Watching the news the past few days, weeks, and months has been difficult for me. I see children throwing rocks at cars and in big cities. I watch as 12 year old children hit police officers at public pools. I read of teenagers taking guns to school. I witness on tv as a large family with 19 children is torn asunder by sibling incest. I listen in horror as yet another young adult walks into a church and shoots 9 others, taking away loved ones from a community that needs them. Finally, I grow disappointed as our society seeks for answers, and often focus on the wrong ones. We are ignoring a basic component in all of this. We are refusing to love our children enough to really care, to really make a difference, and to really change their lives. We are failing our children, and society doesn’t seem to care.
Having been a foster and adoptive father the past thirteen years, as well as a biological father for 18 years, I have been blessed to have 46 children come through my family and through my home. Indeed, as we celebrate another father’s day in our household, I once again take time to remember each of the four dozen plus children who have called me “dad”, in some form or fashion. Now, to be honest with you, being a foster parent is the toughest thing I have done, yet one that has brought me the most joy, as well.
As I bring these children into my family, and into my home, one thing is most apparent; children are not being raised properly, for a variety of reasons. I have made it my mission to not only help society understand how the foster care system works, but also to break this cycle; this cycle of poor parenting. In my home and in my family, each child that comes to us is raised with respect, and raised with love; a love that is consistent and unconditional.
Briefly, children are placed under foster care for a number of reasons, such as physical, mental, and/or emotional abuse, neglect, drug abuse by parents, and domestic violence, to name a few. Many of these reasons overlap, with the child suffering from numerous mental and emotional challenges. Indeed, 51% of children placed into care come from homes of parents with substance abuse, with 15% of these parents also being incarcerated. Four percent of the parents are diagnosed with a psychiatric illness. Thirty percent of foster children are taken from their homes due to neglect, while it was found that 25% of children suffered from physical and sexual abuse . Along with this, 24% of children were living in conditions where there was no caretaker or were simply abandoned by family members. In general, 94% of all children in foster care suffer from some sort of physical health problem. When a child is placed in custody under foster care, the intention is for the child to eventually be reunited with his/her birth family. 54% of all children leaving the foster system were reunited with birth parents or family members. Yet, findings suggest that children who are reunited with their parents face greater negative outcomes than those children who are not reunited with their family.
When children are placed into foster care, lives are often changed very quickly. No longer do they live with parents and family or are surrounded by people they know. Instead, they are, most often quite quickly, placed in a home with strangers and are no longer in touch with those they know or with whom they are familiar. Sadly, the statistics for those who exit foster care when they reach adulthood are grim; 55% will drop out of school, 65% will end up homeless, and 75% will end up incarcerated.
There have been those children who have come through my own home who have suffered from intense trauma; traumas that would bring your nightmares. Time after time, children have come to our family and have resisted my wife and I, rejecting everything we tried to provide for them. Many times, my wife and I have become worn out, exhausted, and down right weary, as we tried to care for these children in need. Through it all, I have found that children need one thing. Now, to be sure, children need structure, they need stability, and they need educational opportunities. Yet, what they need the most is one simple thing; they need a parent or an adult in their life who will be there to love them enough, unconditionally, and in a consistent manner.
This is what is missing from parents today. You are not loving your children enough. In this early part of the 21st century, you are not loving your children enough to punish them when they make poor choices. You do not love them enough to show them that their actions might be wrong. You do not love them enough to applaud them when they make the right choices, and praise them when they excel at something. You do not love them enough to be there for them in the middle of the night when they are sick, scared, or sad. No, you don’t love them enough to be there for them, acting as a positive role model for them through your own actions and your own behaviors. Instead, you coddle them, make excuses for them, and place blame upon others when our children make bad decisions. Far too many times, I have witnessed parents blame others for their child’s misbehavior. Blame teachers when a child refuses to complete the school work. Blame another parent when their child bullies another. Blame a police officer when their child commits a crime, or is even gunned down by someone sworn to protect us all. Now, society will say I am mistaken when I share this. My experience taking in children from foster care has taught me that far too parents, in simple terms, don’t deserve to have children of their own.
These children I watch on tv, throwing rocks, acting with disrespect towards our law officers, engaging in unspeakable actions towards their own siblings, and even taking the lives of others away with chilling looks of evil written upon their faces; they are victims of failure from their own families. Their families did not love them enough, and their families have failed them. Most likely, these children will go on to fail their own children, bringing abuse, trauma, and unrest to another generation-the next generation.
Sadly, far too many of our children today come from homes where violence reigns. Profanity, abuse, and harsh words fill the air that surrounded a child. Additionally, where love is to be a child’s cornerstone, it is neglected instead, as the basic needs of the child are not met, and where the emotion of love is instead substituted with just the opposite. Along with this, there are those foster children who have had poor examples of parental behavior in their lives. There are those who may believe that a real man does not express love, does not state that he loves someone, or even grant a hug to another under the misguided belief of weakness, and that a real mother is one that will always stand up for her child, even if the child is wrong.
When a child enters my family, they are loved unconditionally, and there is no difference between them. Whether they be one of my three birth children, one of three adoptive children, or one of four dozen foster children, the labels disappear, and they become simply my children, and they are all loved with as much energy and as much passion as I have in my body. They are disciplined the same, because I love them. They are praised the same, because I love them. They are taught the same, and they are raised the same; because I love them. Those foster children who leave my home never cease to become my children, and I reach out to as many of them as I can, continuing to love them where ever they are in life, because that’s what they need. They need to be loved. Despite all they may have done, they need to be loved.
In this world that seems to be falling apart at the vey seams, it is especially important that we love our children at every opportunity, and in a variety of ways. Without this type of love, a child will not form necessary and healthy attachment with others, resulting in a number of attachment disorders. Emotional difficulties such as a of lack of self worth, trust, and the need to be in control often result in the lack of unconditional and healthy parental love. Violence, apathy, and a host of other emotional and physical problems are of the result. As anyone who has worked with foster children will tell you, most of these children face an enormous amount of emotional issues, many times stemming from the lack of healthy love.
There are those moments when I am weary, and feel I have very little love and compassion to give. Indeed, there are those moments when I must pray for patience with a child who has spent hours screaming in rage at my wife and me. Yet, when needed, foster dads need to be comforting to a child in need, gentle in his words and actions. After all, this may be the only positive example of a loving father that the foster child may ever have.
Let us, you and I, take up this mantle. Let us show love to every child that comes before us, and in our paths. Whether it is our own children in our family or the neighbor’s child down the street, the shy teenager at the grocery store check-out line or the rude child at the mall, the selfish child at our friend’s house or the child with learning disabilities in our own child’s classroom; each of these children need us to show them love. Through our words, through our smiles, through our actions, and through our hugs, may we all begin to show every child we meet our love. This is where change begins, and this is where love and compassion for others starts to spread.
Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 13 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic, and informative presentations. He is also a foster parent coach, working with you and your family on a personal level. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several books, including the new book Helping Foster Children in School, The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home, and the foster care children’s book A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story. Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John, He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website, http://drjohndegarmofostercare.weebly.com.