Front and center in the news right now is the decision by BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development to remove a three-year old from the Metis foster family she’s been raised in since she was two days old, and their future plan to send her to an adoptive, non-Metis, home in Ontario where she will live with two older siblings she’s never met.
With this plan—revised again today—which has reportedly been in the works for quite some time, held back by a series of court contests by the foster family, all supported by the child’s biological parents and the BC Metis Federation, the family was forced to surrender the child to the MCFD on Sunday to prepare her for ‘transition.’
Of an update e-mail sent this week to this foster family by the Ministry, an ‘itinerary of transition,’ the mother said she can barely contain her anger:
“You move a child from a secure attachment when they’re three years old and they are set up for lifelong trauma and attachment difficulties. So for them to just be glossing this over like it’s a big party and we’re all going to be happy about it, we can’t accept that. Because we know it’s not going to be good for her.”
And that is the truth. And this apathy toward the well-being of children in care by a Ministry, a guardian, whose ‘primary focus is to support vulnerable children and their families using a client-centered approach…to achieve meaningful outcomes,’ is systemic, ineffective and irreparably damaging.
This child is loved, safe, cared for and desperately wanted. She has what so many in care, tragically lack: Leave her alone.
BC Metis Federation president Keith Henry likens this situation to the 60s Scoop, and, perhaps for slightly different reasons, I agree.
While the majority of focus in this case has been the child’s Metis culture and the fact that she is to be adopted by a non-Metis family, with respect, I find deep concern with another fact that relates to every child of every culture: primarily, ‘lifelong trauma and attachment difficulties’ and the severance of connection exercised upon children in the care of MCFD.
For less than a moment of time, I worked in the MCFD system.
Nearly three years ago I was hired by an agency, contracted by MCFD, to coordinate a group home for at risk youth. I lasted three months and chose to resign at the end of my probation period—an act done to save my soul, which still feels a selfish and cowardly way out today.
And it was. My soul wasn’t saved; in fact, it will never be the same. Still, I justify having left by telling myself I could not, with good conscience, be a part of a system which I often imagined to be far more negligent than the place most of these youth, children really, were seized or surrendered from.
Hope did not live there, did not exist; only chaos and anger and hatred, along with great despair and intense suffering.
All this time later, this is the image that haunts me: It’s 6:30 AM and a boy lays cuddled up on a black leather sofa, wrapped in a colourful granny square afghan, watching a movie. He is watching me just as closely, as I sit, eyes forward, restraining myself, on a matching loveseat beside him.
Only minutes before, I arrived at work three hours early, because as is the case there is a continuous shortage of staff and qualified applicants for the underpaid position of Youth Care Worker. As the coordinator, it was my role to step in and fill the many gaps.
Kevin, I’ll call him, has just returned from being AWOL overnight at a crack house he’s been frequenting for the past few weeks. He is under the influence of something, likely meth, is far from tired and asks me to watch a movie with him.
He’s just turned 14 and is small for his age, a tiny, child-like figure curled up with his blankie.
I am restrained because I am a mother, simply a human, and all I want to do is scoop up this child and lay him beside me and cradle his head in my lap. I want to stroke his hair and rub his back and tell him it’s OK, that everything will be fine, that he is much better than this road he’s been drawn down, that he is important, so smart and loved. I want him to believe there is hope.
And I am consumed with wonder as to when this child was last hugged by an adult who cared. Genuinely cared. A hug, so simple. Touched kindly, with honest love, by another human being. This and what damage the absence of this touch, of a simple human connection has done to this child; the effect it will have moving forward.
And it’s this thought, this vision, that haunts me today.
In the system of MCFD, he is lost. He is housed in this group home, like Rubbermaid tubs of crap are housed in my garage—placed on a shelf, neglected and forgotten.
In this group home, where he was “temporarily” placed until his social worker had time to find a “resource more age-appropriate,” he is somewhere, and because he is somewhere he is simply a number on his overburdened social worker’s, MCFD’s, list of stats.
About a year earlier, at 13, his mother dropped him off at a youth shelter, advising an intake worker that she couldn’t “take” him anymore. He was becoming increasingly angry and violent, had destroyed the inside of her home—holes punched in walls, doors, furniture thrown and broken. He was increasingly verbally abusive and she had to think about his younger brother, whose father she and he would be joining in a neighbouring province.
Kevin hates this man. In him he sees a drug abuser who is violent with his mother, and, while she has chosen this man and his brother over him, Kevin is instinctively protective towards her.
From the group home, he phones his mom relentlessly, uncountable times during the day. She rarely answers: Kevin no longer belongs in her life.
But everybody needs to belong somewhere—hence, the crack house. And because Kevin’s life in now guarded by a system that allows everything to be his choice—attending school, refusing counseling, refusing medication, abusing caregivers, neglecting house rules, hygiene, curfews, breaking the law—without immediate consequences, the pathway to learning life skills, the people like his revolving cast of Youth Care Workers, contractors who run ‘resources,’ overburdened social workers and Ministry staff, and myself, are rendered helpless, feeling as worthless and ineffectual in his life as the mop water we pour down the toilet.
“What can you do?” A phrase uttered with resignation, endlessly throughout everyday.
“What can you do?”
What you can do? Pray. And scream and yell and demand change. Make it right. Be there. Believe in someone, like Kevin, who has never been lent the opportunity or the tools to believe in himself.
And stand behind good people like a foster family on Vancouver Island who are far from cowards, and love so deeply that they’re willing to sacrifice their souls so a helpless three-year-old girl survives this moment and enjoys a future void of trauma, a bright future like her attachment to them will in turn lend her.
This child is loved, safe, cared for and desperately wanted. She has what so many in care, tragically lack: Leave her alone. Save this one life.
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