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What Breaks Your Heart?

Imagine the police come into the room where you're reading this right now. Imagine they take your personal belongings, your phone and tell you, you have to leave your home. You will be separated from your family, and you will not be able to contact them.



Now, imagine they bring you to a new home. Everyone there, talks funny, and the house smells weird. Imagine you are expected to sleep with all of your clothes on, including your shoes. You are expected to eat everything with your hands, and you must walk everywhere backward. If you resort to your usual way of doing things, it will be considered a sign of disrespect. You will essentially be perceived as bad, or unable to assimilate.


As a social worker, I have seen kids "returned" from a foster home for throwing dishes and silverware in the trash after eating. The kid was perceived as unappreciative and disrespectful. When talking with the kid after, I discovered he thought he was doing the right thing by clearing his plate. His family only ever had paper and plastic utensils and he would get scolded for not throwing away his trash after dinner. This is just one small example of the major clash of norms that happens when children are placed in foster homes.


Children in foster care most often have been removed not just from a home but from the only parents they know and from a culture—an entire way of living with its own norms, interpersonal relationships and social dynamics. These children are then put in a completely different family culture with different constructs and norms. They are most often told that where they come from is bad, sad, poor, trashy or ignorant and that they need to conform to the new family’s ways. Some children feel guilty for missing their run-down, one-bedroom apartment with roaches and six siblings but, to them, it was home and that is rarely validated.


It is very difficult for a child in foster care and any child surviving with developmental trauma to make meaning of their world. Where do I belong? Where is my family? Who is my family? Who am I? Whom can I trust?


They say to find your calling, you have to answer the question, "what breaks your heart?" Now I know there are a lot of worthy causes, but your calling is one that every time you think of it tears well up, and you feel like there is no option but to act.


Can you imagine, being a child, during core stages of development, being moved from home to home, having to learn your role and what is expected of you? Can you imagine not having your stuff, laying without your siblings in a dark room after your foster parent tells you it's bedtime. Can you imagine missing your mom with every fiber of your being and praying for her to walk through that door, but night after night, she doesn't come?


I personally can’t, but this is what breaks my heart.

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