You are essential.
You matter to someone.
And to that someone, you are the most essential person in the world.
Think about it. What does it mean to be essential?
Essential means: Absolutely Necessary.
And when someone is absolutely necessary, shouldn’t we do everything we can to keep them around? Looking around at our own lives, who has been essential to us?
Teachers are absolutely necessary for shaping the minds of their students and helping each child to find the best path in which to grow.
Ministers are absolutely necessary to the believers who flock to them in times of crisis for a word of wisdom, a calming voice to remind them of why they believe.
Doctors and Nurses are absolutely necessary to treat the health issues that plague the sick.
Farmers and Merchants are absolutely necessary to produce the food and other basic living essentials we need for survival.
Therapists and Social Workers are absolutely necessary to listen to the fears of those who feel unsafe, anxious or angry at the world and help them find a healthier way to express those feelings.
We are all absolutely necessary to someone. So hear me when I proclaim this.
Parents are absolutely necessary in the eyes of their children.
But what about the Bad Parents?
Even those who could be labeled as ” Bad Parents”. You know the ones. Those who use drugs, cause domestic disturbances, or abuse their children. In our eyes, they should be punished and never be allowed to parent a child again. But, in the eyes of their children, they are essential.
I have found that even children who come from hard places, still carry within their hearts a love for their parents and a deep abiding hope that the bad things will stop. Children do not want to be hurt, but their very identity has been built on the belief that they belong with their family.
And we, in an effort to save them sometimes forget that. They are, instead, removed from the only “nest” they have ever known, and placed in a “foreign” neighborhood, with people they have never previously met. It can be terrifying. It can be traumatizing.
I read an article on childhood trauma from the Children’s Gateway that said 1 in 4 children placed in foster care develop some form of PTSD. And there are other studies that bear out the fact that children who remain in dysfunctional homes (if arrangements are made where they can remain safe) fare much better mentally and emotionally than those placed in foster care.
Now you may think, “Why is someone who administers a foster care program, talking smack about foster care?” Good question. I am not blaming foster care. I find that the problem comes when we disregard the essential value of family PRIOR to a child going into foster care.
If you have read my prior blogs, you will know that I think foster parents are true heroes. In fact, the families that dedicate themselves to caring for children in the custody of state child welfare agencies ARE ESSENTIAL. They are essential to helping the child who has lost his sense of security, of belonging, and of identity to heal. Did you know that almost 80% of children who are adopted after the rights of their parents are terminated for abuse/neglect are adopted by foster parents? No, the problem is not with those who make sacrifices every day for a child from hard places. In my opinion, the break-down occurs with the initial entry into care in the first place. Fortunately, I am not alone in my opinion. A movement has been underway for a couple of years to encourage states to re-think the removal of children as the first line of defense against child abuse.
Families First Legislation hopes to address that disconnect between keeping children safe and keeping them with their families. States are being mandated to look at the damage that congregate care brings to a traumatized child. As it is being implemented across the US its success will depend heavily on the states who are administrating it. Legislators who allocate money and State leaders who distribute the money hold the keys to creating opportunities of safe placement with family. By focusing on removal and liability, little effort was made to creatively carve innovative services with the essential family unit. But by allocating money, time, staff and innovation, services directed at family preservation rather than family removal will be the first thought of every child welfare worker.
Family Preservation can take many forms.:
Paying a relative to take care of the child while the parent receives mental health treatment
Allowing a parent to live with their child in the home of a relative together
Creating more substance abuse shelters that allow children to remain with their parents
There are so…so…many ways to innovate safety and family preservation.
And it all starts with one simple belief: Parents are essential to the healthy development of their children. If we truly believe that, we would stop at nothing to think outside of the box for ways to keep kids safely where they belong.