One of the things that is SO important to consider when you are adopting or fostering a child is the child’s identity. Identity is more than just name. It’s all of the things that a person thinks make her who she is. Culture can play a role, appearance can play a role (me without red hair? that would just be weird), race, community, values. All of these can be a part of a person’s identity.
As can diet. Keeping kosher, or halal, can be part of a person’s identity. Being vegetarian, or vegan, or a stereotypical meat-eating Texan, can be part of a person’s identity.
When I was first being licensed to be a foster parent, one of the women in my training class mentioned that she is a vegetarian, and she wouldn’t cook meat for any kids placed in her care. The firestorm that this caused. It was unbelievable. You would have thought that refusing to feed a foster kid meat was worse than beating the kid with a belt. BUT WHEN A CHILD IS USED TO EATING MEAT, HOW CAN YOU TAKE THAT AWAY FROM HIM???
A child’s identity is important. And when a child enters foster care, he’s losing EVERYTHING. The foster parent’s obligation is to help maintain the child’s identity…and connections. The exercise we do in training the week that identity and culture are discussed is about connections. Family. School. Church. Neighborhood. Summer camp. Pets. Hobbies. It isn’t about the TV shows that we watch or our favorite restaurants or our shoes. (I guess it could be, if someone had very different priorities than me, or if we were asked to identify 15 connections, instead of just 5.)
Now, let’s agree, for the sake of argument, that what a child is used to eating is part of the child’s identity and important to support. A three year old enters care and is used to drinking soda. A seven year old is used to eating fast food three nights a week. The only vegetables a nine year old is used to eating is raw carrot and iceberg lettuce.
We’re going to take those things away from the kids. And yes, these examples are because the food items the kids are used to are unhealthy, and no, meat is not unhealthy (usually). But this does demonstrate that there are legitimate reasons to adjust a child’s diet when she comes into care.
Six years ago when this came up in training, I came to the defense of my vegetarian classmate, mentioning that I keep kosher and no, sorry, no way no how would there be bacon in my house. (This did not quell the firestorm.)
I am taking the training again in order to get relicensed. This week, our trainer was the same worker who I had six years ago. We weren’t talking about identity and connections this week. So I wasn’t expecting this:
Trainer: Once I had in my class a vegetarian who insisted that she wouldn’t cook meat for kids in her care! THIS IS TERRIBLE AND YOU NEED TO MAINTAIN YOUR KIDS’ IDENTITY.
I could only shake my hea as it created a firestorm.