em·pa·thy noun \ˈem-pə-thē\ : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings. —Merriam Webster

“Does anyone understand how I feel?”

This can be said by anyone engaged in the system every day: foster child, caseworker, biological and/or foster parent.  Each party involved in the child protection system feels at times that they are misunderstood or not being heard.  It is so important for each of us to work hard to put ourselves in the shoes of the other so that we can work most effectively for the greater good of the only one who didn’t choose to be in it: the child.

Foster children often feel that no one cares what they think about decisions being made on their behalf.  We might ask them, but do we really want to know and do we really listen? Do we think about how the decisions we are making affect their lives now not only today but maybe forever?

Because their entire lives and futures hinge on decisions made today, the adults responsible for these decisions must do everything possible to ensure their best interests are served. That may mean reading up on the latest information on child development to understand how they may be affected by a move or new placement.  Or it may mean spending some one on one time with them to see how they are feeling about being in their foster home, being away from their parents, and adjusting to a new school.

Case workers are often misunderstood by the other members of the team.  They have a very tricky job of being the advocate for both the biological parents as well as the child.  They have heavy case loads and work long hours with many of those hours involving angry or emotional people disagreeing with them.  We could all make their day much more pleasant by being considerate of their contribution to the case and how we can be of service to them.  Try asking them, “How is your day going?  Is there anything I can do to help?”

Foster parents are often the voice unheard. It is frustrating to be totally devoted to a foster child,  loving and caring for them as our own yet never being asked for input about what the child needs or opinions about how the system is working. Quality foster parents are on deck 24/7. They don’t put a case file aside and come back to it in the morning. Caring for a foster kid is their life, not a job. A little recognition and support are hugely affirming.

At IKP, we know empathy is the key to working effectively for the children and families.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ― Leo Buscaglia