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As a former foster child, my passion is advocating for and with foster care youth, publicizing the challenges that they face and addressing their developmental and emotional needs through workshops.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I Speak for This Child: True Stories of A Child Advocate by Gayle Cortier.

Before being accepted into the Guardian ad Litem training program, Gayle Courtier and her classmates submitted applications and references, and were subject to thorough background checks.

In their classes:
-An attorney shared an outline of dependency law.
-A psychologist outlined the milestones of child development, cycles of abuse, and the issues of attachment, separation, loss and permanency.
-A presentor used slides and films to cover the topics of physical and sexual abuse.
-A representative from the rehabilitation department explained their services.
-A seasoned Guardian ad Litem shared her personal experiences.

But it was by working as a guardian that Gayle received her true education:
-Seeing HRS separate teenage siblings, with no attempts to keep them together.
-Seeing a healthy teenage boy discriminated against because he came from a "tainted"family.
-Watching HRS place that teenage boy in an authoritarian home with military-style rules that were in direct opposition to the laissez-faire environment of his childhood.

In her role as Guardian ad Litem, Gayle serves as a voice for foster children. Fortunately, she is perceptive enough to recognize the needs of the children whose lives she is entrusted with, and courageous enough to fight for what they desire. She also maintains a teachable spirit, and is willing to learn new things, such as the predictable levels of adjustment that children go through at each new placement.

When displaced children enter a new placement, they typically experience a "honeymoon," wherein they try to understand the rules, structure and latitude of their new living situation. During this time, the child merely watches and conforms. When a child (or teenager) becomes more comfortable, limit-testing might take place.

Too often, foster placements collapse when a child enters the stage of resistance:
1.) A caregiver gets involved in a power struggle with the child.
2. ) A cycle of conflict ensues .
3.) The foster parent or institution rejects the child.
4.) The child (or teenager) is sent to a new placement.
5.) The cycle starts again.

The truly sad aspect to this cycle is that, if a foster placement or institution is willing to weather the resistance period, that stage is followed by 'beginning trust and achievement.'

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Jamaica and Me: The Story of An Unusual Friendship by Linda Atkins

The memoir begins with Jamaica's first appearance, as an apparition darting in and out of subway tunnels. At first, she is mistakenly thought to be a dog or the shadow of a rat.

The police discover that Jamaica is no animal, just a homeless, abandoned little girl. Her mother, a prostitute, is AWOL. She has no recollection of her father. Therein begins a series of foster and institutional placements.

Linda Atkins first meets Jamaica while volunteering at the welfare hospital. The two of them develop a friendship. It is with Linda that Jamaica rides her first bike, celebrates her first birthday (they invent a date) and experiences her first glimpse of unconditional love.

Linda's requests that she be notified when Jamaica is moved from one placement to another are repeatedly ignored. "Jamaica had been sent away from her precarious home, with a strange man she had never seen, to begin life in a totally foreign place once again. It seemed impossible to persuade anyone of the importance of watching over her."

Not surprisingly, Jamaice develops a pattern of acting out physically and shutting down emotionally at each new placement. This creates a domino effect, since her behavior quickly alienates staff members.

When Linda Atkins tracks Jamaica down, in placement after placement, and comes to visit her, staff express their negative opinions of Jamaica. They make judgmental remarks and dire prophecies in Jamaica's presence:

"It was as though the fact that she was not loved made her unlovable, that no mother cared about her seemed to invite callous disregard. Everything that had been done to her somehow seemed to make her unworthy of tenderness. Jamaica had been marked as untouchable; people did not identify with her or feel compassion for her."

As the reader, I felt a great deal of compassion for Jamaica. I put the book down after finishing it, and was filled with the desire to know what happened to her.

Linda Atkin's experiences validated my belief that every foster child deserves to have one stable, permanent person in their life. This person should be allowed to maintain contact with the child, wherever the child is placed.

How can a child develop attachment when all of their emotional attachments are transitory?