Friday, March 4, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

NOTICE: As this post includes text that is not my own creation, the content of this post MAY NOT be reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. Sorry. You're just not allowed with this one.

For about 12 years now, I've been teaching and encouraging my students to blog. Some continue to blog many years after they leave high school and move on with their adult lives. Not only is it beneficial for them to write as a practice of becoming better writers, and improving their literacy skills, they generally use their blogs to give voice to some of the more sensitive topics that they ordinarily don't want to talk about. They will be blunt. They will be honest. They will write about whatever they choose from their own unique perspectives and describe the world as they see it.

This is not always in keeping with how the rest of us (adults) see the world, but it is not for us to tell them they are wrong. This is their reality. It isn't always pretty.

You may be wondering how this ends up being a blog topic for a blog I have set up for the upcoming Manitoba Provincial Election on April 19th. Simply put, a lot of us adults who will be voting this Spring will be, and have already long been, engaged in a great deal of discussion about an issue that is pretty important and relevant to about 10,000 Manitoba Children: The problems that are present in our Child Welfare System, more specifically, the issues surrounding Child and Family Services/Child Protection.

There are about 1,282,000 people in Manitoba (July, 2014). Included in that total are about 10,000 children in CFS care. This means, by a bit of simple math, for every 128 Manitobans, one of them is in the care of CFS. Using this base number, in my community of 674 people there *should* be just over 5 children in care. I know for a fact that that number is far below reality, here, by a factor of 3 to 4 or more.

That's right. The number of children in care here is between 15 and 20+, year to year, depending on transience, including those staying with family voluntarily on a temporary basis, availability of placement locations, rates of reunification/return, and other factors. 

Children that have spent years in situations that the majority of us cannot fathom can be very resilient, however. Growing up in the homes and communities they have grown up in has had a profound and lasting effect on them. While the majority of us decry their realities for the human injustices they are, the fingers of the majority are often pointed towards the groups of people that are trying their best to help these kids. We blame Agencies. We blame Departments. We blame individual Ministers and entire Governments for the tragedies and travesties of the lives of 10,000 children. 

Rarely do we celebrate their successes. That's just not what makes headlines.

Ask the children themselves whose fault their situations are, and you will receive very different responses. They don't blame our leaders and politicians. They're far too smart to be that blind. They know that the Premier, Cabinet, and members of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition had nothing to do with why a CFS Worker, with or without an RCMP officer present, came to their house, collected them and some of their clothes, their siblings, and took them somewhere else.

A word of caution: Much of what follows may upset you as you read through it. It is my hope that in reading it you will be able to gain a better perspective of the lives of children who have been involved in our CFS system. Many children who are involved in our CFS system do not have the same literacy skills as others but I hope that you may use what you read here as a starting point to consider what likely goes through the mind of a child who is unable to describe their situation as well as the examples that follow. Draw your own conclusions.

I read the following in a blog I've been following and in three simple paragraphs, the author has identified a number of the problems that are common threads of the blanket that many children involved with CFS find themselves wrapped in. 

There are a number of challenges we must overcome as a society. One of the largest hurdles are the perceptions and misconceptions we have about Aboriginal Peoples. Even the author of the text above, an Aboriginal youth, has expressed a number of misunderstandings and biases in regards to what she sees, but it is her vision. Her reality. Who are you or I to say she is wrong?

 Recently, I read and article by Nancy Macdonald published in Maclean's Magazine titled, "Canada's prisons are the 'new residential schools'". In that article, Ms. Macdonald draws attention to four of the key elements that contribute to some of the larger problems faced by many Aboriginal Peoples and many Aboriginal Communities in Canada:

- dislocation
- disadvantage
- addiction
- abuse

These specific elements were identified by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Gladue as elements that sentencing judges must take into consideration at sentencing hearings of Aboriginal defendants.

It isn't just judges and academics that recognize these as problems that need to be addressed. Even if our youth don't recognize the reasons for how they feel, they are more than familiar with the direct impact that these things have upon them even if they have difficulty expressing these complex ideas. They are reacting to these aspects of their lives without fully understanding the how of why they feel the way they do.

Politicians cannot simply add money to budget lines to solve these problems. No piece of legislation can adequately address the fundamental human needs that so many children in our society need and deserve. The feelings of frustration, anger, hopelessness, and confusion that so many of our children in care feel and express is understandable in most cases. The escalating tragedies with our youth are accentuated and punctuated by numerous examples that we ourselves don't understand the reasoning behind. 

Not all is lost, however. We need to look at ourselves as a society through our own mirror, once we wipe the fog off it, and try to see the world we have created through the eyes of our youth. If we fail to provide them with the care and direction to become stable, healthy, successful adults, they won't. The problems won't be resolved. The escalation will continue. Our future generations will continue to be irreparably damaged by our present failures to act. 

We need to redefine our priorities and seek the wisdom of people who are not yet blind to the biases and inequities that we ourselves have been instilling in our children as our parents instilled them in us.

From out of the mouths of babes, they've been telling us what we have been doing wrong. Isn't it about time that we started listening?

It's time to stop and listen to our children. They're an awful lot smarter than most of us give them credit for.

As you watch this campaign progress, remain mindful of the people who point fingers and lay blame. Keep in mind that while Manitoba has 10,000 children in CFS care, every one of them has parents and the issues that both they and their children are facing are far more important than the election strategy of any party.

Don't use them as ammunition in your war against opposing platforms and ideologies. I will call you on it. 

Vote for who you choose, Manitoba, but please make an informed decision and VOTE! 

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