I ran into a lovely lady today at my child’s school. We’ll call her Donna, and I’d like to share with you her story. (I’ll change all the names to protect their privacy but I really want you to share this true tale). I’d met Donna last year at a permanent care workshop.(And that is another tale best left for another time).
Donna has four grown children – two who still live at home, but they’re studying or working or a bit of both. But what makes Donna special, is that she’s got two intellectually challenged foster kids in her care. The eldest one Cass is intellectually and physically challenged. She attends a special school and is struggling everyday with a world built around “normal” standards.
Her younger sister Jess attends the school my child does. She’s not as physically challenged, but she carries with her everyday the after effects of the drug cocktail her mother took whilst pregnant. Jess struggles with everything, and Donna is struggling at the moment too. The system that should be their to support them, lacks resources to support them. Budget cuts have sliced away the very services that the two siblings desperately require. All to ensure we have a budget surplus.
Now talking to Donna this morning – she looked liked she needed a chat, so I stopped and asked how she was doing. And for the next thirty minutes she told me. And I listened – at times gobsmacked, at times outraged, and at other times my heart broke.
Donna has been a foster carer for five years now. She’s seen a range of children enter her care, and has fought to keep Cass and Jess together under her care, within her family. But the stories she told of the other children who came through her care made me physically ache. The tales of children with sexually transmitted diseases – yes Children with STD’s – who have been removed from their homes because someone finally broke the circle of despair and gave these children a chance, just nearly broke me. I stood there listening, and Donna spoke with the same passion she has for Jess and Cass, about this children who have passed through her care.
I realised then, that Donna and her family are true heroes – day in day out, they deal with the after effects of neglect and abuse, hidden from the rest of society by our veneers of behaviour and rules. They pick up the pieces for these children, and in some part help put together a child who has been shattered by their environment. They fight a bureaucratic, under funded and almost unwanted department in a government filled with economic rationalists.
I told Donna that she was doing a great job, and she said thank you, that she didn’t get a lot of feedback, and some days were just harder to get through than others. Because Donna cares about every child that comes through her family, and she will fight to her last breath to make sure these children get the best they can, out of a system that has already deserted them. Left them to be abused, neglected and thrown away like last year’s garbage.
And though my words may seem insignificant to you, for Donna – coming at the end of a long battle to get Jess assessed for additional help in her learning disabilities, it provided her with some warmth, some human kindness, a way of recognising her important job.
I know that her job is thankless, and not seen. For the economic rationalist, this job – parenting the broken, is not recognised when it comes to figuring out the GDP or how many people were “employed”. But without Donna and the countless millions who open up their homes and hearts to these children, they provide a service and an untold benefit to the world’s forgotten children.
And for this I salute them, and thank them from the bottom of my heart for daring to be different, to challenge the authorities to get the best for the children in their care. I wish I was as brave and fearless as them.