As we enter our 8th month on this journey of proving housing to foster children, we’ve come to recognize common denominator — isolation.
Broken hearts and lives with no hope of putting the pieces back together often leads foster children into isolation. When we begin feeling isolated, there is a sense that we “don’t belong” and we feel that we’re rejected by others. One of our youth recently posed the question, “ If the person who gave life to me and was supposed to love me the most didn’t want me, how can anyone else?” The vast majority of foster children feel alone in this world – like the only person that can possibly understand them is “themselves.” They’ve gone through so much heartache that, in their minds, it is impossible to find their place in a world that has brought so much sadness and grief. It is difficult for them to make friends as they bounce from house to house and often don’t stay in one school for very long. Rather than painfully conveying to peers that they have no family or explaining that as a foster child they’re not allowed to go to sleep over parties, it’s easier to isolate themselves.
Literature also illustrates that children who have experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse or neglect frequently display maladaptive behaviors with a prominence of attachment disorders. Furthermore, these attachment difficulties are magnified by a trajectory of multiple foster home placements. Children who have attachment issues often perceive the world as a scary place and see adults as threats; this results in the child isolating themselves and attempting to resolve difficulties alone because they feel they cannot trust anyone else.
Foster children are:
- More likely to develop low self-esteem.A child who is lonely may feel that others are rejecting him. He may lose confidence in himself and eventually believe he has nothing valuable to offer.
- Less likely to take positive risks.Trying new things can build confidence and lead to new interests and skills. But a child who’s already feeling rejected and vulnerable may not want to take this leap. He may be afraid to call attention to himself and risk failure.
- More likely to be sad, disconnected and worried.Kids deal with their loneliness in different ways. They may keep their sadness inside, pull away from others and become even more isolated. Or they may become angry and act out. Their aggressive or hostile behavior may then push others further away. These negative feelings combined with continued isolation can lead to depression and anxiety.
- More likely to engage in risky behaviors.Teens may smoke, abuse drugs, vandalize property or do other risky things if they think it will help them feel accepted.
We’ve noticed these behaviors and have been making strong efforts to engage our youth. We take daily action to help them build confidence. Involving them in different activities, showing that we care by listening, hanging out with them, cooking their favorite meals, accepting them without judgment, checking their homework, providing them with structure, giving them a small pet to take care of, and just doing what we can to help them feel loved – these are just a few things we are intentional about doing in order to help our foster children to not feel isolated. Everyone deserves the opportunity to belong and to feel accepted. We pare our youth with mentors that can help guide them through this difficult journey while minimizing feelings of loneliness.
Each new day, we see more and more just how much work and effort is needed to change the lives of foster children who are faced with these difficult life challenges at such a young age. Be a part of this journey as we give brighter futures to those in need.