The birth parent leans in and whispers horrific things to her child.
“I don’t want you.”
“I can’t protect you.”
“Don’t tell anyone our family secret.”
Fortunately this isn’t a glimpse into an actual parent-child interaction but rather a “Life in Limbo” role-play exercise designed to give people insights into the raw emotions experienced by those involved with the foster care system.
Life in Limbo is a signature program created by Fostering Great Ideas (FGI), a South Carolina-based charity that designs “turn-key” programs designed to make it easier for individuals and community groups to support foster children, biological parents and foster parents through the distinct phases of care.
“Life in Limbo situations aren’t fabricated dramas for effect,” said FGI founder David White. “They are taken from the real life experiences common in foster care.”
Life in Limbo participants begin by selecting a character to play—either “foster child,” “birth parent” or “foster parent”—for the 1.5 hour long exercise. “Birth parents” then choose a drug addiction (since this is a common reason children enter care), and read aloud their stories of frustration and hopelessness. They then must blindfold their “child” to represent that the child often has little idea what is happening or where she is going.
The parent then transfers the “child” to a facilitator as the child pleads to remain with the “parent.” The facilitator then passes the blindfolded child to a foster parent.
Complicating the transition is that some of the role-play children are separated from siblings and also must wait while a facilitator desperately appeals for an available home, both of which situations often mirror reality.
Foster parents then take in the frightened and confused child, and face questions such as, “When am I going home?” In addition, they must address behavioral issues and outbursts that stem from abuse, neglect or simply the need for attention.
The role-play continues, with some birth parents trying to overcome their addictions while others remain in denial, children and enlightened foster parents cheering for the birth parent, and foster parents being encouraged to seek guidance and support from one another.
Who would want to endure such an emotional role-play experience? Turns out, a lot of people. At a recent Christian Alliance for Orphans conference, demand for participation was so high that White had to turn away would-be participants. After the conference, 10 organizations paid the $150 licensing fee to run the program in their communities.
These newly licensed organizations join a growing roster of social agencies and faith-based groups, including megachurches First Baptist in Houston and Willow Creek in Chicago, offering the program to their memberships.
White didn’t come to lead a foster care support organization through the typical pathways. After receiving his finance degree and building a private sector career, he decided to get a Master’s degree in social work and focused on child welfare. White soon discovered that foster care had “gaps in the public system that could be alleviated by private sector innovation.”
Life in Limbo is often a first-step program to prepare and engage potential volunteers, but it is part of FGI’s wider “Great Ideas” curriculum of 12 unique foster care support programs offered to individuals and groups for replication in their communities. The majority of programs are provided free of charge and also come with consulting time and survey tools to gauge program success.
White’s next passion and newest offering is “Sib-Link,” wherein a program manager orchestrates consistent, monthly sibling visits for children living in separate foster homes in cases where the treatment plan has faltered due to birth parent non-response. The pilot program has shown promising early success.
“I believe having a relationship with one’s siblings is a human right, and I want to take this program nationwide like all our programs,” said White. “Sib-Link isn’t about having fun with a sibling. It’s about having someone who experienced the same family situation to talk with and heal with through conversation.”
In October 2015, White was honored as an “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute in Washington, D.C.