Loneliness is a common thread for many children growing up in challenging home environments or within foster care systems. Children often feel isolated, like none of their peers understand, or like the struggles that their families face are unique to their families. Some children have missed significant amounts of school because of financial hardship. Entering a school grade multiple years below that of your own age can be embarrassing. Often the social effects of being behind make it harder to maintain the motivation to keep studying.
Many of the children in CIF’s care live in this reality, with these emotional responses. This can be particularly true for those in our Kinship Care program who enter the program at different stages of family life. There is good news, however. Recently, CIF gave the opportunity to bring the children in one of our provinces together for a morning to participate in training, and to grow together as a community.
Facilitating a sense of community
20 children aged 2-14 from our Kinship Care program, and another four Foster children, attended the training morning. Initially, many who attended the program sat quietly and observed those around them, but over the next two hours they began to warm up to each other. They chatted whilst sharing their ideas and experiences over group exercises, games, and food. By the end of the morning, it was difficult to break through the noise and laughter. As the children worked on different activities, the parents and grandparents were able to sit together and talk. There was a real sense of community as the neighbors shared life together.
Having their opinion sought and learning through group work was a new experience for many of the children. Each child’s opinions were acknowledged and affirmed in front of their peers, families, and wider community. For those not used to being seen or heard, this can be very powerful. The training was also an opportunity to see the relationships built with staff and the staff modeled listening and attentive behaviors to everyone in attendance.
By bringing the children together regularly, we hope to be able to create shared experiences and relationships with these kids. When they go to school now, they will recognize each other. When they see each other in the yard or in the market, they will know someone else is going through the same thing.
“It takes a village to raise a child” does not only mean that parents need support. Children need a village as well, a group of people who understand them, know them, and share challenges. They need a place where they don’t feel ashamed of the challenges they face. A place where they can celebrate what they have overcome. A group where they know beyond a doubt, that they and their family are where they belong.