What's Gonna Happen To Me?
A Haunting Question for Kids in Foster Care

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

We like to think that kids pretty much live in the present. They have adults to worry about them and their future. Their job is just to be kids. Nah! Not true for a lot of kids and definitely not true for kids in foster care. The nagging question in the guts of all of them is "What's Gonna Happen To Me?"

Susan Patron wrote a gem of a book ("The Higher Power of Lucky") about a ten-year girl who lived in a mobile home on the edge of the Mohave Desert in California. She lived with her guardian, a woman who had agreed to take care of the little girl until a foster home could be found for her. Explaining to a younger friend the nervousness she felt about being dependent on a guardian, the girl, with the brutal honesty of kids, said "The difference between having a mom and having a guardian is that a mom is supposed to stay with you forever; a guardian can leave anytime."

The kids in the foster care system have good reason to feel insecure. They might be re-united with their parents some day but they can't be sure. Will their parents do all that is necessary in the eyes of the court to be deemed competent to take care of them? Or do mom and dad really want them back? Ouch! That one hurts. If their parents are unwilling or unable to take care of them, they could be adopted into another family. What will that be like? Brand new family, schools, neighborhood, and friends. Or maybe a social worker will find a foster home for them. But foster parents can change their minds. RETURN TO SENDER. Putting myself in their place, I'd be nervous, too.

Coping with uncertainty is one of our biggest challenges, even as adults. How often have you heard of a person living with pain for a long time but not knowing the cause? Finally, even if the diagnosis is cancer or some other debilitating disease, he or she is actually relieved because now she knows what she is dealing with. Foster kids want a resolution to their issues too but there are no easy answers. All they do know for sure is their own future is in the hands of adult guardians who may be here today and gone tomorrow. They wake up one morning to find themselves feeling less than other kids, devalued somehow by the neat little pigeonhole, "wards of the court" into which they are thrust. They hunger for some answers, some control over their lives.

Kids living with us at the Children's Village are not immune to the uncertainty experienced by other foster kids. Because we are part of an imperfect foster care system, we can't guarantee that each individual child in our care will live securely within the womb of our Village until he or she is 18. A child at the Village can still be adopted or reunified with their parents. In many cases this is desirable but not always. We have had kids sent back to us after failed placements.

What the Village can do is remove as much uncertainly in their lives as possible. We commit to the kids in our care that we will make every effort to keep them together with their brothers and sisters. It's bad enough to be separated from parents. We feel it's critical to keep them with their siblings. The other thing we strive for is to make the Village as home-like as possible. Childcare workers who live with our kids are called Village parents not staff. The parents are encouraged to give hugs and tell bedtime stories to the Village kids. We try to create an atmosphere in the homes that is based on relationships rather than on the more institutional model of awarding points for good behavior. And then we have our own secret weapon, the presence of grandparents who live on-site at the Village and who bring their own style of grandparent love to the mix.

We know that foster kids will still wonder what will happen to them but by fostering this nurturing, family-like approach, and keeping siblings together, we can at least assure them of a safe place to live now and give them guidance for their future lives.