Foster Parents And Migrant Kids
There are roughly 500 migrant children who are still separated from their families after being detained at the U.S. border. Some of those children have been placed in foster homes around the country. For a window into that experience NPR's Melissa Block spoke with a foster mom in Michigan. She asked that NPR only use her first name out of safety and privacy concerns for her family.
Jenn and her husband have three school-aged children of their own and they've taken in several migrant children who have been separated from their families. They housed two children from Honduras and a boy from rural Guatemala, who crossed the border with his father to flee extreme poverty. He lived with the Michigan family for eight months.
On adjusting expectations
He came with extraordinary trauma; we didn't have to guess that he was in trauma. ...But my kids, they wanted to welcome him well so they came with stuffed animals and candy and of hopes of like embracing this kid walking alone down the corridor of the airport.
And we had to really shift when we saw him. We saw his fear. ...He would not make eye contact with anyone. [He] would not interact. He wouldn't eat or drink. And he refused to use the bathroom on his journey here. So that right there just told our family like: Oh my word this kid has been through so much.
On settling into a new routine
He got in our car and we get home and we're just thinking basic needs. We try to get him to eat something or drink something. We need to try to get him to use the bathroom. He needs a shower; you know he was all soiled. So slowly he watched us. We sat and we ate apples and popcorn. And you could tell at that time, instinctually, that he was much more connected to men, which makes sense – he traveled with his dad.
So it was my husband that sat next to him and ate and he would hand him an apple and he would say no but then finally after the tenth time he started eating an apple. And then I think he ate two or three apples and we're like, success!
On saying goodbye
So ill try not to cry but i'm probably going to. So yes my 10-year-old daughter, who is the same age as the boy we had living with us for so long, is in counseling. It's something that we knew was probably going to be needed and frankly through her being in counseling we're all in counseling. She comes home and teaches us all what she learns on how to cope with grief and cope with saying goodbye.
And yes we need to be skilled on how to grieve well and how to allow time for that grieving so that our hearts are then ready for the next child that we're going to care for. ...We've been called several times to take more kids in but we're giving our family til mid-September to rest our own hearts to make sure we are ready to love really well again.
On the transition following reunification
...The end of his time with us, was actually documented by another news organization. So we had visual of his return. And I think, also in our ignorance, we were super hopeful that when we saw the reunification it would be this happy, joyous reunion. And deep in my heart I just really felt – this is going to be tough.
... And then they sent me a video. It was a video from his dad thanking me in Spanish ... And it was beautiful. Next to him was the boy we had for eight months and tears streaming down his face and he couldn't speak. This is a kid who was exposed to a world of plenty, whose basic needs were met, who was given capacity to dream.
Yes, the beauty is he gets to be with his family again, but he knows what he's going back to. And so how could we not think that there's a retraumatization, right? So he left us in late June and we just had a talk with him last week and it's the first time he's been able to talk with us on the phone without crying and he was actually laughing. So I know that he is reestablishing life there, but I also know the challenges he faces daily.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.