Today I was having a chat with someone I don’t really know well and the subject of fostering came up. I learnt quite quickly that she held very strong views about what she termed ‘parents rights’ to have their children back in their care. For anyone who knows me well or reads my blog, I too have strong views but at the other end of the spectrum. I chose quickly to be quiet and just listen to why she felt so strongly. I sat in non-judgement & curiosity while she quite strongly judged a mother she was aware of who had her young daughter restored into her care but she was very worried about how both mum and the young girl were doing. Her judgement was really masking her concern for this little girl who she saw in community often.
I understand the strong emotions she was feeling and acknowledged it must have been difficult to see the little girl not doing so well. I went on to explain it is very difficult to ever comment with confidence on any situation without more information but did help her understand the expectations for restoration, that Independent Children’s Lawyers scrutinise any application to ensure in the best interest of the child and that ultimately the decision to restore is made based on significant evidence.
I felt that it was worth sharing with her that the key reasons children enter in care is often because the parent/s struggle to care for themselves first. I flagged some of the key reasons such as intergenerational disadvantage, domestic violence, poverty and untreated mental health that lead to children entering care. Of course, it would be remiss of me not to note that not so long ago, children were entering care at alarming rates without adequate support being provided to the parent/s to support preserving families together.
I also flagged the significant trauma caused to both parent and child when the decision is made to ‘remove’ or ‘assume’ into out-of-home-care (whilst balancing this alongside the importance of safety for children).
By the end of our conversation, there was a shared agreement that there was likely a lot of information neither of us knew and that it is likely that there was an agency/department still involved and supporting them both.
I do also worry that children in care are often stigmatised in so many ways. This makes me so sad as it is just another label/layer of complexity faced for a child who has often already experienced more challenges than most of their peers. I will look at this in more detail in a future blog as children in care really do have a lot of stereotypes and bias to contend with.
I also acknowledge that foster families are also subject to judgement by others. This topic will also be addressed in a separate blog as this gets in the way of foster carer recruitment as well.
I too struggle at times with my own judgement of others. I struggle to find compassion for people that use emotional and physical violence to control others. I sometimes find my mind wandering to judgement in certain situations and have to consciously bring myself back from that space. It is about training our brains to think a bit differently. By reminding myself of the equation below, I get back on track:
Judgement leads to shame which moves us all further from understanding and healing
If you have read this far, then I hope you too can use your own power to help shift perceptions about birth parents, families and children in care.
If you find yourself sitting in judgement, which may feel justified particularly if you see some form of harm caused to a child you care for, instead of sitting in judgement, try:
- Activating your compassion, empathy or sympathy (whichever sits best with you)
- Challenging your own bias/assumptions
- Being more gentle towards yourself (often when we are sitting in judgement of others, we are also sitting in strong judgement of ourselves)
- Considering all the information you possibly do not know about that person/situation that may explain it more.