Yeah, this is one of those posts. And I’m writing without editing, so forgive me. It just needs to be what it is today.
I’ve been loathe to write a post like this, because these topics are very emotive. But anyway, here it is. Minus a lot of detail which I can’t give, for obvious reasons. Please forgive me for the ‘vague’ sections.
I work part-time with kids in care. I don’t work for DoCS, so don’t start yelling at me already. I take my hat off to them actually. They work under very difficult circumstances that involves a lot of government red tape. It’s tricky.
I’m a ‘contact supervisor’, which essentially means I supervise contact between a child/children who has already been removed from their home, and whoever they are able to see in their family. Parents, siblings, grandparents etc. And then I write a report on what I observe.
It can be intense. To say the least. These beautiful children have been removed from their families for any number of reasons. Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Neglect. Sexual abuse. Drug addictions. Alcohol addictions. And a host of other insidious things most people wouldn’t believe happen in ‘civilized’ cities like Sydney.
So my ‘foster care’ days can look like any of this:
- transporting a two month old baby addicted to meth, as he shakes and cries on his four hourly morphine doses, to see his completely drug addicted mum.
- taking six and seven year old little blue eyed blonde girls to see their dad who has ‘allegations of sexual abuse’ against him.
- collecting nine siblings from up to four different carers (with other worker’s to help) and meeting with all their family in one room at one time, once a week.
- taking a three year old to see a grandparent who never shows up. Once a fortnight. This the only family she has.
- supervising a fifteen yr old boy (who is incidently also used by his carer as a drug runner) and his father for their once-a-month contact.
Needless to say, I haven’t given as much detail as I could on any of those situations above. And there are countless more variations of a similar theme…
While I’m establishing some stuff, let it also be said: I’m ALLLLLL for family. If there’s a chance of reconciliation, and healing, FABULOUS. I’m thrilled and honoured to be a part of that process. Many of us have cried many thousands of tears for the heart-breaking situations we see in our work. We will always believe for the best, and do everything in our power for those contact sessions to be a positive experience for all involved. However, the harsh and often darker realities of life mean that sometimes, full reconciliation is just not an option.
Sometimes, the contacts are outside, in a park, at the beach. Or a shopping centre, movies, a library… any number of options. Usually this means the parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles have been deemed ‘low risk’ and can be supervised outside of a DoCS office environment.
Other times, contacts are in local DoCS offices. Sometimes this is because the family is new to the system, and nobody has been able to establish a level of trust or risk factor. Or, they’re not new, but still in a structured office environment. Ergo, they’ve been deemed a higher risk. This kind of contact means access with a swipe card only, and a standard panic button issued to the contact supervisor on arrival.
When I started my job, these were the contacts that scared me a little. Did I really *need* a panic button? WHY did I need a panic button? And what great big burly security guard that I couldn’t see at all when I walked in was possibly going to come out of nowhere to save me if I ever needed to press it? And, how traumatic for the children if something ever went down that required the press of an alarm and an immediate rescue.
I’d heard a few hairy stories, and I was cautious. I always sat close to the door. I kept the button close to me. And I’ve never had to use it.
Without all the details, two of us were on a contact with four children under the age of seven(active!) and two very hostile and aggressive parents. Within ten minutes of the assigned two hour session, it was obvious we may need to suspend the contact. For everyone’s safety. Within another half an hour, buttons were pressed, children were removed, and we were evacuated out through a basement car park.
I dropped off the children that I had responsibility for and drove home. Shaking. Adrenalin to the MAX. Heart still racing hours later.
And I sobbed. ALL THE WAY HOME.
And then I made a cup of tea and sobbed some more.
I sobbed through two phone conversations with two beautiful friends.
I ate dinner with my housemate, and watched a huge fire on our street. I went to bed and didn’t sleep.
Then I got up and worked today. Not in my ‘foster care’ job. Luckily. Because I needed some space. I was ok. Until I started crying again. I’ve cried through most of my day. Luckily I’ve had lots of work to get through, because it’s been a distraction. And I’m so glad the recipients of all my emails couldn’t see me blubbering as I crafted my emails to them! Sorry folks!
WHY THE DRAMATICA???? I figured I was fine. I mean, nothing happened. We all got out. It’s all good isn’t it????
Well, yes, and no. We got out. Nothing happened. If by ‘nothing’ we mean I didn’t *actually* get physically attacked. If by ‘nothing’ we mean I wasn’t beside myself as a DoCS worker hauled me through a ‘swipe-access only’ door seconds before a volatile parent would have punched me in the face. If by ‘nothing’ we mean we didn’t have to try to settle four traumatised children, who screamed and cried during and after the incident. If by ‘nothing’ we mean it’s normal to be evacuated through a basement garage concerned for your immediate safety. If by ‘nothing’ we mean my heart wasn’t absolutely shattered for the children, who will be so confused by what they saw, and who won’t see their parents for a few more weeks now as contact will be ‘suspended’ because of this incident.
I cried A LOT. I cried for me(call me selfish if you must) because I was shit scared, and I hated every second of it. I cried for the babies. I cried for the magnitude of some of the hopelessness I see. I cried for the parents. I don’t hate them. I weep for them. It’s sheer desperation that leads them to act in some outrageous ways. I don’t condone the action, but I certainly recognise AND appreciate the desperation.
So I’m spent. I’m trashed. Emotionally, and physically.
We were offered counselling. I declined for now, because I don’t have the energy to rehash it all.
I have done other things.
The ‘tradition’ of making and sipping cups of tea helps.
Writing helps. Writing it all down and ‘debriefing’ myself helps.
Space helps. I worked alone today. And I needed that.
Walking helps. I’ve had latent pent-up energy from all the ridiculous adrenalin, and I’ve walked it out today.
Music helps. I’ve had one song on repeat, for HOURS. And I hang on to one line in the song:
“if such a thing as grace exists, then grace was made for lives like this”
MUCH grace exists. I HAVE to believe this to be true.
I have no answers – only hope, and much grace.