Working With PRIDE

Children in Foster Care: Loss Issues from Their Perspective

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NAs a PRIDE (Parents Resource for Information, Development, and Education) educator, I am always searching for ways to integrate real-life experiences into my classes, especially regarding the perspective of children in foster care. I want each participant in my PRIDE class to experience foster care from a child's perspective whenever possible, so that they can better relate to the children who may be placed with them after they have become licensed foster care providers. Particularly in the area of loss, it is vital for prospective foster and adoptive parents and families to understand both the short- and long-term impacts loss can have on the lives of the children in their care.

Among the many topics and competencies covered during PRIDE sessions, loss is one of the most challenging to fully portray. The majority of the activities in PRIDE--although excellent in content--center on the experience of loss from the participant's perspective to facilitate parallel process. In order to emphasize loss from the direct experiences of children in foster care, I created an activity to help PRIDE participants explore the topic from another perspective and thus enhance the learning objectives more fully.

A few years ago, Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA), with funding from Casey Family Programs, began sponsoring a postcard design contest to promote awareness of foster care experiences. The project is specifically designed for adults who have grown up in foster care. It asks them to portray their observations, feelings, and personal insights of being a foster child on a 4-by-6 inch postcard. The emphasis is on the visual impact of their message; the fewer words used the better. The project's intent is to build the foster alumni community while educating foster care professionals and the general public about the effects of foster care on the children who experience it and the adults they eventually become. One of the results is an emotionally moving composite of 28 individual postcards on a single poster titled "Exploring the Culture of Foster Care: A Community Art Project." There is also a PowerPoint version available. The awareness project is ongoing, and submissions are posted on the FCAA website at

During PRIDE Session #4, which specifically addresses the subject of loss, I use the FCAA poster as an opening activity. I give participants 10 minutes to look over the 28 postcards displayed on the poster and ask participants to identify one or two of the images that feel particularly meaningful to them or spark a new awareness. The group then comes back to the table and shares observations about the images they have chosen. The discussion that ensues is always an emotional one and reveals many insights into the experience of children in foster care. Some of the topics that come up include stereotypes about children in care, developmental loss and its long-term effects, grieving their families, challenges in the foster care system, and, inevitably, the sense of hope and belonging that foster care can bring to a hurting child.

This activity, more than any other we use in PRIDE, invokes a real sense of identification with children who are hurting and helps participants glimpse into the minds and hearts of a child who has lived in foster care. Because of the emotional nature of this activity, participants are always given the option to pass rather than sharing their thoughts. Although, too much passing would, of course, be a signal to explore the issues during the individual family consultation meetings, just to be sure that our foster and adoptive parents are, indeed, loss managers. And another lesson learned: Be sure to have plenty of tissues on hand.

Eileen Mayers Pasztor and Donna D. Petras are contributing editors to this column.

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