Finding Healing for Foster Children
In my professional life as a social worker, there have been seasons that I can only explain as “Walking Through The Valley of the Shadow.” These seasons tend to be a characterized by layer after unforgiving layer of trauma experienced by the families I serve. Children who have experienced abuse, neglect, or significant losses have had long seasons walking through the valley, prior to our involvement with them. It is our job to help them get to the other side and discover that even flowers grow in the valley.
The shadows in the valley are the “Unknown”. Children in foster care are constantly anxious, for good reason. I recently had a conversation with a very wise young man that bravely admitted he was afraid to get too comfortable anywhere, or too close to anyone, because he did not know if he would be expected to pack up and leave, his closest ally being his caseworker. The anxiety of the words, “if you don’t… straighten up / pick up your room / behave at school / insert behavior here… I am going to call your caseworker…” The threat to call the caseworker to have a child moved to another home is a big, scary shadow that lurks around every corner.
The rocks in the valley trip us up as we stumble over past hurts and triggers. Children in foster care stumble over rocks that others cannot see. Any sight, smell, or sound can trigger an emotional response in a traumatized child, sometimes the child may not realize why they are so angry, upset, or shut down.
Once we trip over a rock, we inevitably fall into a prickly bush. Prickly bushes are the people who inflict their painful words onto us. We try to get the thorns out of our flesh, feeling as if they are impossible to remove. We feel that they are permanent, there are so many thorns we cannot count them all. These children need help recognizing the thorns for what they are, removing them one by one, and allowing the wounds to heal. A tiny thorn can cause a lot of distress… do not underestimate the painful impact of the words these children have already experienced.
While we are removing thorns, we don’t always notice the stream. The stream is that still, quiet place where we find our balance, center ourselves, and cleanse away our hurts. Foster children need the opportunity to be children again, and they need help finding healing waters. They need to feel the splash of a puddle, the cleansing of the water. They need to hear the sound of the brook to remind them that they are still alive. They need something to help them find their balance.
Next to the stream, flowers pop up in all their glory. The flowers are new beginnings. The flowers can easily be trampled on, especially when we spend our time in fear, watching for shadows. If your foster child is constantly living in fear of the Unknown, he or she is not going to have the ability or patience to pick out the prickly thorns, get up after stumbling over the rocks, cleanse in the stream, OR notice the beautiful flowers around them.
This is where we come in. The rest of us. Foster parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, social workers.
We don’t have to live in the valley, but we do have to recognize that this is where these traumatized children live. We can take their hand, help them up, and show them to the stream. We can remind them of the flowers and all the blessings around them. When we start listening to them, helping them feel safe and secure, and helping them up when they stumble and fall, we are off to a healing start. We can help peel away the trauma, layer by layer, until they see the flowers in the valley, and all the beauty that unfolds before them.