Follow the Leader: Role Models and Foster Care

There is a missing link that is easily overlooked when discussing children in foster care. I spend a lot of time focusing on the idea of womanhood and just female leadership in shaping those children who do not have any role model, transient models, or unhealthy, abusive models. Male leadership is equally a driving force of success for children in care.

Me. the first year I entered foster care.
Me. the first year I entered foster care.

No matter the gender, children need leadership. It is my belief that both male and female role models shape who we become. Those ideals can be gleamed from either both sexes or just one. The idea of leadership, characterization, safety, sexuality, academic strength, health, mental wellness and humanity is found in this precarious balance of male and female-ness. Children need to witness all of these traits in role models.

The after-effect of a lack of these traits modeled in early years for foster children is tragic and astounding. The availability of these qualities to emulate, are the driving force of emotional development of the brain, of personality, and  an indicator of future personal success for children.

Strong, honorable men are not present in the lives of many foster children.  But, there is hope as I see more  male healthy role models coming out of the wood works in recent years for foster children. I want to see more.

Foster children are children that  have been removed from a biological parent due to physical or sexual abuse, drug addiction of the parent, severe neglect or abandonment. They are placed in temporary homes while the courts decide if the parent can be rehabilitated and the child can be reunited with family, or that the parent should lose all rights and the child can then be adopted.

I was taken from my mother when I was young, after being found locked in a basement, starved, burnt, abused and unable to walk and talk. I saw her for many years in supervised visits until she stopped showing up when I was 10. I was probably lucky that she did. Steady roles and leadership, male or female, were nowhere to be found.

My idea of women confused me as a child, I feared them or became unnaturally attached to them. I was still dearly attached to my mother long after she vanished. She was an unhealthy fantasy figure. These role models can shock the soul of children. It is imperative that “replaced” role models in foster care can outcast the poor earlier models.

In looking back at other kids in foster care with me, I always figured our hurdles were primarily from a lack of motherhood or female role models. Indeed, when a mother hurts a child it seems so unnatural . How you can abandon, neglect, or abuse someone who was once part of your body astounds me.

I never knew my biological father, though I had his last name and in recent years have seen photos of him.  I never really considered his role or non- role. I had an adoptive father for only a few short years before he passed away. It was a painful loss that I attempted to replace later as a young woman with lovers and friends. It did not work.

Male figures were hard to find. Foster brothers I attached to were either very protective or unhealthy. One abused my trust in many ways and it made the familial relationship of foster siblings and men very confusing and scary.

With the exception of a younger adoptive brother, other men in my life were transient, unhealthy or non-existent. I gleamed positive qualities when I could from the few good men in my life.  The ones whose character and leadership qualities were easily recognizable were who I grew to respect. I see now that their honest male-ness gave me something to search for years later.

Me and my mini me, all my reasons in one little person!
Me and my mini me, all my reasons in one little person!

My foster siblings whose lives became their tragic cyclical fate, who never escaped their past, could not find healthy leadership in themselves or anyone else. I see a lack of male leadership early on as their primary loss and impetus for failure.  Some of the young men I knew without strong male leaders had a vulnerability that could not withstand the dishonorable “leaders” they met later.

Young men in particular are easy to mold into a puppet when this core component is missing in their life. Young girls are easy to manipulate when this male-ness is distorted or missing. They will cling to whatever brings a temporary security.

Foster children are especially at risk for being cast as pawns for poor leaders. Young girls and men are actively recruited  on our American streets by those who seek out weakness in children who lack these strong role models. Young women and men are exploited every day for their sexuality and to act out variations of hate, and those missing real role models are a target. Thousands of these recruited on the street are  foster children!

It is not just a foster child’s confusion or even homelessness in some cases, that makes them so vulnerable, it is  an omitted piece of their foundation. It is lack of leadership. It makes the wrong kind of leaders seem inviting to minors.

Things are changing. Good men are stepping up their roles as teachers, advocates, social workers, counselors and mentors. Just the image of a decent man with an inner strength can turn a foster child around. I remember very clearly meeting my first male teacher, in 6th grade. To me, the steady routine of a classroom with a man up front was overwhelming and emotional.

It was the first time I saw a man interested in academics, a man who saw me as a little girl to protect, a man who bragged about his wife and children, a man who worked hard and wanted me to work harder.  I carried bits of the idea of him with me as a I grew older. I wanted to be like him in many ways.  It seemed like a foreign exciting life, this idea of safety and security he exuded. None of this should seem foreign to any child. 

I want to see more men in social/academic roles for children in state care.  One gender/just one strong parent at home can indeed propel a foster children into success. However, when the world around them academically and socially models successful men and women of many different lifestyles, their  world opens up in ways never imagined.

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One thought on “Follow the Leader: Role Models and Foster Care”

  1. Recognizing healthy and appropriate emotional response is definitely something that children in transient homes lack. I want to explore that topic more, thank you for your suggestion and input!!

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