by Guest Blogger, Sara Brunsting
“I can’t protect you.” Those were the first words whispered to me by my new birth mom. That was right before I was blindfolded along with all the other foster kids and auctioned off to foster families around the room. And when I say auctioned, I mean auctioned. Those two experiences were the most haunting parts of the foster care simulation I took part in called Life in Limbo. This simulation experience was created to help people step into the shoes of birth parents, foster children and foster families and really learn what it feels like live their lives. It definitely did that for me.
For my birth mom to tell me that she couldn’t protect me was both heart-wrenching and eye-opening. I have often thought that parents whose children have ended up in foster care are irresponsible and could have kept their children if only they had tried harder. But to hear these words whispered in my ear really drove home that sometimes parents simply cannot protect their children. It could be that they are struggling with addictions that are helping them cope with the tragedies of their own past. Maybe they have fought tooth and nail to keep their children but lack the support system that they need to make it work. Perhaps they believe that foster care is the only way to protect their children from the harsh realities of this world. Whatever the reason, the words “I can’t protect you” are not to be taken lightly. My heart broke for my birth mom and whatever drove her to say these words. Compassion welled up within me for birth parents around the world and for the children that they could not protect.
The second part of the simulation was what I call “The Auction.” As my birth mom blindfolded me and the other foster children around the room were blindfolded by their birth parents, the facilitator of the simulation starts calling out the ages of the children and asking the foster parents to take the children. “I have a 16 year old and a 13 year old! Who will take them? Come on, someone needs to take them! The 13 year old is really nice and the 16 year old is not that bad.” “I have two 8 year olds…they’re both well-behaved and fun. Who will take them? What about you, sir?” “I have a sibling group of three, two 3 year olds and a 6 year old. Any takers? Okay, we will have to break the siblings up – who will take the 6 year old? Will anyone take the 3 year olds?” And on and on this went until all the children were accounted for.
I will never forget the feelings I experienced during this part of the simulation. First, I felt completely worthless. Here I was, blindfolded and auctioned off to whoever would take me. I wanted to scream, “Why are you doing this?! I have a name! I am not a piece of property to be given out! Why don’t I have a say in this?!” Then the helplessness set in. It didn’t matter what I wanted or how I felt. I was going to end up in a foster home…and not even one that I chose. All I could do was hope that my foster parent would be a good person and would treat me well. Finally, I felt resigned. This was my fate. I had no idea if I would ever get to see my birth mom again. I had no idea if I would even stay in the home of the foster parent who chose me. I had no idea what was going to happen to me.
I didn’t know what to expect going into Life in Limbo. To be honest, I went into it thinking that there is no way that a simulation experience could ever really help me understand the ins and outs of foster care. I am happy to say that I was completely wrong! It really did help me “walk a mile in their shoes” when it came to understanding the feelings and frustrations of being a child in foster care. The sad part is that this was just a one hour experience for me and yet it is the 24/7 life for children all over the world. Friends…that fills me with such sorrow that there are hardly words. These are children with names, with stories, with heart aches and with hopes and dreams. They are not “foster children” – they are children! They are the most vulnerable people in our world and they deserve our love, our compassion and our time. They need us to give them hope – what are we waiting for?