Every Child Needs a Strong Safety Net

I’m a mother of two teenage boys. I like to think that they are becoming confident and independent and will be ready to lead productive adult lives in just a few short years. I do my best to teach them about responsibility, relationships and the other million things they need to know before I set them free. But some days I wonder how they will survive in the real world. I have been trying to get them to take responsibility for a few simple chores around the house for what seems like a thousand years and I still find their lunch boxes full of food in their backpacks on Monday morning (insert screaming red-faced emoji).

But here’s what I do know: My boys know they are loved. They will never wonder if there are people they can call when they need help. From the day they were born until the day that I die, they will always have a place to call home. Growing up, I was given security and safety, and I still enjoy it now. I know the difference it makes, so I make sure my kids feel my love and support every day. I wish every single child did.

Life Without an Emergency Contact

Kids who spend any significant amount of time in foster care have poor long-term physical health outcomes. At Parenting With Intent (PWI), one of our many goals in working with youth in foster care is to try to get them to connect with a primary care doctor. We help them schedule check-ups and take them to their appointments. We also help them fill-out paper work, which can be daunting because foster kids tend to know very little about their health and medical history. You know what happens way more than it should – often enough to haunt me at night? The kids ask us to be their emergency contact person. They want their PWI teen worker, who is usually a person they’ve known just a few months or even weeks, to be looking out for them. When encouraged to think of an adult permanently in their life with whom they have more history, many don’t have answers. They honestly don’t think anyone else would help if they really needed it. I find this profoundly heartbreaking.

Listen. I’m not generally someone who lies awake at night worrying about things, I’m lucky to sleep like a baby most nights. Side note, who ever came up with that expression clearly never had children because please, babies don’t sleep. But these are the things that creep in and lately I have found myself staring into the dark more often than I would like.

Our youth in foster care certainly have people who care about their safety and success. People who genuinely want them to stay on a positive path towards a productive life. There are meetings designed to plan out the services and supports that will help them stay on track. But almost all of these well-intentioned adults serve a purpose and a term and will eventually disappear from that child’s life. They leave not by choice, but because our child welfare system is designed to address only immediate danger and to get involved when things are falling apart. This is not nearly good enough. And I’m certain I’m not the only one up at night plagued with feelings of inadequacy about how the system is failing our foster kids.

May is National Foster Care Month.

I would like to give a shout out to the Child Welfare workers who have one of the most impossible jobs in the world. They advocate so fiercely for child safety that they have literally been living in hotel rooms with children who have been removed from their parents until they can find them safe placement. I also want to thank the foster parents who provide safety and shelter to the thousands of disenfranchised children in our community. Most importantly, I want to recognize the kids. Whether they’ve spent a few nights in shelter care or they’re adjusting to what feels like their millionth foster home, I want each of them to know that I am sorry for every bad experience that they’ve endured. These kids deserve to have adults in their lives they can trust and rely on when they need it most. They deserve to always have a place to stop in for a sandwich, or do their laundry, or stay for the weekend. They deserve people who worry and lose sleep over them because they want much for them and fear they aren’t doing enough. I want them to know that they deserve so much more.

We as a community need to be involved and we need to do more to take care of our foster kids. Stay tuned, I plan to give you plenty of options!