I ended my previous post about Andrew Bridge by stating that his mom had, in spite of her mental illness, managed to instill in Andrew a hope for future possibilities. She clearly did some things right. Andrew agreed, for he had this to say:
There had to have been love and attachment in those early years. I did things I see other kids who grew up in foster care struggling so hard to do and not getting. In my heart of hearts, I know there were things that were done right. The feeling I had for her throughout childhood and throughout adulthood is the feeling that despite those failings that I am aware of, she did her job, she loved and cared for me as desperately flawed as she was.
Somewhere during our conversation, the topic of respite care arose. It was on my list of questions to ask, but I believe Andrew might have been the one to bring it up. We talked about it in general terms, especially as a way to help struggling foster families maintain a difficult placement, thereby allowing a child not to continue moving from family to family. This is what Andrew had to say about multiple placements:
One of the failings of large foster care programs, at their core, is how little their missions have changed after decades. They remain massive bed agencies and their response to a child’s or foster parent’s difficulties are very poor. Instead, they go to the core thing they know how to do best and that is to find another bed. Everyone is shocked that after four years you look at the kid’s paper record and count up the number of placements and go “Oh my gosh, how did this kid end up with 13 placements?” If you did more to address a child’s individual needs, you would do much better. One of the biggest things that made me different and made me so lucky was that after McLaren (a residential facility that was his first placement after being removed from his mom) I stayed in one family. It meant that I was able to attach to things. School was my certainty. I went to a public school in an urban environment at a time when you could go to a public school and still get a good education.
I pointed out to Andrew that he makes frequent references in the book to the fact that his foster mom repeatedly reminded him that she could “call (his) social worker at any time!” and thereby have him removed. Andrew acknowledged that threat was ever-present, but still valued the fact that he didn’t move and was, in fact, able to have continuity in his life to some degree.
I asked Andrew if his foster parents have responded to the book. He said:
No, but the book isn’t about them. This book is about my mom and my attachment to my mom. A boy who refused to give up on his mom.
In response to my question about the health of Andrew’s relationships today, he feels he has meaningful relationships with people. Once again, I relate that relationship success to the message he received early on … I am valuable, I can believe in the possibilities, the world can be a good place for me.
One of my readers emailed me privately and inquired if Andrew was anti-foster care. I definitely don’t believe he is … he clearly recognizes that there are certainly situations where a child can’t live with his or her biological parents. But Andrew most definitely believes the system has many flaws … an opinion I share as well.
I have one more installment coming on my interview with Andrew. We talked about the role of choices in determining a child’s trajectory, and other general thoughts Andrew has about the foster care system.