Most children dream about the future—where they want to live, what kind of job they want to have. They dream about getting married, having kids, travelling, buying a house or a car, and countless other things that they believe are part of their future. But the wishes of displaced children, children in foster care or other out-of-home placements, can sometimes seem much more straightforward and immediate.
Displaced children, as a general rule, come from chaotic or disruptive environments. Some are victims of abuse or neglect. Some are witnesses of domestic violence or drug use. But regardless of where they come from, most of them desperately want to go home. They want to live with their family—with their parents and siblings—and they want to have that ideal home life that provides unconditional love and support. They want that life so badly that they cling to every promise made and every suggestion of hope that they are given, to the point where they reject the possibility that things may not happen exactly the way they want them to happen.
So what happens after the promises and wishes don’t manifest the way that these children expect?
What happens when expectations go unfulfilled for an extended period of time?
Simply put, they give up.
They stop expecting, they stop wishing and dreaming of things in the future. Many of these children adopt an ideology of acceptance and they begin to believe there is no hope. They believe that nothing will get better and that they have no control over the direction of their own lives. And the repercussions of that lack of hope can manifest itself in many different areas of life including academic ambivalence, social disruptions, defiance of authority, substance abuse, or even criminal activity. They operate under the assumption that, because there is no hope for future, there is no need to invest in the present.
The struggle then that faces the caregivers of these children is figuring out how to encourage them to create new dreams. It is not the goal to diminish or dismiss the idea of being with their families, but to develop the ability to adapt their hopes and expectations to the realities of life. At no point is the agenda of caregivers to have displaced children discard their aspirations for their own homes and families in favor of someone else’s ideals. What caregivers most want and work hard to achieve, is to show these children that they can take the pieces of those unmet hopes and broken promises and use them to rebuild their dreams for the future.