Growing up as a Foster Child

Our author Vanessa has gathered some facts about Foster Care in Germany and compiled them with her thoughts about what impact being fostered can have on a child’s identity.

 

An astounding amount of approximately 81.000 children under the age of 18 are living in foster care in Germany[1]. Doesn’t sound much? Compare those numbers to the amount of children under the age of 18 living in Germany at the moment – which are approximately 13.7 million[2] – and you will see that foster children barely make up one percent of the overall children living in Germany right now. Currently, less than one out of 100 children are in foster care. This still might not sound like a lot. However, the number of foster children has been increasing over the last few years – dramatically so[3].

First of all, I want to clarify that I am not an expert. I can only write down what I myself think and what I found out by doing some research and asking affected people. What I am going to talk about in this article are foster children and the possible problems they face during their teenage years and during their search for a sense of identity. Foster children, or foster care, is a topic that isn’t talked about a lot.

One of the first things that probably comes to mind when reading the word foster care is adoption. Although this could be considered a similar concept, foster care is generally and considerably different from adoption. A foster child is a child that, for various reasons, cannot stay with their biological parents. They are given into foster care, and will usually be taken care of by their foster parents until they turn 18 (or even longer if both the child and the foster parents agree to this). This may sound easy at first, but it actually isn’t. Couples who want to become foster parents have to go through a long process to be allowed to eventually take in a foster child. This process consists of preparation, information and meetings with the responsible youth welfare office.

Furthermore, foster children are often – sadly – traumatized. As I like to say: there is a reason why a child is taken from its biological parents. And that reason usually involves physical or verbal abuse, drug abuse, neglect or other harmful behaviour towards the child. It is very important to understand that taking away the child from its parents is always ever only done to protect the child. The experienced trauma as a child might lead to physical problems, mental health problems or instability. That is not to say that every foster child experiences problems like that. However, a majority of them do. From what I have heard, foster children might suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, Borderline Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, anxiety, or Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). And those are only a few of the possible mental health problems caused by the trauma a foster child probably experienced.

The process of growing up is different. A foster child grows up with their foster parents and the knowledge that they have different biological parents. Sometimes it might be reasonable to limit the amount of contact the child has to the biological parents, for the safety of the child. However, out of personal experience, I think I can say that there is no perfectly right way to go about this. Although it is definitely comforting for a child to know who their biological parents are, sometimes knowing them doesn’t make life easier. Especially not as a teenager who tries to understand where they’re coming from. But this varies from child to child. And if a child wants to get to know their biological parents that’s perfectly normal and understandable. As you can imagine, though, going through puberty with such preconditions is not easy. Where do I come from? Why did I have to be taken from my biological parents? What did they do to cause this? Was I not good enough? Was I not loved? Not necessarily every child will ask themselves these questions. But considering the difficult circumstances under which they grow up, these questions are very likely to come up at some point.

No one said foster care was easy, but it is needed, especially as the numbers of children in need for foster parents continue to rise. Foster children need a safe, stable, and healthy environment to grow up in. And I think it is all the more important to talk about foster care in such challenging times we are seeing right now, with a pandemic forcing most children to be homeschooled and limiting their social contacts to friends.

 

by Vanessa Pohl

Picture: pixabay (skalekar1992)

References

[1] Scharnagl, Tobias (2020). Pflegekinder in Deutschland: Eine Reportage und suchen nach Antworten. In: Stiftung Stern. https://www.stern.de/stiftung/pflegekinder-in-deutschland–eine-reportage-und-suchen-nach-antworten-9541230.html

[2] Destatis – Statistisches Bundesamt (2019).Tabelle 12411-0005. https://www-genesis.destatis.de/genesis/online?operation=abruftabelleBearbeiten&levelindex=1&levelid=1617549474260&auswahloperation=abruftabelleAuspraegungAuswaehlen&auswahlverzeichnis=ordnungsstruktur&auswahlziel=werteabruf&code=12411-0005&auswahltext=&werteabruf=Werteabruf#abreadcrumb

[3] Klasen, Oliver (2019). Zahl der Pflegekinder um 35 Prozent gestiegen. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung. https://www.sueddeutsche.de/leben/pflegefamilien-pflegekinder-jugendaemter-1.4427565

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