Q I’ve been a foster carer for about a year now and I’m feeling more and more concerned about the affect this is having in my own young child.
I don’t want to stop fostering and if I speak with the social worker I’m afraid this might go against me. The ten year old boy in my care comes from a background of neglect and abuse, and more than that he often makes racist and homophobic comments (to people in the street, or he shouts things out to the television set). To make matters worse he lies and steals and deliberately damages or destroys things. He then manipulates the truth to get himself off the hook and to make my son look like things were his fault and to take the blame.
I do try and explain things to both of them together but it seems to fall on deaf ears with the foster child. The social worker says that he’ll grow out of it in time and with ‘corrective experiences’. I fear for the affect of all this negative behaviour on my own son.
Do you think this foster child will grow out of it or shall I just give up now?
A Having been a foster carer myself for eight years I do understand your doubts and fears.
This boy has grown up with certain conditioning – and so his present behaviour may be his way of keeping the bond with his birth family.
This is his ‘fantasy bond’ of attachment. The family system may be ‘dysfunctional’ and unhealthy, but it’s what he knows and feels to be the ‘norm’.
Ideally he needs to keep some bond of attachment, and yet still be open to see alternative (and healthier) opinions and behaviours.
His brain will have a developmental growth spurt around the ages of 13, and 19 – and will be mature around 25 years of age (although there is the ongoing ability for the brain to ‘re-wire’ itself according to new input. This process is called ‘neuro-genesis and neuro-plasticity).
In that respect the social worker is right about corrective experiences and these can re-wire the brain and change perceptions and behaviour. The problem is, these need to be repeated regularly and consistently over time – and the temporary nature of the foster-care system can’t ensure that in the longer term.
Explore the child’s behaviour from a place of curiosity about the actual events (which you should be recording in writing anyway), rather than from a place of fear and shame (at not getting things right for either child).
When you share this objective perspective with your social work supporter there’ll be more likelihood that you’ll get the right support and added input you need to gently expand the child’s horizons, and keep things in balance at home.
If he is going to be returned to his birth family at some point in the future this current problematic behaviour will need to be flagged up to the social services now.
They can then consider the longer term affects of any return to the unhealthy family system – and the emotional abuse that the ingrained bigotry and behavioural patterns will be causing the boy.
It’s very important for your birth son to know that you believe him and that together you are helping your foster son to learn a different way of behaving. Work together as a team.
It’s vital that your son is able to confide in you, and isn’t scared or bullied by your foster child into keeping secrets from you (which may be another learned behaviour from the foster child’s family).
As for carrying on or giving up… only you can make that decision.
When I was a foster carer myself, as a single parent, I was also concerned about what negative influences my own child was exposed to. I later learned there’d been a lot more than I’d ever thought at the time!
Yet my daughter has still turned out well, and can see the difference between her early years and those of the foster children in our home.
She had different and more solid foundations and conditioning to rely upon, and these have shaped her own behaviour and choices since then.
I’m glad that you are sharing your thoughts and fears with me… otherwise they can grow in the shadows and become like demons. Bringing them out into the light takes away their power.
I suggest you write (but don’t send) a letter to your support worker, and another to yourself, one to your son, one to your foster child and one to his parents.
Write with empathy and compassion. Share what is going on in your head and heart. Examine what, from the present time, might be triggering something of your own from the past.
Please have a look at the video that you’ll find on the free resources page of my website (below). This will explain about the types of parenting and the affects of a troubled childhood.
This will help you to get things into perspective and perhaps help you to decide if you want to carry on helping other children to re-wire their brains for a better life.
If you only plant a seed in his mind that there is a different way of thinking and behaving which can bring him a better life, then this alone will be a major gift to him that he may appreciate in the future.
The way we parent the future generation shapes our society The children who need our help the most are the hardest ones to help, yet they bring the greatest potential for change, growth and impact upon society.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
www.maxineharley.com – where you’ll find a page of FREE RESOURCES to help with self awareness, empowerment and growth