Throughout our lives we often collect little bits and pieces that remind us of a person, a place, a smell or a feeling that we have experienced.
We might keep these bits and pieces on a shelf on display or tucked away in a memory box that we visit on occasion. All these little bits and pieces are things that represent our childhood, our adulthood and everything in between. Sure, they may only be objects, but the emotions attached to these objects are irreplaceable.
Now, imagine a child who turns up to your home with nothing but the stuffed rabbit toy that they are holding. It is a well-loved little rabbit that has been from placement to placement with this child. But it is a little shabby, definitely dirty and doesn’t smell clean. What would your case worker or the department think if you let this child wander around clutching this dirty little rabbit?
Shouldn’t a responsible foster parent replace this little rabbit? Or at least wash the current one?
Now take a moment to imagine that this shabby little rabbit is loaded with memories of people and places and feelings.
The tear on its ear is from getting stuck in the car door after a day out. That brown stain on its foot is a stain from the chocolate ice cream they had at their sleepover at grandmas. That weird smell is a combination of their dads’ cologne and mums’ perfume. Sight, smell, sound, taste and touch – they
have all play a part in the memories attached to this rabbit.
So, should this rabbit be replaced, repaired or washed? Maybe, it is not a strict yes or no answer.
What should and needs to happen is a discussion with the child on what they want. If age appropriate, talk to them, ask them what they want. Involve them, let them pop it in the washing machine and turn it on. Empower them, let them choose the cotton to repair the ear or choose the new toy rabbit. This situation doesn’t only apply to a shabby little rabbit, it could be an old, stained t-shirt, a pair of scruffy holey shoes, a torn up damaged book or even a drink bottle.
Equally important for a child is being aware that some things may hold negative memories and promote negative responses. Refusing certain foods, reluctance to wear certain coloured clothes or resistance towards certain environments may be a trauma-based response. Or it might not. You need to have discussions around these situations as well.
Communication isn’t always as easy as a spoken conversation though. Sometimes a child is too young to speak, sometimes they aren’t developmentally ready and sadly, sometimes a child may have shut down. In this moment it’s critical you are observing their physical response.
Whenever a child comes into your care, just remember to respect every belonging they bring and let them cherish what feels important to them.
It is not just the obvious photos or letters that hold the most importance.