Next Stop…?? ~~ by Christine Larsen

Banksy's "Girl with Balloon" - a stencilled image on a concrete wall of a girl reaching out to a heart-shaped balloon that she has just lost.

Then there’s another kind of homelessness altogether. It’s one most people rarely consider. It’s about the children who have no ‘real’, forever home of their own. No permanent nest to find sustenance and nurture of small spirits. No soft place to fall when Life proves too difficult to bear alone. They are foster children.

There are shelters, emergency housing and institutions catering for the small homeless brigade; temporary and foster homes for the lucky ones. Lucky? So it is generally believed. But scratch the surface – not too deeply at all – and the saddest of stories emerge.

‘He was nothing but a paycheck to them’

‘… and a year in a children’s home that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Charles Dickens’s novel’

‘… foster mother was very controlling and threatened to send me back to the children’s home if I misbehaved’

‘I felt like a leftover and like a piece of shit that was being carried around from family to family.’

‘My sister and I were 4 and 6 when fostered. We have 2 brothers, each in different foster homes.’

‘Foster kids are good kids in a bad situation – but still just kids’

‘As a child I came to her afraid, having been deprived of every liberty and associating home with violence and neglect.’

And yet, despite all this, there’s a sense of no-one else being able to replace the birth parents. There’s confusion and fear rapidly escalating into terror – but over-riding these are grief as the loss of their ‘known’ unfolds. No matter the abuse or neglect, no matter the shortcomings of their parents, their home was their world. Despite their anger and pain, a part of them never stops loving those parents. The losses continue – of friends, community, school – even the simple comfort of knowing many of the people who have surrounded them. Intangible losses like stability and security; the sense of belonging and identity and connection are the pieces of the jigsaw that build home… and at least some sense of control, however small.

Taken against their will, often passing through a series of group homes or shelters before placement in foreign surroundings with strangers. This is now home, they’re told. Be happy, they’re told. Even though the length of time they’ll be there or how many repeats lay ahead remains secret – adding to the unbearable confusion of their new world. Many profess a wish to be more fully informed and prepared for the trials ahead. Many different ‘homes’ can be expected – statistics tell of 20% of foster children moving more than ten times. Only half stay in one home for over a year. Packing up, saying goodbye, moving, unpacking and starting their whole life all over again becomes the ‘norm’. Little wonder one study has found foster children are more likely to suffer PTSD than combat veterans.

Easy to learn how to build a shell of non-caring, coldness, defiance – in fact, anything to avoid attachment – when nothing can be relied on; everything could change at a moment’s notice. They have learned all too well the frustration of helplessness and pain of the impermanence of their life now.

Home isn’t ‘home’ anymore.

As I said in the beginning – another kind of homelessness altogether.

OMP Admin Note: Christine Larsen is a writer, farmer, wife, mother, and grandmother from Australia. She has never been homeless or had significant cancer – yet – but has had exposure to both – creating a great sense of empathy and desire to help in any way she can. She is humbled by the opportunity to give one of her stories to the sincerely worthwhile causes of Cancer research and Homelessness.

To find out more about Christine and her work:
ceedee moodling (Christine’s website)
Christine Larsen, Author

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