Swimming Against the Current

Your mom and dad made you. They brought you into this world. They love you.

But even though mom and dad love you, they hurt you sometimes. Sometimes they use their hands – other times, their words. Sometimes you are not fed. Sometimes they don’t come home. You know that something isn’t right, and that being a kid shouldn’t hurt this much – but no one says or does anything.

Then someone comes to see you at school – they tell you they work with kids and that their job is to keep kids safe. They are a social worker. You tell them how sometimes mom and dad hurt you – and that it makes you sad.

That night, the social worker comes to your home and says something to mom and dad. Mom and dad are crying and you are asked to pack a bag with your favourite things. You bring some clothes, and your favourite toy. The social worker places you in a foster home. They say mom and dad need to work on grown up stuff and that you will be back home soon. You will remember that night forever. It will get stored in a jar with your nightmares and worst fears.

You are now a child in the foster care system. You are now a part of a system that although, tries its best to do a very difficult job, fails kids all the time – but it won’t fail you. You are resilient. You now swim against the current.

Your swim continued the night you got placed into care. The difficulty of your swim is based on who’s home you got brought to. Is it a foster parent who is engaged and committed to the work? Or is it someone who will meet the basic needs of housing and food? Is it someone who will give you hugs before bed after your life was turned upside down? Or someone who maybe doesn’t have their heart in it anymore? If it is the first, your swim will be a little less upstream. If it is the second, swim harder.

Your social worker has a lot of other kids on her case load. They try their best, but sometimes they just can’t get around to everything. But you don’t understand that, because your social worker is your voice. They advocate for you – they make sure your needs are met. Is your worker someone who is committed and is a strong advocate? Or is it someone who is the opposite? If it is the first, you’re swim is a little less jagged. If it is the second, swim harder.

Lately you have been having behaviours at school. You are upset and angry and sometimes sad and lonely.  You wish that someone would just talk to you. You miss your family. The school calls your worker. They don’t have enough resources, they ask about transferring you to another school. Your school may work with your worker to keep you enrolled and engaged in school or, you may get bumped from school to school, and your idea of what school is may begin to invoke feelings of rejection. If it is the first, your swim is less windy. If it is the second, swim HARDER!

Sometimes your anger or sadness comes out in your foster home. You have feelings that feel much bigger than you. You don’t know what to do with them. Your foster parent may be able to cope and may have good supports to do so. They may be able to hold on to you when you push away the hardest – even though sometimes it is exhausting for them. Or, your foster parent may request you to be moved. If it is the first, your swim is a little less rocky. If it is the second, SWIM HARDER!

***

This story continues. It continues for every child and youth in care. Every day, children and youth in care fight to have a life where their arms are not tired from swimming. We are all a piece in helping these swimmers succeed.

Parents

Teachers

Foster parents

Community members

Social workers

If any of these systems fail – there is a chain reaction that effects the life of these children forever. Yet knowing that, it is all too common for these systems forget to talk to one another, to work together and to take joint accountability and responsibility for the lives of these children.

I do not know how to effectively fix this consequential issue on a macro level. However, I do know that no child or youth should be forced to swim against the current depending on what parent, worker, foster parent or teacher they are paired with at the crucial moments in their lives.

It is 2016. THOUSANDS of children and youth are described in this creative writing piece.

Only its not creative. These are real situations these children and youth face after entering the foster care system.

They become the children who may be protected from abuse, who are then not wanted by foster homes or schools and who can get moved from place to place or fall through the cracks based on the luck of the draw. Then the community wonders why so few children and youth in care graduate school, develop addictions, or end their lives when their arms get tired of swimming.

Those who make it – are fucking rock stars!

But they should ALL make it!

Children and youth in care deserve better than what our systems offer them.

We have GOT to do better.

How much research, trainings and government directives do we need for our community and systems to do a basic thing?

Love and nurture a child.

Photo link: thomasumstattd.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/drowding-boy.jpg

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