It got me thinking, what would life be like for a person whose roots were shallow – or spread thin? What if you grew up in so many different places, at so many different addresses, that you had no place to retreat where the air is heavy and sunsets last for hours – a place you could call home and be from? What if your childhood memories were triggered by the pungent smell of industrial cleaner used to mop the floor at the Department of Health and Welfare? The building they took you to see your mom every week. The smell that reminds you of your mother also burns your lungs and stings your eyes.
This is not an essay on how the System is failing our kids. This is an essay on how the System lacks the ability to give our kids roots – roots that come from Family. When a child enters foster care they are plucked from whatever kind of roots they had – good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. Sure, the state is mandated to reunite families by all means, and at the end of the day social workers break their backs to give children permanency, but the bureaucracy of the System makes this a years-long process.
Meanwhile the child is grafted into another family – a foster family or relative’s home. Many times this doesn’t work for various reasons, and the child moves to another home, and another home, and another home. Try to imagine what it would be like to grow up with such shallow roots. Statistically, these children will become adults whose children will return to the System. Statistically, the apple won’t fall far from the tree. Should we settle for this? Of course not.
We quickly surmise that there are simple solutions to our kids becoming functional citizens when they’ve grown up in the System. Throw some programs at them, maybe some money, scholarships, free coffee and help with their resume. I promise you that’s not what they need. It’s a band-aid. What our kids need are the roots that are found in Family. Our kids need a place to be from where they come home to on summer breaks from college, a person they can call when they get a flat tire, even after they’ve aged out of the System. I know more than a few foster families who have dedicated their lives to giving children roots. These are courageous families who have put off retirement to continue doing what they do for kids, who roll up to Costco in their 15 passenger van, who are just fine being “weird” ones at church. These families have 30, 40, 50 kids who were grafted into their tree: some have stayed longer than others, some have been adopted, some vanished into the wide, wide world. These families make it look easy, but I promise it’s not. Marriages are tested, finances are stretched, attention is rationed between kids, and “self care” is but a theory to them.
So here I’m raising my virtual glass to those families who have dedicated their lives to giving our foster children deep roots. Cheers to them! They are doing heartbreaking and heavy work. If you know someone who fits this description, repost this blog and tag them. It’s time they be recognized. They are more than deserving of our recognition!