A couple weeks ago I was enjoying breakfast in a popular restaurant when I was captured by a conversation a husband and wife were engaged in with their children just across from me. I happened to be researching studies and locating data related to foster children with my computer on the net. They were discussing and explaining how terrible it would be to have a foster child in their home, essentially demanding that being victimized by abusive and neglectful parents made them demons of evil, hollow minded, bodies without hope or worth caring for, capable only of being housed like animals in a slaughter house. The children appeared convinced these spokespeople were prefrontal neuro-scientists or behavioral medicine experts to say the least.
My first response urged me to simply move from the listening space, finish my breakfast, then leave and forget what I had heard. A compassionate voice softly convinced me to stay. I remained still, then heard another voice say, “Help”, didn’t know what that meant although within’ a few moments I found myself at their table. In a polite voice and a curious tone I introduce myself, “Excuse me, my name is jeff and I overheard you talking about foster children, would you mind me asking a couple simple questions?” Both parents agreed it would be “ok” while the children sat in quiet amazement.
I kindly continued, “Have you ever met a foster child?” They both explained, “No”. Then I asked if they would ever care for foster children. They wife quickly answered with a stern voice, “No”. My heart fell a few inches down my chest. I reluctantly asked, “Could you help me understand why?” The wife announced, “The state doesn’t pay enough.” The husband added, “Those kids are out of control, even medication can’t stop them.” The children sat quietly, staring at my face. With one last question in mind I said, “If you had a choice between adopting an animal or a foster child, which would you choose?” Simultaneously the parents agreed, “An animal”, the children finally smiled at me. The wife added, “Animals are much easier to control”. I thanked them for their time and as I began to turn, I made one last comment, “O, by the way, you all have just met your first foster child”, then I smiled and slowly moved my feet back to finish my research and breakfast. Within a matter of seconds, the parents rushed the children away from their unfinished meals, out the front door, and into a new minivan. They couldn’t leave the parking lot fast enough and scared a few customers as the sped away.
A few days later, after careful reflection, it occurred to me what I had learned that morning. With all our modern science, we still have no real understanding what is happening with a child’s brain on the organic neuro-biological molecular level. Science cannot explain exactly what abuse, neglect, or maltreatment does to neuro-circuits, we know they are damaged. We know the growth patterns are inhibited; however the brain does have an amazing capacity to heal itself, often referred to as resilience or plastisicity. Someday science may have more answers. Until that day, my hope is that more people will begin to practice patience, kindness, understanding, and empathy for foster children. As a culture, we are selfish, self-centered, and quick to label, diagnose, stigmatize, and then medicate powerless and victimized children in our efforts to control their thinking and behavior, ultimately casting them off as hopeless animals while living in the denial of our own character flaws and prioritizing personal comfort levels. Give these children a break and five minutes of your undivided attention. For you, one child may not be the whole world, yet, to one child you may be their whole world.