Alien Messages: Family services

Charo - A report from a neighbour is all it takes for Family Services to take an interest in your family. And once they do, every mother’s worst nightmare becomes a very real possibility: if they see reason for concern, they may take your children away and put them in a foster home until they determine whether your family is “dysfunctional” or not.

Kalpana - And what is a functional family? One like those we see only in Disney sitcoms? One where there’s never conflict? One where everything is pristine? It would be good to ask Family Services what they regard as a functional family, but everyone is too scared to contact Family Services with questions.

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Charo - I won’t, that’s for sure. And yet, should it be like that? You should be able to go to Family Services and tell them, for example, “Guys, I’m losing it. I’m depressed and overwhelmed. Please help me heal my family.” And they should — it’s in their name: They should serve families. In Germany, when you call Family Services and ask for help, they ask you what they can do for you, and you may request a babysitter, or someone to help you clean your home, or therapy. And they will provide that service because they know it makes more sense to help a family in their own home than to shatter it and then try to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Kalpana - Plus it is less expensive, and for sure less traumatic and more humane than placing the children in the foster system, which, unfortunately, seems to have become a business.

Charo - And some particular social groups seem to be getting it much worse; 52.2% of the children in foster care in Canada are First Nations, even though they account for only approximately 7.5% of the total child population.

Kalpana - Tragically, the foster system has become a replacement for the residential schools. No specialized, knowledgeable, culture-sensitive support for First Nations people. Nobody to understand their particular circumstances, their parenting style. Just keep taking their children from them until they understand that they must fit a uniform pattern.

Charo - The sad thing is, I am certain if the Family Services were a compassionate institution offering humane solutions to poverty, domestic violence, addictions, and mental health, that families would reach out to them in times of crises and ask for help. Many of the problems that many families bury because they are shamed and scared of the system, would then come to light and families could be healed by staying together and working on their situations.

Kalpana - Family Services should not act as punishers, but as protectors and healers of the sacred connection between parents and children. Families should perceive them and use them as a shelter, as a friend, as a helping hand.

Charo - Granted, in some occasions, a child needs to be removed from a toxic or harmful environment, but, shouldn’t this be done only under extreme circumstances? Can’t a family remain together, even if under close supervision, and receive professional scaffolding to re-build their futures together?

Kalpana - Because, really, once you have crushed a family with the trauma of removing their children, what do parents have left to lose? What is their motivation to keep living?

Charo - Families are one of the few sacrosanct institutions left to people. I believe we all want to cherish them, support them, encourage them, and nourish them through the Family Services we pay for with our taxes.

Charo Lloret is from Spain; Kalpana Loganathan is from India. They reflect on their experiences immigrating to Canada. 

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