and beginning to see through her mother’s chronic dysfunctional patterns.
Michaela is irritable and angry when returns home from her latest visit with her mom. She finally explodes in a tearful rage—“I hate her, I hate her! This is never going to end and I will end up stuck in foster care forever! I wish I was dead! I’m never going back to see her, and I want to get out of here (foster mom’s home) too!”
If you were Michaela’s foster parents, how would you respond? How would you help her in her struggle? Here are some additional suggestions:
Be available, and wait for an “opening” to have a nonthreatening discussion with her about her feelings. Above all, listen, listen, listen! Foster kids have seldom had the opportunity to process their feelings when living with their biological family. You can provide a safe space and time for them to do so.
Never downplay your child’s words or feelings by saying something like “Now, sweetheart, it’s really not all that bad as you think it is.” Even though this may be true, for the child, perception is reality. Take what she or he says at face value without making judgments.
When having a discussion with your foster child about her birthparents, (particularly when she is emotionally distraught like Michaela), always remind her that it’s not her fault that she’s in foster care, and that foster care is not punishment.