You know what one of the hardest things to do is when working with troubled children? It's holding your tongue and your temper as the child explains to you just how wonderful their parents are. Because apparently, no matter how horrible and horrendous their childhood was, mom is mom and dad is dad and it seems as though the only way these kids can survive emotionally is to convince themselves that mom and dad were pretty special. The fact that they are in state custody is just an inconvenience to be brushed away as something the state has done to deliberately make them miserable and separate them from those loving parents.
I sometimes find myself staring at the children making these statements with a look of incredulity that they would not be able to miss if they weren't so wrapped up in denying reality.
The second hardest thing to do when working with troubled children is being civil to parents who continue to screw up their kids even after they are in state custody and the state is giving the child every form of therapy, counseling and emotional assistance possible. It sometimes seems as though we can't dance fast enough to keep up with what the parents can throw at the child. So I often find myself having conversations with parents in which my jaw visibly shakes from the effort I am making to control my temper and my tongue -- to keep from screaming at them, "Are you friggin' kidding me?!!!"
I know that many of the parents I work with are themselves the product of abusive families. Having never been parented in any healthy fashion, it should come as no surprise that they are not capable of parenting their own children in a healthy fashion.
So when I read a story about two sisters supposedly rescued from abusive parents who were placed in equally abusive foster homes, I can only react with total disbelief that they were able to come out in any way as healthy human beings. The resilience of the human spirit is quite miraculous when viewed through that spectrum.
The question that I still find myself asking after 30 years of work as a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) with these sad, and often irretrievably broken, children is when are we, as a society, going to find the nerve to say enough is enough. We pass laws meant to safeguard the sanctity of the family without bothering to note that often we are not dealing with a real family. More likely, a couple of abusive/abused, often intoxicated adults are living in the same space as children they somehow managed to conceive and bring to term. They are no more a family than Charlie Manson's collection of misfits and murderers were.
I agree that we need to make initial attempts to heal this collection of people living together in the hope of creating a family strong enough to take care of each other. But when a child has been in custody for six months and neither parent has done anything significant to address their issues, I think they are sending us a clear message that they don't plan to. When a child has been in foster care for a year, that child needs the stability and security that is not found in a temporary placement. Children simply should not be raised in foster care if there is a viable alternative.
When you place a child or children back with the adults they refer to as mom and/or dad and then have to remove them again and again, efforts to help the adults should take second place to finding an adoptive home where those children can bond with caring adults who can help heal their wounds.
I recently adopted two dogs. We refer to my house as their "forever" home because the commitment I'm making is to care for them for the rest of their lives. Surely we owe these children a forever home too, a home where they are not bounced around and emotionally torn apart by visits from people who never really plan to do what it takes to raise them.
Surely, at a minimum, we owe these children a chance at a "forever" home while they still have a chance for a good life.
Elise Patkotak is a writer who lives in Anchorage. Read her blog at www.elisepatkotak.com.