Working with Kids in Foster Care Has Taught Me Everything About the Nature of Love

Elaine Gilmartin
3 min readAug 21, 2022

by Elaine Gilmartin

Nick Fewings Unsplash

At the adoption agency I work for, we have a program called RAD. You may think, oh yes, reactive attachment disorder. We say nay. Our philosophy is that nothing is wrong with the kids. They’re not the ones with the disorders. It’s the parents, it’s a system where mental health and substance abuse are not treated, it’s the world at large. It’s not the kids.

RAD stands for relationships are decisions.

At our agency, the kids in foster care are our clients. If they want a forever family, we screen prospective parents, interview them, fingerprint them, get references, search their house for tigers (yes, there was a family in NYC years ago that had a tiger in their apartment that the social worker failed to notice…hmmm,) do background checks, even interrogate the family dog before they could be candidates. Even after all that, those families may still fail the kids.

And you know why? Because it’s not an easy task to quantify the potential for love.

People can sound good on paper, check all the boxes, but at the end of the day, they may never truly understand what it is to love another person.

So this is what our kids know intuitively.

Love need never be earned. It is not predicated on traits, or characteristics, or states of being. It is contingent on nothing.

Love is not transactional. It is not an ‘“if…then…” proposition. If I behave well, then you will accept me. If I do well in school… if I do well on the soccer field…if I look a certain way…if I don’t tell someone what you did to me…

Love is not about you. Love given never expects it returned.

Love is not a feeling. Equating it with emotion cheapens it, makes it a four letter word uttered in the midst of being abused, used to dismiss cruelty, used to deny what they know is reality. … “But I love you…” Um no.

Love is not transient, there one day, gone the next. It just never was.

Love is not exempt from character. It cannot coexist with cruelty, hatred, deceit or manipulation.



Elaine Gilmartin

A therapist by profession, a runner by passion, a writer by necessity.