by Jessica Frisina and Ares
Being placed in foster care is a traumatic experience for children and youth. Moving from placement to placement while in foster care is an unfortunate reality for many, furthering the depths of trauma. However, experiencing placement stability in care can have lasting positive impacts on a child’s behavior, attachment, educational performance, and permanency outcomes.
When I worked in a County DSS agency as a foster care worker, I had the opportunity to work with a young man named Ares. He was 13 when he entered foster care and exited care at 18. Ares is now 23 years old, studying Communications at North Carolina State University. He is a strong advocate for those with lived experience in foster care. I spoke with him about how placement disruptions impacted him. Throughout his time in care, he was in 6 foster homes, 1 group home, and 1 failed pre-adoptive home.
What were some of the strengths of the resource parents that helped you and your resource parents be successful?
There were times where the environment was more positive because the parent was in it for the right reason. For example, there was a parent who went out of her way to meet my needs and observed my struggles. She worked with me and validated my feelings.
Foster parents who encouraged and supported me to chase my goals led to more positive experiences. Parents who allowed flexibility in their schedules to show up for my track meets and support me made a difference.
What were some of the areas of concern that led to your placements disrupting? Being placed with strangers after experiencing trauma was a shock to my body and mind. I was also a stranger to them and there needed to be some initiative on both sides to establish trust. I needed parents to keep a high level of patience with me as I was trying to learn who I was. When Parents had unrealistic expectations of me, this sometimes led to disruptions. For example, one parent expected me to get funding to attend my track meets. It was important for me to be able to participate in normal activities for my age.
Foster parents who did not support activities such as drivers’ education or getting my permit, robbed me from learning skills I needed to transition to adulthood. I always felt like I had to play catch up in that aspect, where I had to learn how to cope with my trauma at the same time as learning how to become an adult.
How did placement disruptions impact your educational experiences?
I was in 6 different schools while in foster care – 3 middle schools and 3 high schools. This disrupted my ability to easily establish friendships. Running track and field helped provide me a safe space to learn who I was and release some of my negative energy. I started running track when I came into foster care, and it was the one thing that was consistent for me. My foster placements, social workers, schools, therapists, and friends all changed multiple times, but track was my constant positive outlet. This motivated me to attend college on a track scholarship and focus on my education.
How did changing placements impact your social and emotional well-being?
I became easily frustrated and felt alone, often feeling a loss of identity. I am an outgoing person but throughout foster care I was very shy around others. Moving placements kept me from being my true best self. I was insecure when others noticed I was in foster care as I wanted to be a normal kid.
What is important for resource parents to understand about the impacts of placement disruptions?
Don’t underestimate the severity of the trauma children and youth in foster care have been through as well as the potential they have. Resource parents should bring back their intentions to meet a child where they are and create a safe space. Parents should work to establish trust with communication so youth can feel safe to open up to them. Mutual understanding between resource parents and youth lessens disruptions. Be curious and work to understand them as a whole person. Take a step back to ask how a youth got where they are, and how their experiences have led to their present self.
If you are a youth or young adult in foster care who is currently or has previously experienced trauma related to a placement disruption, please reach out to your social worker to discuss any needs for support or resources.
Jessica Frisina is the Foster Care Coordinator with the Division of Social Services in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
Ares is a former foster youth with lived experience who now attends NC State University studying Communications