Keurig is the perfect coffee machine for me. My daily routine of downing two cups in the morning is made easier by popping in a Kcup instead of brewing an entire pot. Plus, the Keurig is rather inexpensive (mine was 79.00). Of course the price of the Kcups is the “gotcha”. Some brands charge 12 dollars for 12 cups…highway robbery for me. But ingenious for their bottom line.

So, I only buy Kcups when they are half-price or I use the metal “cheater” cup. This device, the size of a kcup, allows me to use regular ground coffee instead of purchasing “their” cups.

The metal cup has tiny perforations around its circumference to allow the water to enter, join with the grounds, and birth the fragrant and life bringing elixir that keeps me going.

This morning, as I placed the cheater device into the Keurig, a strong memory of my grandmother (I called her Nanny) rose to my conscious brain. Nanny was also a big coffee drinker. She used a percolator to make her “waking draught. The basket of the percolator was metal covered in perforations….hence the connection that spurred the memory.

A wave of nostalgia washed over me. I spent a few minutes celebrating our relationship with memories of her, realizing how much I still missed her. The feeling that enveloped me wasnt sadness. No, the smile that unconsciously formed on my lips emerged from a place of fondness and peace in the knowledge that we shared a solid relationship. She knew, without a doubt that I loved her.

It was this mutually assured love, along with other strong family bonds that created and maintained the world in which I felt safe. I knew that if something jeopardized that safety, I would be protected and comforted by the loving arms of an extended family.

If you have read some of my previous blogs, you would agree that I was not the easiest teenager to raise. Yet my family survived intact, and I grew to understand how to become a responsible member of society. And I always knew I was loved.

I wonder what my life would have been like without the support of family?

On any given day, there are over 438,000 children, who could not safely remain with their families, living in foster homes. Many of these children dont have those family memories or traditions. Through no fault of their own ( although so many of the carry the blame and shame in their hearts) they are placed with strangers.

Imagine, if you will, that when you were 4, 6, 7 or even 12 to 17, that one day your world suddenly and drastically changed. Granted your home life wasnt the best: but you loved your parents…you were a part of a family.

Lisa’s daddy and mommy fought when he was drinking. He sometimes hit her mommy really hard. Lisa had heard the screams and had seen the bruises. But her mommy always forgave him because the next day, he would apologize. And he always seemed to feel so bad. Lisa loved her daddy. She clung to the fact that he wasnt always drunk. Sometimes he was funny and happy and loving. He called her his princess.

One night, her daddy was fighting with her mommy and Lisa just got in the way. Daddy didnt mean to hit her in the eye. He held her and cried, apologizing over and over. He promised her that he would stop drinking. She believed him.

Sitting in Mrs. Bishop’s 3rd grade class, Lisa carefully glued macaroni to a paper plate, creating a flower as a present to her daddy to make him feel better. Her concentration was so intense, she was startled to feel a hand on her shoulder. Mrs. Bishop told her she had a visitor in the office.

The rest happened so quickly. There were some questions, some answers and the next thing she knew, she had lost her family. She went to bed that night in a different room in a house with people she didnt know.

While the backstory might be different for each child, there are 483,000 children who found themselves sleeping in a bed that was not theirs (in their eyes).

The public sees foster care as the panacea of every abused child’s nightmare. It’s time to see foster care through the eyes of the child.

Before I begin, let me strongly insert that good, loving, trauma informed foster parents are the silver lining to a displaced child. They understand the trauma and accept the child as they are. Good foster parents encourage and support reunification efforts with birth families when possible. And when it is not possible they help rebuild the child’s trust and need for safety and permanency, providing them with a forever home through adoption. A good, loving, trauma informed foster parent knows what foster care looks like through the eyes of a foster child. They are patient, supportive and giving without expecting in return.

But for Lisa, it was all so confusing and terrifying.

Lisa (fictional) was told by the lady at her school that she would not be going home. Although she blurted out as many questions as her 8 year mind could conceive, she didnt understand what she had done wrong. The social worker was very nice and listened to her but she said Lisa could not go home right then. She told Lisa all about a very nice couple that would take care of her for a while. All Lisa could think was that she didnt know these people. The big rule she learned growing up was “don’t talk to strangers”. And now she was going to have to live with them. It made no sense. What if they didnt like her and put her out? Where would she live then? But, she knew she didnt have a choice. She couldn’t take care of herself, so she fell silent.

When she met the foster parents, they seemed nice. But she didnt know them. And they didnt know her. She cried herself to sleep.

Do you breathe a sigh of relief when you hear an abused or neglected child went into foster care?

Yes, they will be safe. Yes, they will be well cared for. But study after study show that children fare better all around when they can be kept safe with family.

Therefore when a child is placed in out of home care, the social worker needs to make it their number one priority to engage the biological family around the underlying issues that led to the removal. What began the crumbling of their family?

Families are like strong houses, built upon hope and dreams of a loving future as well as the work it takes to achieve those dreams. But for these families, there are often unresolved underlying issues (like defective mortar) that cause the walls to become unstable. When pressure and stress affect weak unstable walls, they begin to crumble. The families who lose their children due to abuse or neglect find their walls have crumbled to the ground.

Enter an amazing Opportunity!

With engagement and a good assessment, the social worker has the opportunity to give the family the tools and the support to help them rebuild their family. Exchanging crumbling, unhealthy bricks with strong healthy ones, the home can slowly rise again to provide their children with the safety and security they need to survive.

Lets be real! Reunification can be achieved in a great many cases. But not every child can be safely reunified. Even with the above herculean effort by the social worker, it doesnt always become stable.

When rebuilding is not possible or effective, we desperately need good, caring, trauma informed foster parents to provide a safe haven full of love and understanding to a hurting child. These families can patiently, and with understanding, help rebuild the feeling of safety and trust the child will need to start laying the foundation for new construction.

Permanency is the goal for every child in care. Lingering in foster care for years is not permanency. It is limbo which can contribute to the child’s trauma and to the crumbling of their own base. Once you see foster care through the eyes of children like Lisa, your resolve steeled, You doggedly focus on engagement, assessment and interventions with parents. You can become the contractor, helping the family to rebuild the crumbling wall.

7 thoughts on “Rebuilding a Crumbling Wall

  1. I appreciate your nuanced view of foster care which includes the necessity for trauma informed foster parents. Reunification is the ideal, for sure, but social workers seem to get blasted when it doesn’t work. It is certainly very difficult to tell which parents can get it together enough to be there and which can’t (or won’t.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right, Elizabeth. It is an extremely difficult path to walk. Assessing very deep hurts and trying to help parents address those hurts and move past them takes an enormous amount of energy and dedication. And you are also right about it being a thankless job when SW dont make 100 % accurate decisions. We know that is not possible. Reunification doesnt always work. But when it does…it is amazing for those chn.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your key words here are “trauma informed” … these are such rare gems!

    And no matter how abused the child they still love their family and need to know them realistically not as an unknown fantasy … and dare I point out that some foster situations are also abusive 😦

    Social workers are key in every phase of this precarious process!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a child protection officer, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I had to remove a few children from their homes, a couple of them, permanently and two whose family was exonerated and who went back with my blessing- and there were no further incidents, which seemed almost miraculous, but there it was.

    Liked by 1 person

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