Sunday, July 15, 2007

BlogHers ACT Canada!

Imagine, if you will, that you are a child and have lived your life in fear. You fear the harsh, angry words. You fear the feelings of worthlessness. You fear the neglect. You fear the violence that is part of your life. Perhaps you are one of the luckier ones - if you can be called that - perhaps your bruises are only emotional. Perhaps you aren't as lucky, perhaps you are the last one to change after gym, hiding the bruises from the other children. And perhaps you are one of the children who "make the news", your story so horrific that you serve as a brief reminder to those who live their lives outside the shadow of violence of the dark side of humanity.

Then a hand reaches out and pulls you out of the darkness. Society has stepped in and given you the protection you need - the protection you deserve. And after the turmoil, it should be a time where finally you can feel safe, where you can heal, where you can start to trust again. But now the true betrayal begins, because now you have entered The System.

For if you are out of infancy, your odds of a permanent home are very slim. Instead you face a life of little to no consistency. There will be very little love and attention. You will, in all likelihood, be shuffled from home to home to home. Chances are your home is no home at all, but instead are a group facility filled with 6-8 other children, rotating in on a weekly or monthly basis. Even should you be lucky enough to find a loving and caring family, to whom you grow attached, at any time you may be moved as your "bed" may be required for another, more desperate child. Your foster parents and social workers (all overworked with too-heavy case loads) change frequently, each one taking time to acquaint themselves with your file, and through each staffing change you fall a little further into the crack.

If you entered The System as a teenager, or have been shuffled around and are now approaching your teenage years, you will be prepared for Independent Living. Beds in foster and group homes are expensive, and in short supply, so you will be "prepared" for life on your own when you are between 16-18 years of age. It is far cheaper, you see, to give you a cheque for $750 a month to live in an apartment on your own, than to pay for your room, board and the caregivers who watch over you in a group facility. But this only lasts until you turn 21 - then you are cut off for good, regardless of whether or not you are still in school (assuming, that is, that you've managed to stay in school and have found the money to attend college or university).

The isolation from other kids - after all you are different when you are a kid in care. The stigma and prejudice that you experience - from other children, from other children's parents, from teachers. The low expectations that society has of you, being a child in care. The lack of everyday emotional support. Even the lack of touch - a hug on a bad day. Someone to hold your hand when you are sick.
All this, and I've barely scratched the surface of the myriad challenges you will have to navigate as a child in care.

So what does all this really mean? How does this relate to the other issues that Canadian bloggers feel we need to act on, issues such as Aboriginal rights, child poverty, children's mental health, child abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, teen/single moms?
  • Aboriginal children, in places where metrics are kept or disclosed, make up a disproportionate percentage of the children in care (38-68%). There is not currently enough communication and co-operation between the Children's Aid Societies and the Aboriginal communities to meet the needs of Aboriginal children in care
  • teens who are moved into Independent Living programs are kept in a state of government condoned poverty (rates vary across Children's Aid Societies), but most children find that they must work at least one job (and often more) to meet their basic needs
  • many former children in care who are transitioned into the Independent Living program end up homeless, through lack of preparedness, lack of support and lack of funds once they move out
  • a disproportionate number of teens in care go on to become teen mothers
  • with little to no support, and a lack of good family role models, many former children in care go on to repeat the cycle of violence, entering into violent relationships and in turn abusing their children, who later end up in care
It is my fervent wish that we could stamp out child abuse entirely. However, until that time, children deserve a safe, healthy, loving, normal environment where they can grow up. It is an understatement to say that The System, in its current form, requires massive improvement and change. I challenge everyone to come forth and to force change on this issue - to act on behalf of those who can not speak for themselves and to make a difference in the lives of children who desperately need it. Judy Finlay, the Chief Advocate for Children, has taken the first step by address many of these issues in her 2007 report. Now it's time for us to challenge our lawmakers to make the changes that are necessary and required.

This post is part of the BlogHers Act Canada initiative. My apologies for its long-windedness, but this is a topic close to my heart, that I am passionate about.

You can read Judy Finlay's (the Chief Advocate for Children) fantastic June 2007 report on the issues facing children in care, here. You can read more about the issues facing children in care in the National Children's Alliance 2003 report.


Mama Karma (Sandra) said...

Fantastic post! Thanks for sharing this, it touches many of the issues we are looking at and is so well presented. I'll add it to the list now.

kgirl said...

A sad, important post.

And, welcome!

Her Bad Mother said...

A beautiful, beautiful post about a terrible problem. THANK YOU.


BLITHELY BABBLING © 2008. Chaotic Soul :: Converted by Randomness