Letter to the Editor: Flaws in Foster Care

I have debated sending a letter for a few months now. I had honestly concluded that no one, literally no one, cares about these children.

Then last week, a friend sent me the CBC story, “Overhaul to NS foster care system long overdue say some former foster parents,” by Taryn Grant. After reading that article and the comments on it, I decided I might as well add our story.

I spent many years working in the Health and Social Service not-for-profit sector and too many of the clients I was helping as adults had come from the foster care system. These adults had few to no life skills: shopping, cooking, budgeting, how to sew a hole in a sock, simple, basic life skills that every adult should have were not taught to these folks when they were children in foster care.

Child playing with lego

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

As a mom of three wonderful kids, seeing this broke my heart. How the heck can these folks possibly have a shot at anything resembling a successful adult life when they don’t know how to fill out a job application and often don’t have the literacy skills to understand what the application is asking?

My husband and I talked a lot about this back then and decided when our own children were older, we were going to become foster parents. And five years ago, we did. Over that five years, we had several short-term or respite placements and two long-term placements. The first little guy we had as a long-term placement was adopted by a lovely couple. Yes, it was choppy and painful and the way a lot of things were done made me question the priorities of the foster care system, but in the end, it was about the best possible outcome for the child and if he ended up okay, we had to work on being okay, too.

The next long-term placement did not go as well. Our hearts were broken to meet such a small child riddled with so much trauma and associated behaviors. And boy oh boy what a basket of challenging behaviors this child came with. I started asking Community Services for help from the first week he entered my home.

Fast forward to 20 months later. Holidays are triggers for many people and this child was no exception. Over this past Christmas his behaviors escalated to a 10 +++. After having little to no sleep over the holidays due to his escalated behaviors, I was at the point of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. I went to Community Services the day they opened after Christmas. I probably should not have been driving due to my lack of sleep over the holiday, but I had tried repeatedly by phone and text to reach someone there, but no one replied. The staff person I met with at the Community Services office arranged for a few days’ emergency respite for us.

After many tearful conversations with my family, it became very clear that we, and in particular I, could not go on like this. I texted the supervisor on call and told her so: this child needs help. Our family needs help, to help him. We asked for three things, none of them unreasonable: a new social worker, regularly scheduled respite with a physically active respite provider and — last but far from least and as I had said from the beginning with this child — counselling. Now. With a qualified trauma councilor. (I know the wait list is long. It’s even longer when no one does a referral.)

I sent these requests to the supervisor on duty. Sometime later we received a text from his social worker saying, “Pack his stuff, he is going to a place of safety.”


And that was it. Twenty months of working with this child; of rocking him and singing to him and soothing him when he cried; of loving him through the hard stuff; of seeing the child under the behaviors — the terrified little boy under all the mess that had been spewed on him during his short little life. Teaching him to ride a bike. Teaching him how to swim. Enrolling him in sports. Taking him on vacations. On bike rides. To the park. Playing Lego and puzzles and games with him. Teaching him how to have a polite conversation. Reading him bedtime stories. Twenty months of doing our best to give this child good experiences and life skills, just like every little kid deserves. All of it just gone. He was taken from of our lives like he never even existed.

Over the almost two years that this child lived with us there were many bad days. But there were many good days, too. And the good days were why we kept going. He has a wonderful sense of humor. He is very physical and picks up on sports amazingly well. He loved to cuddle on the couch with me and watch a Ninjago before bed. He is smart and was getting to be quite articulate. He is a big-time hugger and when he is in a place where he feels safe and supported, he is incredibly loving and kind. He adored our dog Daisy, they were best friends. He loved her and she loved him right back.

He has so much potential and with love and support and help from knowledgeable professionals he can grow up to be a successful and well-rounded adult, I’m absolutely sure of it. But without that support? I truly fear for his future.

We met with every level of the local Community Services leadership plus the federation of foster parents for weeks after they took him. Telling them we wanted to take him back to live with us, (and would still to this day take him back) but not without help from Community Services. What we need to continue helping this child is not unreasonable.

Nothing changed. Instead of working with us to keep the supportive attachments he had in our home and life, with our family, extended family, and friends, he was just taken away. This traumatized little child has now lost two families before his seventh birthday. All the counselling in the world is not going to mitigate that level of damage.

I go into his room some nights on my way to bed. It’s dark. No life there anymore. Daisy comes in, smells his bed, looks at me and cries. I rub her head, I know Daisy, I miss him too. I go to bed and I cry. I wonder…did anyone scoop him up and kiss him all over his face today because he had a good day at school? Did anyone listen to his quirky jokes over and over and laugh like it was the first time they heard them? Did anyone read him a bedtime story and kiss him good-night tonight? Is anybody showing love to this child? Does anybody care?

Communities in Nova Scotia in general and industrial Cape Breton in particular are riddled with generational trauma. This is not woo woo. Trauma and all its facets are well recognized in the mental health world and have been for quite some time.

Changing the future of our communities starts with the people who need the most help and no one NO ONE needs help more than these ignored, thrown aside, traumatized little children.

Cheryl MacQuarrie
Victoria Mines