Updated: May 26
By Victor Sims
(This is an excerpt from a complete article to be published in the July 2023 issue of the Family Justice Journal.)
The child welfare system is designed to protect children from abuse and neglect and to support families in crisis. However, the system can be intimidating and difficult to navigate, leaving many families feeling disconnected and unsupported. One way to show love and care towards children who are impacted by the child welfare system is to recognize that a child's connection to their parents begins with the umbilical cord. Just as the umbilical cord provides essential nutrients to the developing child, so too, the connection between parents and children provides emotional nourishment that is critical for a child's healthy development. We must act on the importance of preserving and nurturing these parent-child connections and begin to ask ourselves, who in the community can we lean to for support in order to ensure that the family remains whole.
Going into the system at 3 months old and being adopted at 12, I lost my history and a bit of my identity. Later, when I became a foster care social worker, I made a commitment that I would work with every family in a way in which it wasn’t about terminating parents’ rights, but about reconciliation and healing. I worked with every child not from the perspective that they should have been removed but, rather, as if they should have never been removed.
One of the hardest things for me to do as a social worker was to leave my trauma at the door. The same system that I grew up in also created resentment for much of the system’s way of work and created the nature of my advocacy and planted the idea that transformation was necessary. I learned quickly that I could influence outcomes for families, that I had an unusual power of instilling hope into families and that I could be an advocate for hope. I recognized something that we all had in common regardless of whether we worked in the houses of the families we served, the courts or the state houses. We all had a connection to people, and we all were humans ourselves.
When it comes to connection, I am not asking for a transformed system, I am not asking for different jargon to be created to make us feel motivated and create the illusion that we are going somewhere while we are still running on the treadmill. I am asking that we go back to fundamental concepts like “It takes a village to raise a child.”
I am optimistic and understand completely that we cannot do this alone and that it takes a collective. We need to prioritize open and honest communication with families, identifying and leveraging family strengths, providing training and support, and fostering ongoing communication and collaboration with families and the communities where they live.