Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Foster care: Overcoming mistrust with mentorship

What I like best about M. H. Coleman's thesis is that she went to foster care alumni in order to ask them, "What, if anything, could have been done to foster your sense of trust and security?"

Participants in this study were contacted through Virginia's Independent Living Program and the National Foster Parent Association.

Here is how they responded:
For all participants, building trust was a struggle. In each placement that they entered, one of the first questions that they asked themselves was which (if any) adult in that home could be trusted.

Each participant underscored the significance of caring adults. They remembered adults who had read to them. They remembered adults who made them feel safe. They remembered who had held their hand or hugged them when they were upset.

These were trust-building behaviors. Going for a walk with the child and asking them how they felt or what they thought about things... Taking an interest in them and their abilities.

This caring adult did not have to be a foster parent or group home staff member. As long as there was one caring adult for the child to forge a trusting relationship with, it did not matter if the child lived with them.

A personal note from Lisa:
I remember Kathy Jo. She climbed trees and waded in creeks with me, when I was a child and my mother was dying of cancer. I remember how she visited me in group homes after my mother died and my father abandoned me. At Christmas, I often felt very alone -- but I remember the Christmas that Kathy Jo took her family to visit me in my current placement.

Kathy Jo had four children of her own. She never sought my custody. But, when I came home from school and checked my mailbox at the group home, I often saw a letter, reminding me of her love.

Every foster child needs a Kathy Jo in their life --- especially those who are in residential facilities such as group home placements. When you lie in bed at night and wonder what to live for, it helps to know that somebody loves you and (like the sitcom "Cheers") knows your name.

Coleman, Michele Harryette*. A chance for change: The role of trust in foster care. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, May 2000.


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