How to Save a Life


If you cannot afford an attorney one will be provided for you. As I sat watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit a few nights ago, that part of the Miranda warning hit me as if I was the perp being read their rights. I knew that the character accused was innocent, but I was also aware that if they were appointed an attorney with a case load the size of the Empire State, a budget as minuscule as 1950s bus fare and limited time to make a difference, this young, naive girl would be going to jail for sure.

These last few months have been quite tough for me where being a foster carer is concerned. My first placement came to an early end. I felt alone, unsupported and like the defendant in L&O, I probably resembled a deer in headlights for most of it. I enjoyed so much of the time I spent with Bobby yet, was completely unprepared for the amount I would miss him being around.

The placement was coming to a natural end but before the outings, goodbyes and plans for staying in touch could happen, Bobby was gone. It was an unexpected, devastating blow.

Even before he left, I was feeling lost and despondent. We faced numerous issues with one another and whilst I could see that I was falling in love with Bobby’s cheeky, funny character, I felt isolated and confused by the extreme responses I received when seeking support. I was told over and over again that it was me, I was taking things too seriously, that I was giving too much and would burn myself out. Each time, I explained that I didn’t know how to give less than 100% and in fact, did not want to entertain a life where giving less than the full monty would be ok with me.

After the placement had come to its sticky end, I wrestled over and over about my role, what I did wrong, what I could have done better, who I am as a foster carer, who I am as a person and mostly, whether I was equipped to carry on. There were no awakenings. I did not arise with the answer, knowing that this was my calling. I slowly placed one foot in front of the other reflecting on my feelings and waiting for peace to find me.

It’s taken a month and a half for me to quieten the sad thoughts that beckon me to wallow in them. So, you will understand that it’s been tough, but I can now see that giving a different kind of ‘all’ to the next child that enters my life via the system is the only way to protect my sanity and my heart.

I still feel sad. Broken, I guess, because now I understand that in order to succeed, I must fail at giving my all. Just like a court-appointed attorney, I must play to win without losing my integrity yet, I am charged with maintaining my dedication at all times on minimal pay and even less respect. I must fight for the children in my care without fighting with the system. Gain their trust whilst at the same time, introducing boundaries. I must go against my feelings to be crowned a victor at the summit of my efforts. Like a public defender, I too am working to save a life. I must keep going. So, although the last few months have been tough, with a new understanding of how I feel about my role in this social care machine, I remind myself that I am fighting to improve two lives: mine and the child’s.

Prayer has been my greatest ally on this journey of reflection. It will continue to keep me from drowning in self-loathing for wanting to end the placement prematurely and for being unable to close my eyes to the support failures in the system that are unlikely to change.

I’ll still think of Bobby every single moment of every single day, but I think that he was my first experience of how easy it can be to feel like a failure in this type of work and so, I am thankful that I will never forget what he taught me and what I, hopefully, taught him.



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