Kryptonite

My middle boy is about to turn 3. He can’t decide between a spider cake (?) and a butterfly cake (??). He wants a watch for his birthday. A Dora watch. He asks me the time about 5 million times a day so hopefully, the watch might take a bit of the pressure of the situation.

it's almost cow o'clock

it’s almost cow o’clock

He is a delight. It has been amazing to see him develop, taking on language so easily, singing songs at the top of his voice, enjoying having stories read to him, having meaningful but circular discussions about motorbikes and doing so many things that my oldest boy has struggled with or is yet to achieve.

Although some things have come easily to him, emotionally he faces many challenges. For many kids in care, this is their kryptonite. It makes them vulnerable. It makes them act out. It makes them seem immature for their age. It holds them back. It’s scary stuff.

I recently read an hilarious list from Jason Good about 46 Reasons My 3 Year Old Might Be Freaking Out. It made me feel a bit better to see that some regular kid is freaking out because the inside of his nose smells bad or his hair is too heavy. But when a child experiences trauma, the freaking out comes from a very deep place. So deep, it has a Latin name – the amygdala.

This little corner of our grey matter is like an obsessive gatekeeper with an incredible memory for detail. It processes our experiences, emotions and memories and tells them where to go in no uncertain terms. When our experiences generate a fearful response our amygdala is telling us to freeze, fight or fly, based on the things we have learned about life.

the amygdala at workimage credit: Dan Butenko

the amygdala at work
image credit: Dan Butenko

We do all this from the get go. Little babies learn very quickly how to minimize themselves in a fearful situation. Some internalise their feelings, and will even go to sleep as a form of protection. Others may scream and scream and scream – fighting their fears.

We’ve got a few changes going on at home with the demolition of the old kitchen and the construction of the new, autism friendly kitchen. It has been difficult for my sweet, almost 3 year old.

‘Put the old kitchen BACK’

‘Are the guys here? Are they going to use their tools?’

‘STOP!! Don’t move that fridge, put it back NOW!

Of course, we’ve done a lot of things outside in the back yard and we’ve been doing a lot of pretend play with his own personal set of tools (excellent Christmas present Aunty S!) and a LOT of talking about things that are scary.

Pass me my drill please!

Pass me my drill please!

 

monster trucks & mud

monster trucks & mud

They say (yes ‘they’ do) that the experience based blueprint we create during the first 12 months of life takes many more years of unlearning when there is trauma involved. It can be done. Kryptonite’s power can be overcome and rendered neutral. We are working on it Superman.

Removing Children

 

This week in Australia, a television program called Insight was screened on one of our free to air channels. Insight has a forum style format where a moderator/journalist directs the discussion of the invited live audience of about 50 people representing a diverse range of opinions and experience. It really is a great program that has been successful now for many years.

The format works well and each week topics relevant to what is happening in our world, our country and our communities are explored in what is usually a compelling and deftly handled conversation.

This week the topic was ‘Removing Children’ The format was changed slightly so that the four special guests were sitting on the podium with the presenter. They were two young adults who had been removed from their families during their childhood, a foster carer and a father (appearing anonymously) whose children had been removed and who had worked successfully to be reunited with them.

Of course this topic is one very close to my heart. So, along with my many foster carer colleagues, child protection workers and the many people who work in support of children and families, we were all glued to the screen. Finally the issue that dominates our personal or working life (or both), our hearts and our homes was being given some air time.

I came away from watching the program feeling quite disappointed. I realise that one hour is simply not enough time to explore such a complex issue in great depth. However there were gaping holes in the discussion that left the television audience no wiser as to the decision making process that leads to removal of children or even the key issues we face as a community when it comes to child protection.

There were no representatives from the ‘Dept’, not a single politician and though there may have been people who work to support families & children in care in the audience, they did not get the opportunity to speak.

The main discussion centered around the young people and their experiences of trauma and abuse from both their birth families and from the system that was supposed to be protecting them. It was painful to see the young woman being questioned when she was not comfortable or equipped. The young man was more worldly and at 30, was older and better able to discuss his experiences.

The dad was brave and honest. His acknowledgement that it was the right thing for the department to remove his kids at that time was telling. The foster carer did not get a chance to say anything of much value, though I’m certain he would have had a lot to say given the appropriate questioning.

I do believe there was enormous value in the discussion that took place. Most people are lucky enough to never need to darken the doorstep of the child protection system. For them, it’s mysterious, dangerous and unspoken. This program did shed some light for those people.

As a foster carer though, this is the world I inhabit. The department may be the ones during urine tests and going to court, but I’m the one (of many) working to help children live through and heal from their trauma, to build positive relationships with their bio families and the important people in their lives, to help mums & dads and extended family learn about good parenting and supporting them in their efforts to reunify.

When that is not an option we are the people in your communities who step up to raise your children, whether it’s for a week end or  a lifetime. Foster carers play a pivotal role in helping our communities. We’re volunteers who live our values out in real time. Kids are the product of our community values, not just of a mother and father. So what is that saying about us as Australians right now? What is that saying about you?

Insight: Removing Kids

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Last weekend I attended the Australian National Foster Carers Conference. I was asked to review one of the workshops I attended for our state magazine. Here’s a snippet from what was a really inspiring weekend.

By Sunday morning all the conference goers were a little tired, especially those who stayed up and danced the night away at the conference dinner. So it was great to walk into a room with a lot of energy in it.

This session was being led by Gregory Nicolau, Director of the Childhood Trauma Group in Melbourne. Gregory has extensive experience in helping children in out of home care and had given the keynote speech on Saturday afternoon. He’d obviously made an impact as the room was full and just kept getting fuller as more & more people turned up to hear him speak again.

This session was about helping carers and their support workers to understand the real message our kids are telling us when they swear and have tantrums, withdraw, lie or use violence. More than that, Gregory planned on sending us home with some skills and ideas that would help us to see past the behaviours through to the hurt child, and to help the child to find new, more effective ways to communicate how they are feeling.

The session was entertaining and gave us a lot to take away and consider. I appreciated that Gregory acknowledged that we had a reasonable working knowledge of kids, brain development and the impact of trauma. He took us on at a higher level and kept us thinking and reflecting on our past and present challenges.

When I go to a workshop I hope to come away with some key piece of information that really resonates with me and my current line up of kids. With this session, it was the idea of ‘credits’. Starting every day with a fresh portion of credit for each child, then giving them more credit for getting out of bed, for eating breakfast and for every time we catch them ‘being good’ or doing something that takes them closer to being a regular kid. Remembering to celebrate and acknowledge the positive steps they make in day to day life – heart medicine (as Robin Moore would say).

I came away feeling like my reserves were a little fuller than they were at the start of the session. Thanks Gregory!