Child Protection: Who are we protecting? – Community Conversation

I have been a foster carer for over fourteen years. In that time I have given much thought to the system we have for protecting our children.

I began fostering because I desperately wanted to care for children and could not have my own. Apparently I said to my ex, we foster together or I foster alone. I’ve been on my own with the kids now for ten years. Says it all really.

I wanted to be of help to families who were unable to stay together. I realised it would be difficult and as I had been a youth worker and housing worker, I had some idea of how difficult. What I didn’t know people have written books about.

Fostering has been the most challenging and affirming thing I have done in my life. I am done now. I simply cannot continue in a system where children are treated as possessions and parents have to measure up to an invisible standard. All parents know about the invisible standards, those we don’t know we’ve crossed until we’ve crossed them. All parents feel at some time that they don’t make the grade, they don’t know what to do and they are not going to make it. As a carer, add to that dealing with a government department, a community-based foster agency, the natural birth parents, access and a child traumatised by removal (at least) and you need to be a self-assured, self-confident, self-certain human being.

Human beings just aren’t like that. There are accusations and investigations, there are accreditations and ongoing training. There is dealing day in and out with a child who is most likely exhibiting traumatised behaviour. There is never being considered a professional in the care of that child. There is financial reimbursement that somehow never makes up the cost of having said child not to mention the toll physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.

I did say that it was also the most affirming thing I have done too, didn’t I? It has been. I can raise children. I raise strong happy children. When the conditions are right, I can foster natural parents’ relationships with those children and include them in my family. I have done really well in getting fostered children through school, which is not common, and have them complete successfully. I have gone onto have adult relationships with those children. I have done well.

It just about broke me, in every way. The thing I question here though is why do we do it? I have worked in family support and community development most of my working life. I have seen this from more than one side. I have seen parents, whose children have been removed for whatever infraction, be allocated family support and with that support meet all the obligations and hoops the government demands and get their children back! Most parents however do not receive family support to assist them through the terrible process of proving they are adequate parents (and let’s face it most of us are just adequate) and become demoralised and defeated. They give up. I don’t blame them. There are a myriad complexities that got them into the situation in the first place. There is double that to get them out.

I agree that if a child is in danger (like Youngest Daughter who was failing to thrive with her addict mother) they need to be removed to a place of safety. However why is the natural parent not allocated a worker to assist them? How does someone already struggling, navigate the tangled web of the courts? Would our children be better off staying with their family with appropriate support to ensure their health and wellbeing? Would this help develop resilient children?

I was not removed from my adoptive family. They were violent and found pedophiles for everyone. I did tell someone when I was seven and got branded a liar. It was a nightmare growing up with them but you know what? I survived it. I more than survived it. Despite it all I am resilient and determined to have my life be as I choose. Yes, it would have been wonderful to have a support worker calling my parents to account and working alongside them to do better. How much better could life have been? No-one came and I had to rescue myself. And I did.

The investment required to support parents and travel with them on their journey to be a family again is worthwhile making. No matter how bad it was at home, most children would rather be there. So, why don’t we do that? Why don’t we become the villages our children need?

Quaker Yearly Meeting: A Musing

Here I am at Australian Quakers Yearly Meeting on a hot humid January day. I have been a Quaker (Religious Society of Friends, ) for many years but have been unable to worship with everyone for the last five. We moved to the bush and the Meeting for Worship closest to us closed. There weren’t enough of us. (This is a Quaker joke.)

There are not many Quakers in the world yet there has been a disproportionate impact by Quakers, historically, on some of the most contraversial issues. Hundreds of years ago, it was about women and children in the same prisons as men. Then about children being imprisoned as if they were adults. Primarily about peace, focus grew on the plight of slaves and Quakers were keen proponents against slavery. In Australia there has been a commitment to the rights of Indigenous People and to wherever people are vulnerable and downtrodden, for example with Asylum Seekers and Refugees. (Hmm, I’ve always disliked random capitals but find myself using them where I am passionate.) Quakers have been involved in peace movements world wide and while a small yet passionate group, we are committed to equality (including same sex marriage).

Quakers have a lot of quotes that are used to consider concerns and to inspire.  My favourite is to “let your life speak” and “walk softly over the world greeting that of God in everyone” or to “live life adventurously”. They are my favourites, they “speak” to me as we say. There are many more. In fact, Quakers love writing and talking and talking and …

Ironically, Australian Meetings for Worship are predominantly silent. If someone is moved to speak they may do so and keep it short. Each statement, whether in Meeting for Worship or Meeting for Business for Worship (I know), each statement must be greeted with silence to let the thought settle, rather than immediate agreement or rebuttal. I like silence. I like this practice. Quaker practices evolved in response to the compromise of church and it’s relationship with the aristocracy hundreds of years ago, when people wanted a direct relationship with God. We take this for granted now. But then, it was radical.

While the Religious Society of Friends grew out of Christianity, many Quakers are not Christian. Many are and just as many are Buddhists, Agnostics, Mystics or Atheists. That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? We talk of the Light within and that all living things are lit from within by the Light (of God). The evidence you find for your faith as a Quaker is yours. We may debate, we may discuss, we may write about it or talk, talk, talk but the principles that Quakers share are about Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Earth and Equality. Spicee! Gotta like that. There are Committees for everything.

It’s been many years since I was last at Yearly Meeting with hundreds of other Quakers. It’s going to be an intense week. For people who worship in silence, Quakers talk a lot. I’m quite looking forward to it. My challenge will be to not join any committees. I really would like a worshipping group close to home. For now I am going to enjoy seeing old F/friends and making new ones. I am going to enjoy worshipping together and going to the healing sessions. The past ten years have been really challenging, it will be good to hold it in the Light.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Christmas Survival: How to enjoy your Christmas when it’s unrecognisable.

Each year our Christmas has been a little different. I don’t have a lot of family close and don’t cope particularly well with the large Christmas gatherings that some families have. My little family has consisted over the years of the children I have fostered and their birth parents and whatever friends or family want to join in. I invite people a lot.

Not everyone copes well with Christmas as we know. For me it has to do with my expectations of Christmas as a family day. My adoptive parents did their best to make it wonderful, with Santa Sacks on the end of the bed (I never questioned why Santa wrapped everything in newspaper or even noticed that he had our local paper) for unwrapping at an ungodly hour, re-wrapping and unwrapping again on the Parents’ bed at a timely hour. This was probably the very best part of Christmas, when they were barely awake and before the squabbling started.

Then there would be breakfast, rushing off to Church where we were always late and consequently had to sit in the front row. This gave me an uninterrupted view of the congregation which was educational in itself. Listening to the interminable sermon before talking with all the kids about what was in the sack. I don’t remember anyone not having a sack or admitting it if they did not. Returning home for Christmas lunch and tree gifts was fraught. The order of handing out always resulted in a battle. I don’t remember it every going smoothly. As a child I had little understanding of the stress my mother was under to get everything ready. I’d much rather disappear and read a book.

My parents also asked lots of people for Christmas. At times it was confusing. I have a range of images of different people in my memory, most of whom were acquaintances, not family. It made for a merry and loud Christmas lunch.
Over the years Christmas has evolved. Children meant the enjoyment of Santa sacks and watching their amazement. In my home, it was a family event to watch the unwrapping and celebrate each surprise uncovered. Youngest Daughter describes it as exciting and awesome, full of joy, food, full tummies, happiness, cheerful, that’s what it was like. First Santa sacks would be opened, then we would have breakfast which the kids made, then when everyone got here we did the presents.

“Everyone” refers to their birth parents who were always included in our celebratory days. One year, when Kevin Rudd gave the bonus $900, there was an ridiculous landslide of gifts. It was overwhelming. The best thing about that day was that both birth mothers were well and happy and really contributed to the day. It was the best we had. Sadly, once has since died from her addictions and the other has succumbed to extremely poor mental health. My ex foster son has left home and entered a twilight zone of the “world done me wrong” song and has cut himself off. My Eldest Daughter is busy with her husband’s families on Christmas day so I have them and my grandson on Boxing Day. That works out well.

Funniest memory for me was my ex foster son finding moustaches in his Santa sack and delightedly trying them all on. I figured it would save me from drawing them daily. Another is Youngest Daughter finding a bright yellow hand bag from Nan Nan (my adoptive mother) and hugging it to her in ecstatic delight, and Eldest Daughter’s shy pleasure at still getting a Santa stocking when she had thought she was too old for it. Most of my glad memories are about their pleasure and playing.

This year my Mum (birth mother) joined us and my brother (adopted) came later. We were the smallest group I have ever had. Because of the changes, Youngest Daughter did not want to put up the Christmas tree. The small fibre optic tree was still pretty. I found it a peaceful day, full of mixed emotions and sad at times but peaceful.

With that, I am content.