Wednesday, October 12, 2011


We spent a long time in foster parent training talking about judgment. The children in foster care are there for a variety of reasons, but all of them have one thing in common; no matter what their parents have (or haven't) done, they are still Mommy and Daddy.

I'm going to repeat that. A foster child's family is still their family, no matter what has caused them to forfeit the right to parent the child at that moment.

So we talked in foster training about how important it is for the foster family to keep this in mind. How important it is to resist the temptation to judge the child's mother or father or grandparent or whoever, even within your own mind as much as possible.

Because the foster parents spend more time with the foster child than anyone else in the system. And kids -- especially kids from dysfunctional family backgrounds -- are quick to pick up on the subtle cues that tell them how you really feel about someone. So no matter how justified I, as a foster parent, feel I am in disapproving the choices of the parents of the children staying with me -- no matter what I KNOW they have done to deserve condemnation -- it is vitally important that I avoid judging them. If I think of the mom as a lazy woman who puts her own wants ahead of her children's needs, if I think of the uncle as an abusive asshole who deserves to be castrated with a rusty spoon, if I think of the dad as a deadbeat who never fulfills his promises, if I think of the grandmother as a batty old woman, if I think of mom's boyfriend as a scarily violent person, if I think of the parents as meth addicts who endagered the lives of their own children by cooking meth in their home(*) . . . my private opinion will color the way I speak and talk of the foster child's family. As soon as the foster child picks up on it, they are bound to feel defensive.

It's hard enough being taken from everything you've ever known and placed with a strange family that claims to care about you even though you just met. The foster children don't need judgment of their parents from me and if they feel it, they will resist bonding with me. Could you bond with someone who thought so badly of everyone you loved? And yet, if they can't bond with me, there is only so much I can do to help them heal. Their time with me is supposed to be a safe haven -- a time in their lives when they get to see how a functional family works and where they can be assured of a safe place to sleep and plenty of food to eat.

I thought I could do it. OK, I thought I could mostly do it. I knew it would be hard for me to "not judge" a sexual abuse offender. I knew I would have trouble encouraging a child who still loves a parent that beat them repeatedly. But I remember being tempted to throw a colicky baby over the railing of the stairs. I remember sleepless nights when I realized with horror that I understood how someone with a short fuse could shake a child to death. I know how difficult it is to kick an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

It wasn't until we had L and O in our care that I realized I was mostly thinking about judging parents for the reason the child is in care to begin with. I didn't even think about the one area where I am having the most trouble withholding judgment. The ongoing struggle not to judge a parent for not doing everything they can to get their kids back. It is hard not to judge a parent who won't return the caseworker's calls, who moves and doesn't tell anyone where she is now, who tells the children he's doing "everything he can" to get them back and yet doesn't have a court date scheduled. I can view the history of why these kids are with me with a tolerant everybody-has-a-rock-bottom air, but I have a very hard time understanding how the loss of the right to parent your children is NOT someone's rock-bottom.

(*) Note: none of these examples necessarily tie in to any case with which I may be involved, either currently or in the past.

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