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Cassidy: In State Custody

I’ve been a Guardian Ad Litem for a year now, and I’m beginning to see some patterns in how children manage the disruption and stress of being removed from their parents and placed with foster families. Age plays a big role. When foster parents care for infants, the babies respond, creating a warm and rewarding bond. Adolescents often fiercely resent being removed from their parents, but many are already familiar with disappointment, difficulty, and even responsibilities beyond their years, for their parents as well as for themselves. They’re capable of understanding that their parents need time to gain the stability in their own lives that will allow them to care for their children again, and that the process may take months, but that they, too, have some say in deciding their own future.

It’s between infancy and adolescence that being in custody seems to be hardest - because as difficult as their lives may have been, being taken away from their parents and placed with strangers is yet another trauma, and leaves children in a kind of Limbo. Often they don’t understand why they were taken – and the more disturbing the case, the more likely it is that adults will try to protect them from knowing the reasons. And since foster families are hard to find, placements may be temporary, so children may need to change schools, losing contact with friends, teachers, and familiar routines. Contact with parents will be supervised and limited to a few hours a week at most, in an office or public space.

Foster families try heroically to provide a warm and welcoming home, guidance, and stability, while also trying to help the children maintain family connections. But the reality is that no one can tell these children when – or even if - they might return to their parents’ care, or what will happen to them if they can’t. They’re lost and sad, and sometimes the sadness turns to anger, compounding their difficulties.

Understanding their plight raises the question of what more can – and should - be done to help them. In southern Vermont, where I live, there’s a critical need for more therapists to provide immediate and intensive therapy for children living with trauma. And there’s a need for more foster parents to open their homes and their hearts to children who need them – desperately – to support and guide them into an uncertain future.

Maggie Brown Cassidy recently retired from teaching French at Brattleboro Union High School. She was also a teacher trainer and founder of the BUHS Swiss Exchange, which provided homestays and immersion experiences for hundreds of students in Vermont and Geneva. She continues to teach adults and has written many features for the Brattleboro Reformer.
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