Almost two years ago, I was giving a presentation to a group about the messages that fill the heads of children and youth in foster care. You’d be surprised just how many mixed messages fed to our children in care. One day, we’re saying “It’s not your fault.” The next day, we’re sending the message “You were bad and need to move. You’re too much for us to handle.” Another day, we say “We know you can do it. You have potential and strengths.” The next day, they hear “the odds are surely stacked against you and you’ll really never be any better.”
Can you imagine what that life must feel like? How in the world does anyone develop a healthy sense of self-identity, self-awareness, or self-confidence in a world that has them flip-flopping in a manner that would show up any of the world’s most skilled politicians?
Now, consider that these same youth are adults. Consider the lenses through which they look at the world. On one hand, they may be saying “I am better and I will do better than (fill in the blank).” On the other hand, they see and hear messages of all the awful things a former foster care kid may do, or they see yet another news story about the downfalls of growing up poor, abused, neglected, exposed to drugs too early, etc. Its a constant barrage of negativity and yet, we want to see people do well in life, in spite of their circumstances.
I believe we need to do more to create a world of opportunity and encouragement and consistency for these young people. Just over the past few weeks, I have recognized how easy it is for my brothers & sisters from care to trap themselves in the box that says “victim”. I see the feedback on social networking sites that says “I have a right to say what I think, to share my story, to tell you how awful my world was!”
Serena L. Hanson, LMSW is an alumni of the foster care system in Kansas. After years of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse in the home of her parents, she was placed into the child welfare system at the age of 12 and spent the next 6 years in care, experiencing 10 moves during that time. Serena was never reintegrated into her home and was never made legally available for adoption. She aged out of the fsoter care system to a life of independence at 18 years old. Serena went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Family Counseling from Barclay College and a Master’s degree in Social Work from Newman University. Almost immediately after aging out of foster care, Serena married her high school sweetheart and began working in child welfare and giving back to the system that dramatically impacted her life.
Serena operates, independently, as a Child Welfare Consultant and Trainer and is an experienced motivational speaker, workshop and seminar facilitator, resource family developer, program administrator and advocate. She is also currently a Community Adjunct Faculty with the University of Oklahoma Anne & Henry Zarrow School of Social Work. She and her husband, Justin, currently live in Norman, OK with their four children – two boys, Shawn and Derek, ages 14 and 12 and two girls, Chloe and Sarah, ages 10 and 8, but they are moving home to Kansas in the coming weeks.
Connect with Serena online at www.whenfostercaregoesright.com