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Tough and tender approach helped keynoter rebuild trust in adults after foster care :

October 26, 2019

Editor's note:The 2019AAP National Conference & Exhibitionwill take place from Oct. 25-29 in New Orleans.

After a lifetime of being let down, abandoned and raped while living in foster care, Josh Shipp learned it only takes one caring adult to turn things around.

During his opening keynote address Saturday, Shipp shared how the trust of caring adults helped him emerge from a tumultuous childhood to help kids like him.

Rodney and Christine Weidenmaier were Shipp’s 13th and final foster home during childhood. They recognized the good in him and never gave up. Pediatricians also can be “Rodneys,” said Shipp, but they sometimes forget the time they’ve invested will lead to trust.

Abandoned by his mother at the hospital hours after he was born and bouncing through 12 foster homes, Shipp believed that he could never trust adults. He even kept a notebook to record how quickly he could be kicked out of each foster home.

“What kids do not talk out they will act out,” he said.

At 8 years old, he was raped by a 21-year-old man in a group foster home. He did not tell anyone about it, which escalated his behavior and distrust of adults.

Bullied and teased, he reached a breaking point by the time he was 14. A student called him a stupid, fat, punk foster kid, adding “It’s no wonder your mom left you at the hospital.”

Shipp attempted suicide. He didn’t want to end his life, he admitted. “I just wanted the chaos to stop, not my heartbeat.”

Afterwards, as the social worker’s van pulled into the driveway of his 13th foster home, Shipp said he felt nothing inside. He began to strategize his next expulsion from the foster home. But he soon learned that Rodney, a driver’s education teacher with narcolepsy, and his wife, Christine, were different.

After landing in jail for driving with a suspended license, the 17-year-old Shipp learned the power of their tough and tender approach. Rodney bailed him out, but not that night. After picking Shipp up the following morning, Rodney said he didn’t see Shipp as a problem. He saw him as an opportunity.

Shipp encouraged pediatricians to do two things to build their patients’ trust in them:

1) Call the shot. 2) Follow through.

“It’s about proving to that kid who’s had previous adults let them down,” he said. Intentionally calling the shot will build anticipation and emphasize the act when the adult follows through for the child.

“Even if you’ve just got one moment, one conversation, one opportunity, you are a Rodney in their life. You’re someone they can count on. Kids judge you on your voting record – how many times you showed up,” he said. “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”

For more coverage of the 2019 AAP National Conference & Exhibition, visit

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