Today I had a whole other blog topic in mind. I wanted to write a funny, light and breezy blog about when you hate your work but I couldn’t get into the topic, I didn’t feel light and breezy and I definitely didn’t feel funny. At the moment I feel weighed down with responsibility and despair, a weight of my own choosing that comes with a sense of hopelessness and joy, devastation and pride. I feel overwhelmed and physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally and heartbreakingly exhausted. And I want to tell you why.
A few months ago, my partner and I decided to foster a child. I felt some social responsibility towards the children who do not have the love and security that we can provide and we were in a position to do something about it. We have never been one of those couples that talk about something and never do anything. We always put ourselves out there and take what comes. Once we decided that we were ready, we started asking questions.
The training was long and arduous. The courses, the reading, the questions, the interviews, the assignments (yes, assignments), the reflections on our childhood, our relationship, our physical, mental, financial wellbeing, how we resolved conflict, what we thought about smacking, eating, drinking, smoking, drugs, criminal behaviour, the list goes on. Eight months of intense scrutiny into our lives so the system could see that we could provide the best care for any child that we took in.
I didn’t mind this as I knew that this had to happen. The system was responsible for the children who were damaged in some way, who couldn’t be cared for by their own parents and they didn’t want to make it worse. I did understand. What I didn’t understand is how the system is potentially damaging the children themselves.
A few weeks ago we had a small child placed with us. I am going to call this child Sarah, so I have a name to call her. This is obviously not her real name but she needs to be protected. Sarah was fortunate, even though she was in foster care. I say this because she had been born into care as her mother was a foster child and it meant that Sarah didn’t know any better. As a result, she had very good physical, medical and mental states. She did have a few behavioural issues, but for her age, she was remarkably normal. I considered her to be one of the ‘perfect’ children, if I had to choose my own foster child to take care of she would be the easiest.
Sarah settled into our house really well. She had major attachment issues every time she left my side, but that didn’t last for very long. We gave her lots of love and security and her attachment issues settled. It all sounds perfect so far right? My problem is this. While I consider Sarah to be quite normal for her age, the system considers her to be a victim. I struggle every day with this as I do not see her as a victim. I do not want to keep telling her she is ‘safe’, she is a ‘good’ girl, she is ‘brave’. I don’t want her to be hearing this from every social worker she sees. Don’t get me wrong, I actually do feel that she is all of this and we do tell her on a daily basis, I just don’t want to tell her in every sentence. I feel that if she hears it as often as I am hearing it from others, she will start to believe it. Is this a responsible parenting technique? Should I be telling this little person that she has had such a sad, hard, unsafe life that she is brave just for breathing and smiling?
Obviously, I want her to be happy. I want her to play and laugh. I want her to know that we are there for her not just through words, but through actions and consistency. I want to give her boundaries; I want to give her options. I want her to be brave and grow into the wonderful child that I know she can be. I just don’t want her to feel like a victim. Yes, to date her life sucks, but let’s move through that and provide her with coping techniques that enable her to feel empowered, let’s give her strength regardless of her adversity, lets tell her what she can strive for, not hem her in with words of shame and sympathy. She can be strong, she can be brave and she is loved.
There is a huge push at the moment to change the laws to help children in care, with reports of excessive amounts of children in the system and famous celebrities giving their backing for foster care and adoption reform. I have been listening and watching this push for reform with half open ears. I didn’t really understand why there was a need for reform or even what the need was. Now I do. Children in care are not empowered; they are enabled to be victims.
I feel humbled and privileged that my life has been a blessing so far and I can only imagine the hardship these little people have to endure just to be alive. There are damaged kids out there, some having to experience the most horrific of lives. I know that these kids do need to be told they are safe, loved and worthy. I merely wonder if the mentality of the system is damaging them further.