I was in the process of logging into this website and this title came to mind. I will explain in what context it is. I recalled around ten years ago when we were undertaking the process of applying to be foster carers. One of the first questions posed to us was: Why do you want to become foster carers? Our answer was, we do it for love. This is the most common answers given by most applicants as they embark in the application process that can take up to a year. We had a family of our own of two children who were both considered to be mature and well adjusted. Many people commended us on how our children behaved. We believed it was our overwhelming desire to love them. Our logic was that if our children could turn out so well through our loving, then loving foster children should be enough to bring about positive results. Ten years later, I have been devastated by placement breakdowns. I have to admit now that in some cases, no matter how hard we tried, love is not enough.
The condition most children in care suffer from is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) which has a mild to moderate to severe levels. Our most recent placement has had two children who have had very severe RAD. This has been brought about by the lack of nurturing in those very formative early years. If the bond between the parent and child is lacking even in the first 6 months, the impact can have some degree of detriment that can be life long. Some of these children are in situations where there is no nurturing and this includes very little or no parenting, severe neglect, exposure to violence and periods of isolation as a result of the parents obsession with substance abuse. You add these one by one and day by day and the longer this goes on, the more irretrievable the situation becomes.
You take a child that has never been parented for four, five, six years and introduce them into a “normal family” that employs loving parenting, what do you think might happen? One might think that the child will go, ‘Wow,’ and they live happily ever after. This is far from the truth. In reality these children look at the normal family unit and compares them to their own experience of what is “normal” and become absolutely terrified. In turn, they try to normalise the new family to what they perceive as normal and turn it into the chaos they are familiar with before they were brought into care. They do not want to be told what to do. They want you to shout at them. If you do not cave into their unreasonable and extravagant demands then they perceive this as not being loved.
When they were with their birth parents, they were allowed to do anything they liked and could get away with anything they wanted and this is what they perceive as love. When foster families introduce boundaries, they cannot recognise them as the love that nourishes and protects. When you introduce normal well balanced diets when all they have been use to is junk food, they do not recognise this as love that nourishes and protects. You might have an 18 year old child who has earned the freedom of adulthood and has done all the hard yards, the young teenager foster child cannot understand why they do not have the same rights and privileges and therefore perceive this as unfair and are not being loved.
What is the most interesting characteristic of these children is how they present themselves to people outside the family. They have learned ways of charming and winning people over. While they are in your home environment, they will resort to horrendous behaviour employing various levels of offensive and aggressive ways to try and tantrum their way into getting what they want. It is arguable as to whether or not they do this intentionally. This, to them, is the way to achieve their goal. They do not have the normal social skills of common courtesy, dignity and mutual respect that our own children have been brought up with. Outside the home environment, they present themselves as normal, well adjusted children and people are drawn in by their charm. They will be patient and when they know they have the ear of these people outside the family, then they will play the victim and make unfounded accusations about the awful things that are going on in the foster family. Unbeknown to them, these people are drawn into a world of deception and inadvertently believe the children need to be rescued from the tyrannical foster family. What is even more remarkable are the people who have been deceived and who go so far as to take action often have the very same attachment issues.
We live in a low socio-economic suburb in Adelaide. We see the impact of RAD all around us. My daughter works in the local supermarket and is shocked at some of the bizarre behaviour of many of the people in the community. Somehow or other, because my daughter has been raised with foster children, she is very well aware of RAD and can see it in many of the people she serves in the supermarket. I am somewhat assured that she can see the signs and symptoms and has the wisdom to keep her distance.
There is a part of society where this extreme sort of behaviour is the daily norm. Rather than conduct their lives on the foundation of assurance, their lives are fear driven, the fear they are not loved. However, we need to be fair to this section of society and admit that we all have some degree of distorted ideas about attachment. We can trace this back to its origin in the Fall. At one time or another we have periods where we doubt that we are worthy enough to be loved. The greater and deeper this doubt is, the greater and deeper the attachment and the more anti-social the behaviour becomes. Romans tells us that this issue is throughout and is what drives us to oblivion, (if we were not there already). What Jesus Christ has done is stepped into this oblivion right at its very core and made Himself one with it, while at the same time being one with us. More importantly this attachment problem we have does not exist between the Father and the Son. Jesus Christ lived and experience the fullness of our severely damaged attachment and somehow, behind the veil of His Humanity, He restored us to where we ought to be. This is the universal, continuous and perpetual truth that can never be undone.
The Spirit is continually at work in His ministry of Reconciliation and we are privileged to be a part of it. I believe foster caring is a calling and this is something whereby we can do our part to put into practice what God has shown us in Jesus Christ. It is amazing how being informed about the issues of foster children pushes out the boundaries of compassion much further than you would otherwise do. Without this knowledge of RAD you would think these are just very naughty children. On the contrary, they are not that different to us. We are all governed by fear at times when we should be resting in His love. These children are governed by so much fear all of the time that they do not know what it is to live without it. All it has come down to is they were given a hand of cards they did not ask for, much tougher hand of cards than I have ever been dealt with. I find that if we listen to the story of some of these people, then we have greater understanding as to why the behave the way they do. With understanding comes compassion, with compassion comes mercy, with mercy comes loving kind response and love. Then we just love. This is what God has done towards us in Jesus Christ. God did it for love and so should we. We do believe God can work a miracle and this is what drives us to continue.