Children In Need

It's Children in Need day! I will no doubt watch tonight, cry, make a donation, like thousands, maybe millions of others around the country. But my thoughts will, at least in part, be somewhere else.

Whenever I watch Children in Need, what strikes me about the short films is that the children that are featured in them are most often in need because of an illness, a disability, a bereavement or because they are young carers. These children are, undoubtedly, in need, and I have no problem with their stories being featured.

However, the phrase 'child in need' also means something a bit different to me. Several 'children in need' have passed through the doors of my home since I have been fostering. A couple of them have stayed here forever. They were in need because of abuse and neglect, compounded by poverty, alcohol and drug abuse.

I have volunteered for an organisation that received money from Children in Need to work with children on the edge, in poverty, with parents in prison, or absent, or struggling with addictions, so I'm not having a dig at the organisation here - I know they acknowledge that kind of need too even if they don't talk about it so much on TV.

I guess what I want to say is that the children in need are not all like those featured in the heart-rending films, bravely coping with tragedy or illness. They are not just on the telly. They are not only around when it's a special occasion. They are amongst us, in our towns and communities, in our schools and nurseries.

Last week Carrie Grant wrote a blog post about her adopted son's experience of school that spread like wildfire across the special needs and adoption communities on social media. You can read the full post here, but the gist of it was that her 8-year-old child, who had experienced neglect and abuse, and several moves through the care system before being adopted, was finding settling at school unmanageable. In response, parents of other children at the school had started a petition to get him expelled, and started up a Whats App group to discuss him.

That's not the children. It's the adult parents of the children. And he's an 8-year-old boy.

I'm sure many of these parents will join me in shedding a tear or two while watching Children in Need tonight. I'm sure many of them will have been horrified and shocked when stories of children being harmed and even killed by those who were meant to nurture, love and protect them are featured on the news. I assume those things because I give them the benefit of the doubt, choosing to believe that they are actually compassionate people who just don't understand the reality of what precedes fostering and adoption.

The truth is that many children who have been through our care system have experienced the sort of horrifying, unspeakable abuse that made us turn our heads away from the TV when they mentioned Baby P or Victoria Climbie. The difference is that the fostered and adopted children still live. And it takes a staggering lack of understanding to truly believe that such children will walk off into their new futures unencumbered by the baggage of a past that we can barely even bring ourselves to speak about.

For some, the story is not so dramatic; it's what I've heard spoken of as 'only neglect'. 'Only' a desperate gnawing daily fear that the food will not come, the comfort will not come, the pain will not cease, the night will never end. 'Only' living without connection, without relationship, never knowing whether your cry will bring a kind face or an angry one. Or no-one.

And then there are the moves and the losses and the grief. How would we react if we heard that a child had lost all their possessions in, say, a house fire? Or worse, had lost all their possessions and all of their family? How soon would we expect them to 'get over it'? Most children who have been through the care system have lost everything, and everyone, over and over. Even the youngest infants grieve these losses but, without the capacity to express their grief, or understand what is happening and why, the only option is to internalise it deep in their subconscious. A gnawing grief with no outlet that never goes away.

So please do go ahead and give some money to Children in Need tonight, with the tears fresh on your cheeks. I will. But then please do more. Please reach out to that 'naughty' child, that 'feral' child, that 'damaged' child in your street, your community, your child's school, with at least a fraction of the compassion that you felt for the children featured on TV. And teach your children to do the same. Their need is no less, even if it is not anywhere near as photogenic.


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