Continuation of the first morning’s workshop after the break:
After the break, Sarah and I wanted to address the losses the Home had experienced since the implementation of the law for reunification. We started the process by showing a video of one of the little boys, R, one of the first who had been sent home to live with his mother. He was a newborn when he came to the Home, and the videos of him as a robust, happy little boy were painful to watch, because he was no longer with them. One of the CG became tearful at the sight. I said that there had been a great deal of sadness and hurt the Home had experienced in the last months and wondered if the CG’s could tell us how their experience of their work and with the children had changed.
One CG said that because of their relationship with the children, the children want to share with them the smallest details of their home visits when they come back to the Home (some of the children have not yet been reunited with their families but have been going on home visits in preparation for reunification, and others have been reunified and come back to the Home for visits). They talk about how they miss them all (at the Home) and about how they miss the meals.
L, another CG, told a story about a 10-year old boy who went on a home visit and returned after New Year’s. He said that he missed everybody at the Home. He told L all the things he has at the Home that he doesn’t have in his family’s house. L told the boy that what really matters in life is relationships with your family, and that he hopes that the opportunities he has had at the Home will benefit him when he grows up to be a man and allow him to be like L, who feels he can always rely on his family when he is in need.
I said that L was giving the boy what he had given J in the video, a chance to identify with him as a strong man, and that was good. However, I knew that all the children had strong emotions – sadness, anger, fear – and that the CG’s would have to make room for those feelings too. If the children couldn’t find a way of experiencing those painful feelings and making some kind of peace with them, they would have a hard time holding onto the good things the Home had given them. I invited the CG’s to tell their stories of the children’s painful feelings.
One CG said that when C left for a home visit he said that he was worried M (the CG who had held him all the time when he was an infant) would be sad without him. M then spoke up and added that after his return he told her that the next time he went, she was going with him.
Another CG, A, said that over New Year’s weekend she went to visit her own family in a nearby village, where the mother of V, J, and M (three siblings who have grown up in the Home) also happens to live. This CG was in her village, when she heard V’s voice, and V, J, and M all ran up to her and hugged and kissed her. She asked their mother for permission to take the children to her own mother’s house for tamales, and the children’s mother gave permission. When J happily went with the CG, his mother expressed surprise, because, she said, before that J hadn’t wanted to leave the house during the whole vacation.
R, the director, added that before these children went home for the weekend, V had been crying for days “for no reason” and couldn’t say what was wrong. For three nights she cried at night, and her CG, A, lay with her in the bed and rubbed her arm. Another night V wanted to sleep with R, but she didn’t want to talk about what was bothering her. Finally, she had such a bad tantrum that she was not allowed to go on an outing the other girls were going on, and when she was in the grocery store with R, she began to talk about her sadness and anger about the home visit. R felt that it took several days of struggling alone with the strong emotion and only then was she prepared to go home to visit her family. Sarah pointed out that R had handled the situation in an exceptional way. The acceptance that she and A had demonstrated towards the sadness and anger V had expressed was crucial. Sarah also noted that they set a limit on V’s aggressive behavior in her tantrum, while at the same giving her the loving attention she needed.
G, another CG, also showed remarkable skill in the way she handled an incident with little E, 4-years old. She had the task of dropping all the kids off for their home visits and picking them up. E’s pickup was the most memorable. When she approached the family house she could hear him crying. As his grandmother brought him by the hand to greet her, he cried harder. She bent down to ask him what was wrong, and he told her that his family said they would not let him leave to return to the Home. His mother said, “I don’t know why he has been acting like this.” In previous home visits he had seemed more content to be with his family, but apparently this time he had not behaved as if he wanted to be with them, and his parents were angry at him. G felt at once sad for him and angry with his parents for having made this threat, which made it even harder for him to tolerate the home visit. Managing these strong and complicated feelings of her own, G made two responses. She first calmed E down. Then she told his mother that E was at a different developmental stage than he had been in at the previous home visit, and that his behavior was related to this developmental change and not to the wish to reject them. Sarah and I were impressed by G’s ability to allow herself to feel angry with the parents and yet also to extend her empathy to them. I said, just as it is important to allow the children to be angry and sad, so it is important for the CG’s to allow themselves to have those feelings. I asked if anyone else could tell a story about having these feelings.
Then, A told a story about R, the child in the video we showed just after the break. Someone from her church told her that she saw R out begging at 11:00 at night. She was tearful, telling the story.
G said that she feels helpless, as if she can do nothing about what is happening. She goes to court hearings and feels as if her hands are tied, she is told she cannot have a voice in the hearing when she tries to advocate for the child, for example, when she objects to the children’s being present while frightening disclosures about their parents’ (whom they often barely know but with whom they are expected to be reunited) criminal behavior are made. Then she has to go back to the Home and break the bad news to everybody.
At this point, R also became tearful. R, however, continued to speak, elaborating these points in a masterful way, presenting herself to her staff as a model, demonstrating to them that she can allow herself to be vulnerable and still be a strong leader. Sarah and I felt both respectful and moved. Tonight Sarah will take more of her wonderful videos, hopefully again catching some of those momentos magicos that we can use in tomorrow’s workshop.