From Teacher to Parent: Fictive Kin in Foster Care

By February 24, 2020 Podcast
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As I walk this parenting journey, I grow more and more thankful for teachers who lean into my kids. The student-teacher relationship can be a sweet one. For some students, teachers may be their only trusted adult. Needless to say, the impact of a caring teacher has the potential to be huge. My guest, Amanda Van Allen, is one of those teachers that loves her students in big ways. So, when she saw not only one student’s educational needs, but a greater need as it related to family, she knew her own family could do more to care for this student. Today, we’re talking about jumping into the role of fictive kin—taking on the characteristics of a family relationship for a child in the foster care system. It’s a role that more teachers are being asked to consider, and Amanda had some incredible insights about what she learned from going from teacher to parent in a matter of days. 

HERE ARE MY 3 TAKEAWAYS FROM OUR CONVERSATION:

1. Caring for people starts by seeing their needs.

As teachers dive into caring for kids, they’re aware of information and insights that otherwise might be unknown. They see the needs of their students like Amanda saw when she noticed one girl’s intermittent attendance record. She knew there had to be more to the story since the girl ordinarily seemed engaged with the class when she was there. When she learned more about the girl’s story, what she found out was heartbreaking. She saw such potential in this girl’s future, but something had to be done. She didn’t know what that meant or where to start, so she just started asking questions—to God, to her husband, then to the school counselor, and anyone who could help her determine the next step.

“I prayed, ‘God, what can I do to help this child?’ and He said, ‘Just do something! Just take the next step.'”

2. Learning how to exist within a healthy family can be hard for youth in care.

We all want to be part of a family. And yet, to be pulled from an unhealthy environment to a stable, loving one does not mean that instantly old habits will cease to exist. That’s not true in my own life, and it’s certainly not true in the lives of children in foster care. I thought Amanda captured that thought perfectly when she shared her experience with a family vacation. As they pulled into town after a trip where they made intentional time for new fun experiences, the teen they were caring for asked if she could just go back to her old neighborhood for 24 hours, a neighborhood where drugs and prostitution were a part of normal life. She wanted what was comfortable, even if it would be considered dangerous to most people. She had learned how to survive under a particular set of rules. Experiencing love was not in that set of rules.

“Her saying was ‘you either get or you get got.’ And we experienced that. And we tried to show her that’s not how you have to live when you are in a loving family.”

3. Being faithful is our highest goal, no matter the outcome.

Outcomes are unpredictable in this world of foster care, but we can always choose to be faithful. I’m learning this more and more each time our family decides to walk alongside another family. As much as I desire to help others move towards places of stability and healthy rhythms, I cannot do that for them. Just because we can’t guarantee the outcome we desire, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t step in. It will be uncomfortable at times to support others, and I think that’s good and right. It stretches us in ways we need. I loved Amanda’s perspective at the end of a hard journey. She would do it again. Yes, maybe she would ask more questions. She would be slower to act and seek out more resources to help equip her for what her family was stepping into, but she would still do something. And, she’s still praying that God would put the right people in that girl’s path so that she would have more opportunities to know God.

“When we do love others—even when it means sacrificing comforts at times—it’s better than being self-focused.”

RESOURCES FROM TODAY’S SHOW

Connect with Amanda
Listen in to S4E11 as public school principal, David LaFrance, shares more ways to connect with and support students with trauma histories.

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We hope this episode has helped you wherever you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal! If so, will you tell others?

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Meet Our Guest

Amanda Van Allen dreamed of being an architect until she discovered she loved history and working with teenagers. Now a high school social studies teacher, Amanda has an up-close view of teenage life and is using her role to let her students know they are valued and cared for. When the need to jump into the role of parent for one of her students came up, she boldly stepped in as fictive kin despite little knowledge of foster care. Amanda loves Jesus, her husband, Dave, and her kids.

Foster Parents, check with your agency to see if listening to this podcast will count toward your foster care training hours!

Special thanks to Resonate Recordings for their knock-it-out-of-the-park podcast production services! If you have a podcast or want to start one, reach out to our friends at Resonate!

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