A few years back, I worked for awhile in foster care and child protection. One of my jobs was to “placement match”. This meant assessing the needs of a new child coming into care and deciding which family they would best be suited with. It was a really tough job and one that I didn’t always get right, which only made it all the more unforgiving. One of the children I had the pleasure of meeting was young Bailey. He needed a new family just before his first birthday. Bailey would have been one of the most adaptable and resilient babies I’ve met and always had a toothy smile and giggle for every audience he came across. He looked like the typical surfer with his curly white hair, blue eyes and board shorts and had about the same streak of courage and determinism too. He’d just jump right in and ride every wave no matter how consuming.
One of the most frustrating aspects about the child protection system is how helpless you feel in getting the needs of each kid met. It was always a perpetual battle to obtain clothing, medical aids, a paediatric appointment, counselling, play therapy, a health care card, a birth certificate, a hair cut, approval for a change in diet or even a playdate with the biological parents. Most days on the job were spent jumping through hoops to obtain the most simplest of human needs for each child. Bailey was the first child who taught me not to focus on what can’t be done, but alternatively to focus on what can be done. As his first birthday approached it appeared he would be unable to spend the actual day with his natural parents, and as he was new in care, the funds to support his living had not come through, leaving his current foster family chewing into their savings to provide for him and several other children they were caring for. While I’m aware that Nelson Mandela never literally advocated for the human right to have one’s birthday celebrated and acknowledged, I feel that birthdays are a very momentous occasion where people you love take a moment to appreciate that the world has been privileged to have your presence in it for another year. Everyone deserves this. Bailey was no exception and with the support of his foster family, their friends, my petrol money and my friends, we gathered enough to give Bailey a birthday with cake, presents, cards, and party food. Will he remember it? Probably not. However, it was a significant milestone on two levels. Bailey turned one. And we finally found a way around the hoops and bureaucracy to show a child that he’s appreciated.