William Wordsworth once wrote that “the child is father of the man.”
Okanagan Boys and Girls Club youth workers Danica Whalen and Gaetan Hunt know firsthand the truth illuminated in Wordsworth’s words, having witnessed the consequences a poor upbringing can have on the lives of children.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, they say. And if you are up for the challenge, they need your help.
Contracted by the Ministry of Child and Family Services, the two work with children and youth from Osoyoos to Summerland who for one reason or another have been placed in government care.
“The (youth) that we work with have either been traumatized sexually, emotionally or physically so they have a lot of things that they are going through,” says Whalen. “A lot of them have reactive attachment disorders because of a lack of attachment and abandonment from their parents.”
In an effort to provide such children with a more healthy example of human interaction on which to base their own relationships and behaviour, the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club is spearheading a new Specialized Foster Care Program.
Unlike most foster care programs where children are often in and out of homes which host several children at a time, this approach matches each child to a specific foster parent, who working as a team with councillors and youth workers, has been trained to deal with the child’s specific emotional needs.
The program is based on John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory which centres on the importance of a child’s attachment to his or her caregivers, whose availability and responsiveness to their needs establishes a sense of security from which the child then explores and interacts with the world.
“What we have said with our program is that attachment is all about relationship,” says Hunt. “It is about saying to the kid that someone is on your team and they are going to be looking out for your best interests.
“It is about saying, ‘Hey, I am willing to care, nurture and love you, and I believe in you.’ But it takes a special person to be able to do that for someone and that is what we are looking for now: People willing to step up and be heroes for children who need someone to believe in them.”
According to Whalen and Hunt, the program already has a waiting list and so they are anxious to find people willing to step up to the plate.
With the children living at the foster homes for sometimes years, the commitment is great, they say, but so are the rewards.
Careful to mask their identity, Hunt used one child’s progress since entering the program in January as an example of just how successful the program can be.
“The child came into the program on their last legs with the school,” says Hunt.
“They had been suspended and then expelled, but since working with our program, they have been able to see what having a safe home environment is like.”
He said the child has opened up, talking more and being more honest with their feelings.
Coming from a manipulative background, Hunt said when the child realized they were at a place where they knew someone would accept them as they are and love them, they were able to open up with some of their feelings, struggles and belief system they had developed about themselves.
The child is now back at school and has helped organize an event there, Hunt adds.
“You just get goosebumps sometimes thinking about it,” adds Whalen. “It is exciting because you know this approach works, and to be a part of that is just humbling and profound.”
The Boys and Girls Club will be holding an information session on the program on Wednesday from 7 to 8 p.m. at their office (1295 Manitoba St.). For further information on the session or the program contact Christine Ingram at 250-493-0512 Ext.116.