Caring for children is never easy. It’s a rewarding and wonderful experience, but it’s not something that anyone would describe as simple or straight-forward. And caring for children who have been displaced is an even more wonderful and difficult thing to do.
Taking in a displaced child is always a gamble. There is usually some kind of background given–where that child came from, how they’re doing in school, some of the things that they’ve been through—but that synopsis never seems to really encompass that child’s personality. It doesn’t provide a window into how they think, how they cope, or how they feel about the situation in general. And so, caregivers are left trying to piece together the puzzle of how to connect with that child and be a positive influence in their life.
One struggle that caregivers have is that they don’t know what the child needs, and in some cases, the child can’t or won’t tell them. Some children come into care with horrific backgrounds of abuse or neglect, some come grieving the loss of their parents who are physically or mentally unable to care for them, and they don’t know how to tell others what they want or what they need. Other children, especially those who have been in multiple placements, don’t believe that anyone cares what they think or how they feel and so they don’t tell anyone. Caregivers then have to walk the fine line between encouraging them to express themselves without pushing them to close up completely.
Another issue that can baffle caregivers is the child’s behavior. It’s at least understandable, if frustrating, to see a child become angry and have a tantrum after being reprimanded or not getting what they want. The confusing part comes in when the behavior displayed appears to be disproportionate to the situation (e.g. a child throwing dishes after being told to finish dinner before having dessert). It then falls to the caregivers to provide structure and discipline while simultaneously trying to explore that behavior and figure out how to prevent it from occurring again.
But one of the most important things that caregivers try to do is provide a safe environment for children to simply be children. Children coming into care may not have the most developed social skills; they may not know how to play with other kids or have a conversation with an adult. Caregivers of displaced children work to allow those children to develop and explore those skills that will help them succeed in the future.
The rewards of caring for displaced children are not always evident. Caregivers don’t always get a “thank you” from children or their families. But it is immensely gratifying to see the growth that both children and families experience while they are in care—to see them bridge the gap from where they are to where they need to be.