Written by Arthur Gallant, @ArthurGallant27, CAF ambassador and former young person in care.
We’ve all been there — in line at the grocery store and witnessing a young child throwing what appears to be a tantrum. We begin to judge the parent and the child. We think the child is out of control and that the parent lacks control. We think of the two of them as bad people and not as two people needing help.
It feels as if it was just yesterday I was in that exact same situation myself. I was born to a single mother with mental illness and raised by my grandmother. My world turned upside down when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and put into a nursing home. My mother was plunged into parenthood.
I was constantly throwing tantrums and feeling anxious beyond belief; at the time as a young child, I didn’t know the name for what I was feeling but I later learned it was anxiety. As an 8-year-old I was purposely making myself throw-up to make my mom think I was sick, so I didn’t have to go to school.
I entered the care of the Children’s Aid Society when I was 9 years old and became a Crown Ward when I was 10. I was feeling a variety of emotions and acting out in a variety of ways.
Even as a 9 or 10-year-old I knew what I was feeling wasn’t normal, yet I couldn’t put words to what I was feeling.
While I was ‘acting out’ in foster homes and group homes, my caregivers believed my behaviour was the result of my unique upbringing and not a result of any underlying issues such as mental illness. Many youth, such as myself, faced and continue to face very similar assumptions in regards to their behaviour.
A turning point came when my ‘behaviour’ became so bad that I was hospitalized and assessed. That was when I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. But why the acting out? Doctors believed I had issues verbalizing my feelings and therefore resorted to using my physical actions to try and send a message as to how I was feeling, rather than coming out and saying it.
My depression was regularly described as an ‘angry depression’ which is apparently common in young people.
While in care I frequently found that while the hospital was willing to work with me to find solutions to treat how I was feeling, my caregivers were reluctant to do the same. They were stuck in their ways as to their theory of my acting out and didn’t always agree with the hospital’s treatment approach. Much of the time my day-to-day caregivers simply weren’t equipped or lacked the capacity to carry out the hospital’s recommendations.
Working with youth in care cannot be an easy task and child and youth workers along with social workers and foster parents have a thankless job. However, for youth to succeed and to be properly treated, an effort must be made to develop a personalized and collaborative treatment approach. The lives of children and youth depend on it!