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41 JUNE 2002
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Care

Grant Charles

I was talking to a young person the other day who lives at a residential treatment centre. He has been there almost a year and will soon be going to live on his own in a supported apartment. He is, of course, quite excited and somewhat apprehensive about the upcoming move. He is a young man who has been in state care for a number of years. Although state care is a term I would usually use, in this case he was that one that first used it. His use of this term got us away from a conversation about his future into one about his past. This happened when I asked how he viewed the ďstate". He told me he viewed the state as his parent. I then asked him about his experiences in care. He talked about some good times. He had a couple of sets of foster parents who he said were good to him. However, most of what he had experienced he saw as being bad to awful.

He had originally come into care because of substance abuse in his family. He was found as a toddler on his own in his home while his parents were on a drinking binge. He was brought into temporary care and then returned home. This sequence of going in and out of care continued for a number of years. Each time he came into care he found it harder to integrate back into his family. Each time he re-entered care he found it harder to connect with the people in his foster placements. He changed schools frequently because of the moves. He lost touch with the few friends he had in his community. He became more and more isolated from those around him. He said it wasnít unusual for him to get beat up by other kids in his placements. This went on until his early teens.

When this young man entered his early teens he was victimized by an older teen living in the foster home where he was staying. He told me that he was so desperate for touch and attention that he wasnít really sure who had initiated the first contact but looking back he knew that the older teen was betraying him. He thinks it was the confusion between the desire for touch and the sense of betrayal that caused him to start to really act out in the community. Of course, the acting out probably had many roots but this was how he saw it. He was soon moved to a new placement not because of the abuse but because of his behaviour. Until recently he said that he had never told anyone about the abuse. This move triggered a number of other moves until he was eventually placed in the treatment centre. In the centre he said he felt as if everything he did was analysed through a negative lenses. At a time when he was struggling to figure who he was as a person all he heard from staff through their words and deeds was that he was no good. When he objected to how he was being treated he was often restrained. He told me that it got to feel good to be restrained as it was the only time anyone would ever touch him.

We talked for a long time about his experiences in the residential treatment centre. His comments disturbed me but they were nothing I hadnít heard before. What really shocked me was when I asked him about his health. I was curious about how he perceived the care he had been given beyond a place to live or a place where he was kept under control. He told me that he could only remember seeing a doctor a couple of times over the years, once when he first came into the residential centre and once years ago when he had the flu. He didnít remember ever having his eyes checked and rarely had gone to a dentist. Here was a young person who had for all intents and purposes who had grown up in care but had only received superficial medical attention.

Here was a young man who had been moved so many times that he could barely remember how often. He was isolated from his community. He was abused in care. He was neglected in care. He rarely experienced a sense of safety. He was told both in word and action that he was not worth much. His medical needs were not attended to. All of this happened while he was in state care. The state was his parent.

What a parent! In fact if the state were his natural parent he would have been taken away from it a long time ago. After all, we have laws that protect kids from this type of abuse and neglect donít we?

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