Difficult to Place: changing the language of foster care

Difficult to place.

These are the three words that social workers used to describe me while in the care of the United Kingdom’s foster care system. In other words, these three little words equaled one giant judgement about my worth. The social worker assigned to my case believed that finding a family for a child like me would be, yes, difficult.

I was seen as “illegitimate” and “ethnic” within the system. My foster papers described me as the “extra-marital daughter” of a woman who indulged in an affair with a “dark man.” Adding, “The child is dark, like her father.”

The descriptions written of me could not have been more toxic in their tone. The heavy weight of judgement poisoned my spirit for years. I viewed myself as a girl who was “difficult to place.” That was my identity! Unwanted and unknown, a shameful reminder — I would tell myself — that, sometimes, God makes mistakes.

I was lost. I didn’t know who I was. I had been given my story, from the mouths and the minds of others. That story looped round and round in my head, becoming the belief that clouded my life. You see, I focused on that early story as I grew, without even being aware. And, if you focus on something long enough, it will become a belief. I believed that I was difficult to place.

I believed this for a very long time.

The judgement that some kids in foster care are difficult to place, or hard to place, is still a belief turned to within the system today. In an article titled, Adoption and Fostering: finding homes for ‘hard to place’ children, (The Guardian UK, 2015) it’s written that, “’Hard to place,’ according to statistics, means over the age of four, boys, disabled children, black and minority ethnic children and sibling groups. One of the most pressing issues for the sector is to encourage adoptive families to offer these children a home.”

I fully understand that parenting can be challenging. I have three kids of my own! It would be, in my opinion, however, a daunting task to try and persuade potential adoptive families to adopt children who are difficult to place, or hard to place. These children are being put at a deficit by the very use of this language, and that’s the exact opposite of what the system — which holds them in its care — is there to do.

Children in foster care are not inadequate kids!

When did being four, a boy, or disabled equal being a difficult to place child? When did being ethnic, or part of a sibling group mean that you’re a hard to place human being? When did the painful circumstances surrounding a child categorize he or she as less likely to be embraced by a forever family?

As a society, we need to stop judging foster kids.

Even after being adopted, I believed that I was difficult to place. It was, after all, written in black and white within the pages of my foster records. Over time, as I healed from this early life experience, I began to understand — clearly — that it’s unfair to place these kinds of labels on our foster children. It’s not right!

I began to see that God doesn’t make mistakes, people do. I was just as valuable as any other person in this life. I was just as valuable as my social workers, and just as valuable as my parents who had turned away.

When we begin to see children in foster care as — first and foremost — children in need of care, stability and love … we’ll begin to shift our beliefs in who they are, what they offer families, and in what they offer the world. When we shift our thoughts on what the “ideal” child looks like, we will begin to open the doors for children who currently fall under the unfair labels of “difficult or hard to place.”

Disabled only means a child is gifted in unique and dynamic ways; ethnic means a child has a rich and diverse story to share; and over four years of age only means that you may have missed out on the first four years, but — oh — won’t you be blessed in the years ahead. And, as for sibling groups, perhaps you just might experience more love than if you only adopted one.

Words are powerful. We should be willing to change our words in order to change what is broken within the foster care system. A new language is needed! One that justifies the child, and refuses to judge.

We should see these children as worthy of love, because they are. We must believe that there is a family for every child, and we must commit to looking beyond borders to locate those families. Indeed, we should be truthful to ourselves regarding our own limits as potential parents to a child in foster care, however, we should never limit the child!

It’s been a long road, but I know, now, that I was never difficult to place. I’m stronger because of what I experienced in my early life as a foster and international adoptee. And, I’m here to help those children who are currently experiencing the same. If they feel lost, it is our job to help them be found. We have a great responsibility in this way.







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2 thoughts on “Difficult to Place: changing the language of foster care

  1. Thank you Michelle,
    Your insight has helped me to understand some of the issues that certainly swirl around the head of a child, given such a situation.

    I believe that I have helped such a child, now woman of 30. However, when I see her next I shall engage her on these issues. Her story is long and difficult. Today I believe she is happy, but may still feel the shame you explain in your post.

    Thank you

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