Making a difference as a treatment foster parent
Understanding that the trauma treatment foster children have suffered is behind their challenging behavior and not feeling sorry for them are keys to Erma Springfield’s success in working with these young people.
“When I first got involved with treatment foster care, I thought I could cure these kids, that they just needed someone to work with them and that they’d be fine,” she said with a laugh.
“I learned I can’t cure them, that they have to work on their issues themselves; my job is to help them and make sure they have support.
“And I don’t feel sorry for them. I feel empathy. If you understand that they have been traumatized, you don’t take things they do personally.”
Erma, who has been a treatment foster parent for eight years, is licensed through St. Aemilian-Lakeside, a social services agency at 89th and Capitol.
There, through classes and regular visits from a foster care specialist, she learned all abut the effects trauma such as abuse and neglect have on children and ways to work with these kids.
She said she learned to change her point of view from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”
As an example, she points to a 14-year-old whose mother did not want her at home because of her behavior and who then had to leave a temporary home where she had become close to her foster mother. When she moved in with Erma, the girl had tantrums and jumped up and down like a 2-year-old.
“But I realized she has this sense of loss; she’s mourning! I sometimes say, ‘I’d be upset too if all this was happening to me!’ “
With foster kids, Erma notes she hasn’t had an influence on them since they were babies, which makes it more difficult bringing them into her home.
Her work has been with girls, mostly teen-agers. She has a 13-year-old biological daughter at home, in addition to two adult children.
“Its hard, hard work,” Erma said. “But it makes you feel good about helping these young ladies … It’s rewarding when you talk to these kids, about respect and respecting themselves, and the importance of education and getting a job, and you get to a point where they can discuss their issues.”
And sometimes, when she is just talking with them about everyday things, like music or fashion, it can be downright fun.
Erma first learned about being a treatment foster parent from another one. She has now recruited her adult son and is working on getting a friend into the St. Aemilian-Lakeside program.
“I tell them the truth. This is hard, but a lot of kids need someone who actually cares about what happens to them and has their best interests at heart … And they see my foster kids are not monsters,” she added with a laugh.
On a practical level, Erma said traumatized children who don’t get help may end up having a negative impact on the community.
“If you can’t get them on the right track, they could be the kid who comes up and robs you or steals your car.”
Why does Erma continue working with troubled kids? “Even though it’s a very difficult and challenging job, it seems like I was cut out for it,” she said with a smile. “You just have to want to do this — and make a difference.”
For more information on becoming a treatment foster parent, visit www.st-al.org, or call 414-463-1880. ext. 200
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