Charlie moved into his first foster home at the age of five. His mother, diagnosed with schizophrenia, had told her friends that God sent her a message to kill Charlie as an act of Abraham-like faith. The friend called child protective services and Charlie came into care so his mother could get the inpatient treatment she needed.
Charlie, who had experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of his mother for five years was traumatized. He was very hard to control behaviorally, as he had never been raised in structure or with rules. All he knew was the chaos and madness of his mother’s home. Good hearted foster parents tried to help him to feel safe and loved. But one by one, when his behavior became too much, they gave up. And he moved.
At age 8, he was placed on psychotropic medication. And it didn’t work.
At age 12, as he sat on his bed in the residential facility, he told his room mate he wanted to die. The room mate told the counselor and Charlie was hospitalized.
Like his mother
But Charlie wasn’t mentally ill like we tend to define it. He was traumatized…still…By his mother’s delusional abuse…By moving in and out of 5 foster care homes and 2 group homes in 7 years…By the system.
There is an anonymous quote that goes like this, “If you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting what you have always gotten”. Such a simple silly statement that makes us smile and nod to each other. But the undeniable truth in that statement is profound and demonstrated in every aspect of life. People can become caught up in a behavioral loop, not unlike the movie “groundhog day” where they continue to repeat the same actions, same mistakes over and over without an escape plan. For example: People who over-eat or over drink when they are upsets or stressed, can become trapped by the stress-relief-guilt-stress-relief-guilt loop. Under the same premise, Children who grow up in a pattern of abuse and neglect tend to recreate those patterns when they are adults if no one intervenes to stop the cycle. It often requires outside intervention to help them break the patterns.
Agencies can also get trapped in a loop of unhealthy practices that slow down their ability to achieve the outcomes that are in their mission statements. The interesting thing is that like the stress eater, unless they come to the realization of the loop by themselves or by an intervening party, they are often not even aware of the connection.
Hence the analogy of doing the same thing and getting the same results.
The mantra to the complacent is: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix It!
How does this relate to Social Work? The current practice of Child Welfare , while carried out out by selfless, committed staff, has become complacent. Complacency is, according to the dictionary, a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievement. The danger of complacency is that when you think you are doing “good enough,” you often are not. Familiarity breeds complacency. And complacency breeds stagnation.
The number of children in Foster Care in the United States continues to rise every year. Many people think that foster care is a good thing because it is a refuge for children who were living in unsafe conditions. Foster Care is safe. Foster Care is a good way to grow up.
There could be nothing further from the truth.
Foster Care is an unnatural living arrangement where children are removed from their parents and placed in a stranger’s home for one night to 20 years. Yes, some children are actually raised their entire life in a series of out of home placements. The system is designed, with strong committment to the welfare and permanency of children, but it is broken..
It is broken because we are not looking at how we can help the Charlie’s of the world before he gives up on life. There needs to be so much more attention, creativity and resources pouring into the family preservation programs that could have assessed and created a unique plan for Charlie to protect him from abuse and neglect while allowing him to live with his mother after her inpatient stay. It would be intensive and it would cost a lot of money, but isn’t Charlie worth it?
Self Assessment and Change are the antidote to complacency. I call out to every Child Welfare agency, every Law Maker and every politician who appropriates funds. Child Welfare in America is broken. You must fix it.
Because…Turning a blind eye to a multigenerational population of men, women and children who have been and are being abused and neglected will yield devastating results to the overall health, safety and well being of all. Sweeping Trauma under the rug will just create a false sense of accomplishment. If you think it doesn’t touch you, remember this…Hurt people hurt people. By not focusing on trauma based interventions, we enable the cycle to continue and the hurt people multiply exponentially. We have to ask ourselves, if we don’t fix it, who will.