Saturday, March 22, 2014

Watch "Removed": An Award Winning Short Film About a Foster Child

A friend posted to my Facebook page earlier this week a link to the award-winning movie "Removed"; the story of what it's like to be a foster child in America. It's only 12 minutes long so I do recommend if you have some time to watch this. The end literally made me cry. Tears and everything.

The story was very realistic. It showed the abuse that this little girl and her brother endured, which caused them to be removed from the mother's custody and placed into separate foster homes. You could see the sadness and confusion on this little girl's face and she was moved from home to home, carrying all her belongings in a garbage bag.  I'll never forget that Christopher's clothes were handed to me in three drawstring garbage bags so this is very true and accurate to real life.

The movie also shows the little girl's anger and the behavioral issues that emerge because she feels she has no control over her life. And it shows the lack of trust these children learn to have. Oh how I can relate to that! For the first year and a half I had him, Christopher didn't trust me and didn't trust his pre-school teachers. He had been taken away before so why get close to these people if they were only going to hurt him? He used to act out in defiance, just willing us to give up on him. The screaming tantrums, the "you're not my favorite mommy" comments, and just acting out, that happened all the time. It was exhausting. Truly exhausting.

The little girl had flashbacks from her old life which shows she probably should have a diagnosis of PTSD. She started screaming when she got a new dress from her foster mom that reminded her of the domestic violence she witnessed at her mom's home. This of course confused the foster mom as she had no idea what caused the outburst.

Christopher has a diagnosis of PTSD and would freak out over thunderstorms, smoke alarms and swimming over the drain at the YMCA pool. I was of course confused as well and his therapists would tell me that there are a lot of experiences this little boy had that I just don't know about. So when he would scream and cry like that over what seems silly to me, I would just comfort him and let him know he was safe.

The movie also showed the conflicted emotions that these children have over visits with their birth mom. In the movie you see the little girl refusing to interact with the mom during a visit. She's angry at her and for good reason. Mom failed to keep her safe.

Christopher's last visit with his birth mom resulted in a screaming tantrum when we got home and a punch in my eye. For a three year old, he has a remarkable strong right hook, let me tell you. He was angry though because his mother had told him out of spite that he was going to be given away again and that this wasn't his forever home. She was angry that she couldn't have her child so she wanted to hurt him, which of course is a big reason why she couldn't have her child. I mean seriously, who does that? That one comment messed with his head for months, by the way. It was probably the single worst thing she could have said to him at the time.

Like the little girl in this movie though, Christopher eventually began to heal and to trust. We still have our struggles and I still often have to remind Christopher that this is his forever home but at least now he believes me when I tell him.

I don't want to give away the end of the movie but I do want to made me tear up. You need to see it for yourself.

To watch "ReMoved", please click here.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dealing with the schools: Taking Precautions or Overreacting?

I said something to my son the other day about showing empathy to other kids. He didn't know what the word "empathy" meant (he's in Kindergarten) so I explained to him that "empathy" is like when a classmate is having a rough time and crying and if he went and hugged the classmate, that meant his was being "empathetic" towards his classmate.

Christopher's response was, "but mama, we're not allowed to hug people in school." I said, "you're not?" And he said, "yes no hugs." I have to admit I thought that was a little sad. And it got me thinking too.

I've heard a lot of stories in the news lately about how schools are creating rigid rules that are designed to keep kids safe but I wonder if they're just a little bit over the top? Here is a quick list of some of the things that I've heard are being banned in US public schools now:
I tend to think some of this is over the top. I was allowed to hug my friends when I was little and I turned out okay. We also got to play dodge ball, four square, kick ball and all sorts of other sports with balls and to my knowledge, no one was ever seriously hurt playing outside during recess.

A friend posted an article on Facebook about a month ago, about a school in New Zealand that is going the opposite route with kids. They are letting kids go outside and have fun without a ton of rules and are finding that the kids are paying more attention in class and that bullying and vandalism are down in numbers.

Why? I think it's because kids are allowed to get their energy out (instead of sitting for long periods of time without break) and they are learning how to make mistakes in a safe, structured environment. When we act like helicopter parents (or in this case helicopter teachers and administrators) our kids don't have the opportunity to work through situations on their own. 

According to the article: "AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the team leading the study, said children develop their brain's frontal lobe when they are taking risks, which allows them to calculate consequences."

So basically what he is saying that when we coddle our children we aren't letting their brains develop correctly. That's a little scary to think about as a parent.

Someday our kids are going to grow up and they're going to have to make big decisions that will have consequences for themselves and for others. Isn't it better to teach kids to discern right from wrong now than to wait for them to be out in the great big world and have to say, now what? 

My own son is very impulsive. This comes from his years in foster care and I genuinely think because of all the trauma he experienced, that his brain didn't quite develop correctly. I will say that with lots of work on my part, as well as on the part of his teachers and of his therapy team, that he is doing much much better. I mean seriously much better. There was a time that I would worry about Christopher opening the front door and running out into the street. Now I don't worry about that at all because his brain development has definitely caught up with his age. He has not liked all the time outs he gets for making bad choices. But he's learning and that's what I want for my child. I do think that the schools are short-changing our kids a bit by enforcing so many rules. Kids will be kids...if we let them.