This week's assessment comes from Diana. She was preparing a Young Adult book for NaNo (yes, the queue for character therapy was a bit long) and ran this scenario by me.
She's got a 16-year-old boy in foster care in North Carolina for the past 3 years with his sister, who has Down Syndrome. They are there because they have had abusive parents. She was trying to decide whether to make the sister older or younger. If the sister were 18, she'd be old enough to be out of foster care but not capable of living on her own. Diana wondered if the girl could continue to live in foster care as a special needs case if the parents opted to continue fostering her. Would the financial support the family received transfer to social security of some kind?
Then she wanted to know the following: What kind of questions or fears would a very devoted brother have regarding his sister? How would the brother view potential relationships with girls? What kind of self-doubts, fears, anger, emotional blocks, etc., would he feel in having gone through broken trust with his father?
So part of Diana's question is therapeutic stuff, but part is logistics. Due to having been the foster care coordinator for a foster family agency, I knew a bit about the logistical part, too.
If the girl was in foster care, she would still move into a supported living type situation if she is capable of functioning on her own (and if the parents wanted this, perhaps I should state). There are some special foster care considerations where they will take a 19 year old. and if she stayed on somehow as special needs, the foster parents would get paid as usual, but I think it's more likely she'd move into supported living.
Most people with Down Syndrome are fairly high functioning, so they can hold down jobs with job coaches and live on their own if they don't have some concurrent medical problems (and some get 24-hour care while living alone, so even that's not a deal breaker). I'm not sure about North Carolina, but California has programs to help pay for rent, utilities and the like so they can be as independent as they can be. Essentially the money that was going to her foster parents would be transferred to helping pay her bills. It's truly a wonderful program for these individuals.
On to the more therapeutic angle...
From a story plot line, if you're wanting to give the brother some fears, I'd definitely put her into this supported living situation. They have workers to drive them to meetings and grocery stores and the appointments. Usually this type service is coordinated through the local regional center who contracts out to an organization to do the actual ground-level care (like the non-profit I worked for).
This scenario would give the brother PLENTY of worries about her. I'd think he'd want her to be able to stand on her own two feet and succeed with as much quality of life as possible, but he'd be worried she might not do well on her own, not being around family every day. Younger siblings often take on the role of Protector when an older sibling has some sort of disability. They take up for them in school, that sort of thing. Depending on how you've written his personality, he might be listless not having an outlet to feel needed, or he might be one to party it up if he'd begrudgingly taken care of his sister up until then.
Since you were interested in how he might view potential relationships with girls...I've said this before and will reiterate it here again. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This can be a mantra of sorts to remember. This guy is going to do what comes best to him to do: protect. It might mean he'll meet a girl and absolutely smother her by being too attentive or too concerned for her welfare. It might mean he'll lose a girl or two until he strikes a balance and remembers not every girl is like his sister.
What might be really interesting is to pair him with or introduce him to a girl with some sort of high-functioning disability that always makes him come up short and surprised, because he'd be expecting her to fail or comparing her to his sister. Disabilities, even within the same type, can be so different person-to-person. You never want to develop some rule of thumb when dealing with people with disabilities because there isn't a single mold they'll all fit into.
Another thing to consider is the young man's feelings about relationships, for two reasons. 1) If he came from an abusive home, then he might see marriage as a breeding ground for discontent. "Look at what it did to my father. No thanks." If your hero's not a Christian initially, or doesn't place a high degree of respect on the institution of marriage itself, then he might want to steer clear. Abusive parents can really do numbers on their children.
But there's another reason he might be reluctant to enter into a relationship. 2) He might feel he can't hang his sister out "to dry" while he goes off to enjoy a regular life. Or he might keep girls at arm's length so things can't get serious. He could even think it's not fair for him to get this privilege when his sister can't, although more and more people with developmental disabilities are forming romantic partnerships and marriages, which is a plot twist to think about. That could be a potential growth area for him, to come to the realization that his sister can share her life with someone...and then having to give over the "reigns" (so to speak) to this other guy. Oooo--I like that if I do say so myself! Then he'd be pushed from his role as protector, usurped by someone who loves her even more. And how sweet could that be?
As to his relationship with his father and the broken trust there, he's going to feel anger. Especially if the father abused his sister, too. She's more defenseless, and he'd probably feel anger at himself for not having protected her better. There'd be some guilt, likely. Maybe some self-doubt as to whether he can really come through for her when she needs him, since he was unable to stand up to their father. I would think he'd do anything in his power to keep from having to see the father (no supervised or unsupervised visits, no accepting gifts from him, nothing like that), but it depends on how you've written the abuse and how it played out on the page, I suppose.
Feel free to leave questions in the comment section. I'd love to talk this out further if need be. Very interesting YA, Diana!
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