Foster Care Youth: Their Hero

A silhouette of a soldier saluting toward the sunset.

By: Courtney Edge-Mattos

For their whole lives, he’s been their hero.  They looked to him when they were unsure of where to go next.  They looked to him for reassurance.  They looked to him to chart their course forward.

At the end of the summer, their hero will disappear.  He’s ready to be a hero to more than his family.  He will enter boot camp and take an oath to protect and serve his nation.  For Brave R, protecting and serving has been his mission since he became a big brother. 

There are such huge feelings happening with this impending change.  Excitement, pride, hope, fear, anxiety, sadness.  Brave R isn’t the only one contending with these feelings.  His younger siblings, who have looked to him for their entire lives, are now trying to imagine a world where Brave R isn’t right there. 

In foster care, things shift suddenly.  Children enter care when family struggles become overwhelming and parents cannot safely care for their child(ren).  In many cases, the parenting falls to the older child(ren), who usher their younger siblings through day to day tasks.  They are the ones to provide a steadying hand, a calming voice, even a directive/corrective voice.  The younger ones count on the older children for guidance.  They can read the older sibling’s expression and know if they are safe or should be on guard. 

Transitions in foster care are often very fast.  There isn’t time to prepare, only time to go into survival mode and then try to adapt.  Feelings are buried because there’s no time to sort through them in the moment. 

Typical, anticipated transitions can be very difficult for kids in care, because there is anticipatory grief.  They know a loss is coming, they have time and a safe space to sit with those feelings.  This is often the first time they’ve had that possibility and the emotions flood in.  Emotions related to the impending transition, emotions that have been stuffed down from other transitions and losses flood in.

For Brave R’s younger siblings, this is a lot.  Brave R is leaving them.  The “why” is known, but their hearts don’t care about why.  He is going away.  Despite being in the same fostering family home for many years (almost half their lives for the youngest two), they feel unmoored.  Foster Mama and Papa are seeing it.  They feel the loss coming, but of course have the coping skills, supports, and experience to navigate it.  For their youngest boys, boys they’ve provided care to for the last five plus years, they see the struggle to feel safe.  They see the push-pull of not wanting to let go, but also wanting to push away so the loss feels lessened.

Brave R has his eyes on the horizon.  He’s looking at his path forward, ready to navigate his future and show his siblings that there is life after foster care and it can be anything.  When he leaves, it will be his loss to bear, but he will be carrying with him the love for his brothers and upholding the oath he made to them, to show them the way.  He will no longer just be a hero for them, he will be a hero for his country.

If you would like to send letters of encouragement to Brave R, we will be sending regular mailings to him as he makes his way through boot camp.  Please feel free to reach out and we’ll let you know how to contribute.

If you would like to foster a youth in care and show them that their life's possibilities are endless, reach out today.


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Rachel has been a part of the JRI team since January, 2000. For over 20 years, Rachel has been working in the field of human services assisting families with accessing and navigating services. Rachel received her Bachelors degree in psychology and Masters Degree in Public Administration from Bridgewater State University. She was promoted in July 2005 to Family Networks Program Director where she closely worked with the Department of Children Families for 10 years ensuring that children and families received the highest quality of individualized services ranging from community based through residential care. Rachel is very dedicated to helping the individuals she works with and is committed to improving the lives of children and families. Rachel’s passion for creative service programming inspires her in her role as JRI Service Navigator.