The View From Here – Children in care must be provided full membership in their communities

Tom Henihan
“It’s Our Right to Belong,” was the theme of National Child Day, November 20, 2016.

The premise, as described to me by a child and family worker, was aimed at reassuring children that they belong in their communities.

The concept is also aimed at creating awareness in children that they have a fundamental right to a home, food, the right to play with their friends, have fun and be safe.

The sentiment of the National Child Day theme is admirable and proper. However, that assertion is not necessarily true for those who most need that sense of belonging.

The reality is that children belong to a community if they already belong to a stable family in a secure home.

Like most everything else in this world, those with the least get the least, except when it comes to neglect and adversity.

Children without the representation of parents and family have no influence or autonomy to assert their right to belong in the community.

It is the responsibility of those charged with the care of these children to ensure that they have membership in the community.

One of the most egregious systems in our society in this regard is foster care.

The problem with foster care is that as soon as the foster parent decides they cannot or will not look after a child anymore, Child and Family
Services are called and the child is moved, usually to a different community and often to a different town or city.

Under this system, the child loses his or her home, school, friends, teachers and others with whom the child has established relationships.

The child also loses all affiliation and sense of fraternity through church, sports teams, even the store they regularly run into for candy.

All the coordinates of their young lives are swept away when a child is moved from one home to another.

What child can possibly mature into a secure individual when growing up in such vulnerable and fleeting circumstances?

What adult can possess a strong sense of citizenship when as a child they never experienced the sense of terra firma that neighbourhood, hometown, school, church, clubs and so on provide?

How can one become a citizen without first being a member of a community?

Ideally, it would be best to have a system where children have security of tenure and those caring for them, if needs be, are the ones to move on.

This way, children maintain a solid foundation in school, with friends, teachers and their “siblings” with whom they share a home and don’t lose everything at the whim of those looking after them.

This is not an indictment of foster parents or people who work in the child welfare system but it is a criticism of the system itself.

If people, such as those who coordinate National Child Day, are serious about all children having an inherent right to full membership in society, instead of making assertions that are clearly without foundation, they should mobilize to correct the circumstances of children who are by any reasonable definition, completely disenfranchised.

For children in foster care or for many adults who have come through that system, to hear people say “It’s Our Right to Belong,” must sound cynical, uncaring, and completely out of touch.

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