Fostered and Misunderstood is a project that examines the lived foster care experience through a phenomenological lens to begin to answer the questions
What is the lived experience of foster care? How can we as professionals understand the impact of being involved with the child welfare system differently than we do today?
This exploration of the lived experience of foster care encompasses the brain, mind and body interwoven with social interactions with others and the environment. As a child or youth enters a foster care placement, due to abuse and/or neglect, it is not uncommon that they suffer further traumatic injury such as disruptions in foster homes that is out of their control. These disruptions in foster care homes can further exasperate reactions to previous adverse experiences. Bowlby (1982) speaks about the impact of adverse childhood experiences on children and youth. He states
First, they make the individual more vulnerable to later adverse experiences. Second, they make it more likely that he or she will meet with further such experiences (p. 675)
Fornagy & Target (1997), in their article Attachment and Reflective Function: Their role in Self-Organization, state
it is to be expected then that individuals who have experienced severe neglect or coercive, rigid, frightening, and at an extreme, abusive parenting will frequently experience their sense of self-agency as majorly curtailed (p.692)
It is the experience of abuse and neglect that fragments their sense of safety, along with placements in different foster homes that influences a child or youth’s sense of who they are and how they view world around them. I explore the experiences of children, through 1st and 3rd person narratives, to understand how the broken child welfare system, which involves hundreds of thousand of children, may be perpetuating the same bleak trajectory of personhood that the system is attempting to protect them from.
Hollan (2008) summarizes that people who have been victimized find it difficult to be understood by others and that empathy is an intersubjective encounter that necessitates the ongoing interaction between the person seeking to be understood and the empathizer. I suggest that we become the empathizer of the lived experience of foster care; therefore, developing a deeper understanding of their narratives of how they see themselves in relation to others.
Due to the complexity of this work, I will to explore the lived experience of children in foster care through this site to include poetry, images, artwork, a podcast, and a photo essay. I also share specific references and links to other useful sites for social workers, case managers and foster parents to strengthen a foundation of expanded knowledge of how child welfare practices affect a children and youth. I hope to kindle a call to action for social workers like myself to look beyond our current practices toward policy and reform. I begin my exploration with a photo essay about the lived experience of foster care with images created by foster care alumni and child welfare professionals.