Can child welfare be a place where children, families and even workers feel loved? What is the role of compassion in the administration of child welfare? Can child protection be “re-imagined” as a service that truly empowers others?
Child welfare has always been near and dear to my heart. Since I was 15, I wanted to work for an organization that helped children and their families have better lives. I was born in Peru, and even as a young child, I was witness to the many injustices endured by children. I now work for a child welfare agency, and for me it has been a dream come true. I am surrounded by truly loving and compassionate people, who got into the world of child welfare to help children and families. This commitment to the welfare of children and their families keeps workers engaged in the work especially when the work is the most challenging. The way child welfare is currently structured, though, I feel interferes with enabling workers to be truly compassionate and loving towards clients, to each other and even towards themselves. The system we have in Canada, nay the world, is one based on fear. Where fear reigns, love cannot flourish. This fear has arisen due to the way child deaths are managed by the media, the public, the ministry and even ourselves. What happens when we are in fear is that we contract, become afraid of doing the job, of being sued, of making a mistake, and we stop being willing to love and have faith in families in an open and transparent manner. We become controlling and afraid to share power. The Ontario Child Welfare system is based on ‘standards’ developed in order to measure the work as a form of accountability. On paper, it truly sounds good. Standard approaches for all people. However, child welfare is not the price club…if I was a client intersecting with child protection, I would want the work to be tailored to my own life circumstance. The structure we have in Ontario is based on the premise that as a worker my job is to “protect” children above all else, which is good but this is often where it stops. I remember having a conversation with someone from the Child Advocate’s office who said to me, “you know, in child welfare you spend all of your time bubble wrapping the kids until their 18 birthday…and then when they age out of care, you give them a bicycle and put them on the 401 and expect them to flourish”. This really stuck with me…because I had seen how the protection of children, at times, prevented children in care from truly living their lives. How sleepovers became a sudden potential for abuse, how ATVs were banned in case someone fell off. All of these “protections” were based on fear, not love. Love gives freedom to explore. Anyone who is familiar with the circle of security model understands that children need a secure base and the possibility to explore the world to build confidence in their own abilities to overcome adversity. The sponsoring thought of the “protection” approach is based on victim-hood. Children are “victims” that need to be protected from harmful parents instead of being regarded as resilient survivors. As stated in my interview with Erica Wright, (former youth in care) children in government care are often “pitied” for having experienced abuse (Podcast Episode 3: Creating Compassionate Places for Youth https://maitricentre.com/podcast/ep-3-how-can-we-create-more-loving-and-compassionate-systems-for-youth/). Pity is a dis-empowering emotion as it assumes the people do not have enough power to help themselves or know better. However, I have met many very strong, resilient and insightful children. When the victim mentality becomes a child’s whole identity, it prevents children from stepping into their full potential. Instead of having a child welfare system that focuses on youth’s empowerment and tapping into their resilience, we have a system that needs to “give” children and youth things in order for them to flourish. Of course it is important for us to meet the needs of the children…however, what are we doing to remind children that they have more power than they believe? That they are worthy of love and affection? How are we getting them to love and be compassionate to themselves? How are we getting them to feel inspired to achieve beyond their dreams? Additionally, do we do this for parents?
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