Waiting is painful, even torturous for adults. Ignorant of the outcome, one is likely to imagine every possibility, and especially the worst.
Imagine you are awaiting the results of your breast exam or prostate test. You call daily but they still don’t have the results. What are you thinking, feeling?
Pretend you are working as a temp, hoping to get a full-time job so you can have access to benefits and support your family. The months slip by. You are doing a good job but are afraid even to inquire whether they plan to hire you. Nothing is happening. You are worried but try not to let it show.
Imagine that you are camping deep in the woods and the ranger comes to tell you they have an emergency phone call. He does not know what it is about, only that you need to come at once. The ranger station is 45 minutes away. What is going through your mind as you are driving to take the call?
Waiting is much worse for a child living in a home with no permanent commitment. Adults have other life experiences, memories of times when patience was rewarded with good results. Adults learn to hang in there on the big issues and "not to sweat the small stuff."
Being parked in a foster home for an indefinite period is different. Waiting can cause serious psychological damage. My psychologist father and I have identified five emotional stages that these very vulnerable youngsters pass through.
At first the child has Hope. "Maybe this family will be the one. If only…" But in time, hope fades, and Fear sets in. "What if it will always be like this? What if no one really wants me? What if I never have a home? What if…"
After fear comes Anger. The child gets mad and often expresses his feelings by acting out. Temper tantrums. Foot-dragging. Stealing. Destroying property. Failing "deliberately" in school to frustrate the foster parents.
The anger may fade into a prolonged quiet Sadness. In time, this depression is often replaced by a coldness, a lack of caring. Indifference may be the final stage. "So what! What’s the use? Who cares? I don’t."
Delay is destructive. The delay is not simply about some isolated anticipated event. The delay for the foster child, and the way the child perceives the delay, concerns his whole life.