Best Interest of the Child

I have recently been pondering some things as I chat with foster Mama friends and hear out their often repeated frustrations.  Bear with me as I try to make sense out of these rattling thoughts.

"Best interest of the child" is a statement that gets tossed around child welfare circles a lot. Whether it is actually considered or not is debatable in any given situation. Words and actions are two entirely different things.

I have recently realized that I dislike this statement quite a lot. This is odd to acknowledge because everything in me cries out for justice and well being for these vulnerable little ones. I live and breath "best interest of the child" in my home on a daily basis. I have dedicated years of my life to this cause.
The problem with this stated policy is that it's entirely subjective. I've noticed over the years that everyone and their dog has a different idea of what this is. "Best interest" is filtered through various political agendas, worldviews/ideologies, social engineering ideas, individual professional aspirations, public relations (whats socially trendy) and is very hard to peg down. "Best interest of the child" is plastered on policies that swing wildly between harmful extremes always cloaked in a sort of high browed idealism that ignores so much reality on the ground.

While everyone agrees that the best interest of the child should be paramount when making decisions affecting children, no one seems to be able to agree on what that is.

Maybe we need to possess better, more specific, language to nail down some priorities within our child welfare and foster systems.

We foster parented for 10 yrs and in that time I saw and experienced a lot. Although not as much as some.  Each fostering journey is unique and comes with its own stories and heartaches. One thing all foster parents have in common is their compulsion to silence. The very real threat of children you love being taken from your home, or the doors of your home being shut for saying the wrong thing or crossing the wrong people is enough for us to keep our heads down.

Sure there are some fostering blogs out there but they weren't common a few years ago and even now they are fairly rare. They are often anonymous and usually very careful. Where foster parent voices and perspectives aren't usually found is in social services offices planning policy, case plan meetings, or being amplified with media attention. With hushed voices we share our burdens behind closed doors with selectively few people.

Foster parents are on the front lines, along with caseworkers, but they have the vantage point of being parents. They parent. That's what they do. They aren't babysitters. They are caregivers who parent children, some for short amounts of time and some for a lifetime. Foster parents are waking for midnight feedings, bandaging skinned knees, calming nightmares, comforting grieving and traumatized children, combing (and delousing) hair, going to school plays and taking children to their dance lessons. They take children to visitation and then come home to put into practice all they know about therapeutic parenting to try to calm the rage ignited in a devastated and confused child. They love, nurture, tend and train the children in their home.

They know stuff. They may be left in the dark about many things surrounding the history and case plan, but they know these kids. They may have known the child in their care since birth as was the case with most of my foster babes. They likely know the kids better than anyone else involved with the case.

Here's what "best interest of a child" means to a foster parent.

* In any given situation what will cause the LEAST amount of trauma to this child *

That's pretty much it. That's what we care about the most. Most foster parents have become well versed in issues of trauma, attachment and the basics of child psychology. We have to be to be any good at what we do. A huge frustration is that too often the people sitting in offices, the managers, supervisors, and directors seem to be light years behind in that area.

"They won't remember it anyway"

"A child gets used to being moved"

Statements like these make me rage internally. Often people directing priorities and policy don't see the damage that ill-conceived ideas and bad decisions create. They aren't the ones parenting children with Reactive Attachment disorders caused by frequent moves in the first years of a child's life. They aren't the ones dealing with the terror that comes with PTSD, anxiety disorders or intense fear of abandonment caused by a loss of caregivers. They don't have to put on a game face and gently reassure a terrified child that going to live with strangers will be ok, when you have very real fears of your own that they will not be ok. The hardest thing about fosterparenting is witnessing or knowing a child will go through grief and experience trauma. No parents wants their child to suffer. Foster parents feel no differently.

If people in offices experienced these things they might view "best interest of the child" differently. Perhaps if they better understood the devastating, long term, effects of trauma it would have greater consideration in decision making.

Of course we don't work in ideals and there is no trauma free fostercare. The very need for it arises out of suffering, brokenness, abuse, death, violence, addictions, and illness....all of the worst things in this world are the foundation. A preborn baby being fed a steady diet of drugs and alcohol is trauma. A preborn child being immersed in constant stress hormones of its mother who is a victim of domestic violence is trauma. Being separated from a birth parent is trauma, even if the child is too young to consciously remember.  It's there. A newborn withdrawing from drugs is trauma. Some of those things are unavoidable but once a child has been placed in care great consideration should be given to not perpetuating trauma, creating more chaos, or causing more damage.

Broken children, who become broken adults, are no small problem and will pay society back in full for it's failure to protect them.

There are many other worthwhile considerations when making case plans and deciding what is best for a child, however, this is at the top for me. I'm convinced that this is the priority that every other factor should be filtered through and weighed against.

If we truly believed in "best interest of the child" we would be far more focused on the long lasting effects of trauma and issues surrounding attachment. I think we would save children and society a whole a world of hurt.

No comments: