It’s not just adults who have misconceptions about foster care. Children often do as well, but they are quick to come to a compassionate and clearer understanding.
“Turn a tear into a smile.”
It was written in bright pink magic marker, sandwiched between a drawing of a crying blue faced moon and a bright yellow sun with a grinning happy face. Sally*, the third-grade girl who sat on the floor coloring looked so serious as she stared at the poster she was making, thinking about what to draw next.
Sally was one of the many children who heard our foster care organization’s presentation that afternoon. We were at her school because they kindly agreed to donate backpacks to foster kids and the children were making posters and fliers to hang throughout their school to encourage everyone – parents, teachers, administrators and students – to give.
Like most of the other kids, Sally didn’t know much about foster care when the presentation started. A few of the children hadn’t ever heard of it before. Most had heard of it, however, and had definite ideas about what it was and why it existed. They had many misconceptions about foster care, mostly the same ones that many adults have as well.
Foster Care Misconceptions: Foster Care is an Orphanage
Many of the children in the class believed that foster kids have no parents because their parents died. The children in the class learned that, while some kids are placed in foster care because of a parent’s passing, more often it was because of reasons like drug addiction or mental illness, and only when if it wasn’t safe for the children to stay at home.
Foster Care Misconceptions: Foster Care is Punishment
Some of the children in the class thought foster kids did something really bad, like run away from home or get caught stealing, and that’s why they were in foster care. Sally felt sad for the foster kids when she learned that they weren’t living with their parents because their mom and dad couldn’t keep them safe. She thought about how much she would miss her own family, and how scared she would be if she was taken away from her parents.
Foster Care Misconceptions: Foster Kids All Live Together
This was the most common misconception about foster care that the children shared, including Sally – that foster kids all live together in a big place. (Sally envisioned a building like her school, but with beds.) When they learned that foster kids go to live in individual homes with families just like theirs, some were surprised, and one or two wanted to know if their family could have a foster child come live with their family. Sally wanted a foster child to come live with her because she would be a good sister and she knew her parents would take good care of them and keep them safe.
That day, Sally learned that foster kids sometimes come into care with only the clothes on their backs. Donations help foster families buy their foster child a backpack filled with comfort items like stuffed animals, toiletries, books and magazines, pajamas, school supplies, and more as a gift to make them feel more at ease in their new surroundings. Although Sally and her classmates started the day with many misconceptions about foster care, they came away with a new and compassionate understanding for abused and neglected children and those who care for them.
Sally thought about how to finish her poster for a while. Then she smiled and began to excitedly draw a house, complete with a chimney with smoke billowing out of it, flowers in the yard, and a mommy and daddy holding hands on the front steps. She also drew a little girl walking up to the house, wiping away a tear, and another little girl, who looked a lot like Sally, holding out a backpack with a little stuffed dog peeking out the side. Then she picked up her pink magic marker and wrote one more thing.
“Help foster families welcome a sad child into a happy, safe home!”
*Name changed for confidentiality purposes