You’ve been given 20 minutes to collect everything you hold dear to you in a backpack and leave. That 20 minutes includes time to process the shock and alarm and be spurred into action. You forget enough socks. Heck, you don’t even know how many socks you need in the first place. You cannot say no. You try to say no, but you fail. Twenty minutes have passed, and you’re taken away from your house, your school, your school, your community, your whole world. You’re over an hour away from everything you love, and you do not know when you’ll be permitted to go back… if you’ll be permitted at all.
Now imagine you’re a senior in high school. In January. You are worried about graduating, your job, your cellphone bill.
What would you have taken? What would you have chosen to leave behind? What would you have forgotten?
We’re now caring for two teenaged girls (one a senior!) on an emergency respite placement. Emergency respite usually occurs when kiddos have been removed from another foster home due to allegations that the home is unsafe. Unlike when such allegations occur against a home where children are not in the state’s care, children are immediately removed from their foster home and placed elsewhere while the allegations are investigated.
This instant removal can be a challenge for the kiddos and for the foster parent. In fact, we were told when we were licensed to expect at some point to be investigated for allegations of abuse, neglect, inappropriate behavior, you name it. Sometimes angry children make the allegations, sometimes parents, and sometimes there are legit reasons for those calls to be made. Basically, we were told to be prepared because it will inevitably happen.
I’m not sure what’s going on with these kiddos, and in the end, it doesn’t matter too much. If I am a blip in their lives, I want to be a good one. If I’m a short film in their lives, I want to be a good one. If I’m a dual-feature special showing, well, I want to be a darn good one! And all that starts with empathy and showing the teenagers in my care that I do care. I tell them that I understand why they’re upset, and I listen if they want to talk.
After all, if I were a teenager and forced to go to another stranger’s home and leave my world behind, I would be a touch more than mopey.