As is often the case, when something new comes along, something else typically gets displaced or overshadowed. The positive transition to emphasizing trauma-informed care and trauma-informed practices with children in foster care has had the unfortunate result of reducing the conversation on resiliency. While trauma-informed care has been a valuable shift in this field, it cannot and was not meant to standalone.
Some people have shunned the conversation of resiliency because they think talking about resiliency minimizes the trauma our kids have experienced. Resiliency to me isn’t about saying, “Don’t worry about little Johnny, he’ll be fine.” Resiliency to me is about “hope” – hope that little Johnny has the possibility of having a good life despite the injustices of his childhood. While I would, without a doubt, wish that no child is ever harmed, I have seen firsthand how wounds that turn into scars later become art. It’s the little girl who lost her mom to drug addiction only to later become a prosecuting attorney taking drug dealers off the street. It’s the teen boy who succumbs to neighborhood crime ending up on probation who later goes on to coach high school football and show youth that there is another channel for their anger. Hope and resiliency is why I continue coming to work. If I didn’t think there was the possibility for a positive outcome, a thriving outcome, I might as well hang up my hat.
There’s an old proverb which says, “They tried to bury me, but didn’t know that I’m a seed.” These are the kids we work with. We are the farmers. We have the opportunity, and quite frankly the responsibility, to tend their soil. We are called to be the sunshine, the nutrients, the water. Maintaining this optimism can be difficult because we don’t always get to see the harvest—a child moves on, experiences new challenges or takes a path from which we wonder if s/he will ever be able to come back from. What has humbled me, though, time and time again, is seeing what I once thought was the most hopeless of all cases take a turn of events which can only be described as miraculous. Regardless of your spiritual or religious beliefs, the work we do is convicting.
Thriving, not just “surviving,” is the bar we should all be aiming for. When we “hope” for anything less, we are doing a disservice to the children and families we serve. This approach doesn’t mean that I place my goals upon the family, but it does mean that I challenge them to think and dream big – bigger than their minds may initially allow. Supporting this sometimes uncomfortable and foreign task with families, doesn’t mean that we don’t make exceptions and allow for anything less. But chronic injustice, pain, inequality and hardship extinguishes the flame of imagination for a lot of families. Step one of fostering resiliency in them is to reignite this flame. This is the task I give to you today: What can you do to help a child dream again? How can you be a beacon of hope? Where are you going to invest your humanity?