This is a short blog post about the importance of self advocacy and the feeling of control.
I recently went to court with one of my clients and she seemed to be rather nervous about the appointment. Her and I talked about what it was going to entail and she seemed to fear not being heard or silenced if she tried to speak in the court. I coached her through speaking up about what she wanted, advocating for herself, and explained that a judge wants to hear her perspective on her and her parents’ case. While we were in the court room, the judge spoke to several of the service providers and then spoke to her, asking if she had anything to add. After some fumbling, she said quite strongly, “Yes, I do have something to ask.” And when she told the judge what she wanted and asked if it was possible, the judge said yes and ordered her service providers to do as the girl asked. She said afterward that she couldn’t believe that the judge listened to her, and she was so happy to know that the judge cared about what she wanted and had to say.
We, as adults, have to understand that our actions matter to the children that we work with. We have to know that if we dismiss them when they advocate for themselves, if we ignore their requests to make a change, we are effectively telling them that their opinion and desires don’t matter. We can say that we care about the kids that we work with, but if we get too caught up in our own worlds and opinions, we may miss the opportunities that we have to cultivate curiosity and strength in these kids. Of course we can’t fulfill every whim that comes through, sometimes the wheels move more slowly. But, we can pause, take a beat and respond thoughtfully and with as much intention as possible to ensure that they know that we are working with and for them, and that they are not just another face in the crowd to us.
This job as a case manager, or these times as foster parents shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of each individual child’s need to be seen, heard, and cared for. We shouldn’t step into these kids’ lives with our own agendas and presuppositions, but should work hard to show them how important they are to us. We should lay down our preconceived ideas of who they are and what they need, and instead ask them and listen to what they say. We need to believe them when they express themselves, and we need to be present with them while we can. They shouldn’t be able to walk away from time in foster care saying that nobody cared about them, because we they should see how much we care every time they see our faces. This job is hard sometimes, but to show even one child that their lives and voices matter makes it all worth while.