SOME KIDS JUST CAN'T BE HELPED (LINKEDIN ARTICLE)
“So what is it you do?” my friend’s cousin asked me over a plate of tzatziki.
I told her I worked in foster care recruitment, and the comment that followed has become sadly familiar and never fails to make my heart race.
“Oh yeah. Ben and I once thought about fostering kids, we discussed it and - well you'd know… there are just some kids you can’t take care of. We have a six year old boy and we can’t let kids like that into our house. I mean, some kids, they can't be helped. It’s in their DNA.” She said confidently.
Whenever I tell people that I work in foster care, I often get some version of this response. It’s usually said in a low voice, full of regret but with a shrug of the shoulders, “That’s just the way it is.”
I think I understand why. Talking about foster care makes people feel like they should explain themselves. But they don’t need to. Not everyone can be a foster carer. That's okay. This isn’t buying a new pot plant, it’s a commitment. I've seen people take years just to decide on a haircut, so I don't expect everyone to sign up to foster care.
But what makes my blood pressure rise is when someone writes off an entire group of kids in order to justify their choices. There’s nothing wrong with not becoming a foster carer; but there is something wrong with blaming the foster kids for that choice.
The idea that are some children are too damaged, born bad or in some way irredeemable and cannot be cared for is unfair and just plain wrong.
I already know what you’re thinking.
You’re picturing a nine-year-old who tortures pets and end up in juvenile detention, bullies who beat up kids and throw bricks through windows. You’re picturing a thirteen year old girl with a cigarette in her mouth, trying to figure out how she can steal a pregnancy test from the chemist.
Those kids exist. But not in the numbers that many people imagine and most importantly, not permanently.
I was a truly awful teenager. I had a traumatic experience and rapidly became angry, rebellious, intractable and constantly absconded from school. If I had lost my parents, there’s no way anyone else would have wanted to take care of me. I wouldn't have taken care of me, I was horrible.
And if I’d been judged based on the way I was at 13 years old, I would never have grown up at all.
But I was lucky enough to have parents who forgave me for my (many) mistakes, expected better out of my behaviour and did the thankless, tedious, daily work of teaching me about boundaries and consequences, just so I could wear terrible eye makeup and skip every single P.E. class in high school.
It took me a few years before I learned not just the how of behaving, but the why. I learned that working hard at school was investing in myself, that doing my own laundry showed maturity to take on more independence and that taking responsibility for my actions meant gaining more freedom.
There’s no way I could have learned that on my own.
And more important than that, having grown-ups care for me when I was at my worst taught me that I was worth investing in, I was valuable, loveable. If 13-year-old, chain-smoking, moody me was valuable, then I learned that everyone else was valuable too.
Isn't that how we want young people to think?
If you don’t want to be a foster carer, that’s okay. But when you talk about foster kids, don’t write them off, because every child is just one caring adult away from being a success story.