reprinted from Sunday, February 12, 2006 (SF Chronicle)

One Child, One Therapist/An innovative program partners foster children with therapists for as long as they’re needed, providing a stability otherwise missing
Rob Waters

When child psychologist Norman Zukowsky first met him, 6 1/2-year-old “William” had already lived through more hardship and trauma than many people experience in a lifetime.

He was born exposed to drugs and alcohol,one of three children of a drug-addicted mother who lived in an unheated garage with no cooking or bathroom facilities.

Child welfare reports suggest that the children were physically abused, exposed to sexual behavior and often went without food or clothing. Eventually, William was
removed from his mother’s care only to be placed with a relative who scarred his chest beating him with a belt.

My own experience with this kind of trauma has more to do with placing really damaged children with foster parents unable to manage the behaviors of violent and troubled children often on psychotropic medications.  Recently, listening to St Joe’s Home For Children in Hennepin County discuss (at the Task Force Oversight Hearings) their problems meeting the needs of these kids (and the Casey Foundation’s analysis of these exact circumstances) it occurs to me just how overwhelmed our mental health systems are for treating traumatized children.

Psychotropic medications are taking the place of badly needed mental health services and children are suffering.  If we ever expect to escape the cloud of violent children becoming violent and unstable adults, we will have to face this problem.

The reality is much sadder and much more painful when you are there with the child – who knows he’s not “normal” and wants so badly to fit in with school and his peers.  But he can’t and it won’t happen until we help him.


1 Comment

  1. I read, with great interest and empathy, this article on the plight of these foster children. As a resident of Maryland, USA, I am aware that our foster care system suffers from the pandemic ills of all the rest. Sadly, however, it’s also a fact of life that foster care shortcomings are not localized to the States. Cross-culturally, disenfranchised children are sadly undervalued.

    In June 2004, I founded HopeScope Family Online and its attendant forums (, principally as an attempt to reach kids of varying ages who might benefit from informal e-mentoring and its related support mechanisms. It wasn’t long before we’d assembled a little cadre of skillful, loving adults who are willing to share their time and experience; but more than that, I found that the as yet small number of kids who seek a gentle shoulder at HopeScope are multinational. The developmental, emotional, social, and other challenges that kids face don’t recognize national, political, or other borders.

    As yet, my e-mentoring experience has led to experience with only one foster child in a European country, but after much ado, we’re hopeful that our youngster is finally getting much needed assistance. But my experience with this child has made me painfully aware that there are plenty of web-based resources for foster parents and other such carers… but none – that I can find – for foster children. Our foster youngster discovered us only by accident, but I have to believe that there is a place for quality – even if informal – e-mentoring resources for foster kids, as well as the general youth population. Even the social structures whose charge it is to look after these children are sorry advocates; we need to create more easily accessible tools with which we can broker useful discourse between these kids and their charges. We need to represent these kids when even their appointed guardians fail them. The internet can be a powerful tool with which to do that.

    My experience with our foster child has caused me to have a special affinity for foster youth and other disenfranchised kids, regardless of how superficial their concerns might be. Our tiny international cadre of adults has enjoyed successes with kids, and other adults, who combat everything from self-ijury to eating disorders. Even if we can’t help them ourselves, we can assist them in finding someone who can.

    My point is that I hope the web is recognized not only as a potentially dangerous and demonized place, but also as a burgeoning vehicle by which Hope and Love can be administered to suffering adults and children, perhaps especially foster youth. We at HopeScope are doing our admittedly small part to bring this concept to fruition, and we very much appreciate your awareness of, and efforts to, address this important problem in a tangible way.

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