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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.

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?


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