There is something that has been on my mind lately. What I can say is that within the walls of the venue where we are working, we are doing a fantastic job (very modest I know!). Working as a team with Foundation Arche we are providing an excellent integrated approach to positive, sustainable family development. Having psychologists as part of this holistic process has multiplied our effectiveness in supporting families in vulnerable circumstances.
We started Food for Thought aiming at the kids. We found out quickly that the kids aren’t the problem. What happens within the home environment is the problem, therefore an approach that involves parents or caregivers was imperative. An essential step of the process begins when the points of the triangle (child, parents, us) are interconnected. When there is a flowing communication between all three parties, the possibility of positive outcomes is greatly increased.
There lies the problem. What I have noticed with the families in the most vulnerable situations is that our communication with those parents is most difficult. We can almost say that, the more vulnerable the situation of the family, the more likely we are to have communication problems (or less communication) with the parents. For example, we have a young boy in the project who started with us late last year. Their mother has just had her ninth child. Their father drinks, takes drugs, and is violent. He is also not working, so the family has very little money. You can see that the boy isn’t eating well by the way that he eats at Food for Thought. We almost have no contact with the parents. The only real contact we had was when we visited the family at their house to invite the boy to join the project.
One of our goals at Food for Thought is to support those who most need it. The problem is that those who most need support, are those who we don’t see. For millions of reasons, most of which we will never know, the parents of the really vulnerable families don’t take the necessary steps for their children to have opportunities outside of the home. From my experience with families in this community over the years, I have come to understand that many parents lack the capacity to make good decisions for their children. That may seem like a strong statement, but if we need to look at the context. It is almost impossible to make a good decision for your child if no good decision was ever made for you.
Furthermore, if for generation after generation, the example that you and your family have lived and witnessed is abusive, it is extremely difficult to change that habituated behaviour. It would be like trying to change the habit of walking upright, to walking on all fours. It would be completely unnatural to change it as it is a habit that is incorporated into your living existence. We are products of our environment. I completely understand it, and I don’t judge or blame families for repeating the cycle. I know that there has to be some kind of responsibility on behalf of the parents, but there is just so much abuse going on that I believe that there is something much deeper that promotes people to repeat the behaviour of past generations.
The longer we work within this community, the more we know about what goes on within the homes. The homes of the children that we have in Food for Thought can be horrific. For the better or the worse, I have much thicker skin now, and when I hear more stories of what goes on within the homes, unfortunately, I am not surprised. Alcohol, drugs, violence, and abuse are commonplace within many households. That is not to say all of them, but there is a lot!
The fact is that we know of the abuses that go on within the homes of the children within our project. To add, there isn’t a lot more that we can do about that apart from what we are doing. The social system is basically non-existent which means we are basically the last line of defense.
The families that we are currently supporting have a minimum level of commitment, which is to send their children every day. What I find difficult is the fact that there is a whole world of vulnerability that we haven’t even got close to touching. If this is the level of abuse of the families who have the capacity to reach out for support, I would hate to think of the abuses that occur within the homes of those who don’t.
What I am saying is that we can only support a certain number of families, and those families have to take some kind of responsibility for their children. We also only have a limited amount of resources to be able to support those families. We have teachers, cooks, coaches, cleaners, psychologists, and volunteers. We don’t have social workers. We have been working with the local University and receiving students studying social work as a practical aspect of their studies but they are in the process of training.
I believe deeply in our project and am convinced of its effectiveness with the families that we are dealing with. Even though we have a goal of reaching those who most need support, we don’t reach those who most need support. Carla, one of our psychologists and I, played the role of social workers and knocked on the door of the house so that 2 boys could have an opportunity with us. These boys' family is probably living in the most vulnerable circumstances of any of the children in the project. The sad thing is that their circumstances are on par to a huge amount of other families that live close by. I wonder about the horrible things that go on behind the walls…
Just to confirm, I am not an emotional wreck staying up at night worrying about those kids who we don’t reach. Learning about children, how they develop and learn, and finding the best way to support that growth, is enough to fill my cup. I love my job, I am learning so much every day, and the smiles on the faces of the kids are all I need to make me return the next.
I understand the pointlessness of worrying about the things that we can’t change. I also understand that complaining about a problem never makes it go away! It is just so frustrating to know that all of the suffering is unnecessary because there is a government with the power and the money to do something about it. The worst part of all is that the problem is not the government, it is the fact that we vote to put them in power! We, the people choose who has the power, and looking around the world right now, we are doing an excellent job at giving the power to a bunch of muppets! (rant finished)