We always thought it was supposed to get easier when they turned eighteen. There was never an assumption that was when the job was done. Raising children is something we all know we’re committed to for life, so we always knew it would be a long journey. This milestone was just supposed to see things become a little easier, in some ways it is, in many ways it’s not.
Nine years is along time by any stretch of the imagination. Many things can happen in that time. For him he’s gone from an energetic nine year old to a sullen teenager, lost in the void of technology and quite often seeming so lost from us. Disconnected from the rest of the world we stress and we wonder if he’ll be ok. Is he prepared for the real world? Is the real world prepared for him? Other days it’s like that nine year old never left and he bounces through the house full of unstoppable energy, blasting his music and singing, badly.
For a child in care it’s often a terrifying age, many children in care are simply asked to move on at 18 allowing for new children to take their place. It’s a sad reality, but one we’ve been shocked to see for the last two years. Regularly the foster agency and the department have gone to great lengths to engage him in “transition from care” programs that are designed to address that many of these young people will essentially be left to fend for themselves at this age. This includes information sessions on housing, Centrelink, basic living skills and access to post care government support, it’s great that these services are there, but terrible that these young people are left in that position so often. We’ve shielded him from these making sure he knew he will always be our family, ensuring he knew everything would be ok and we will support him and provide him with what he needs to know. But more than that there is the angst that bubbles beneath the surface, the fears of the future, what does real independence look like? Will he find the answers he seeks?
With the removal of departmental barriers access to family becomes his responsibility and with that comes a fear or rejection that seems to stifle him. In turn, coming of age means access to his departmental file, something he desperately hopes will give him more details of his history, to fill the gaps in his memory and help answer where he came from. While we try to prepare him for the disappointment, we know it will hit heavy when that document can’t provide what he needs. Collectively we hold our breath and wait.
Life is still a battle, but the battleground is changing.
However it is not without its successes, there have been many milestones to celebrate that many never expected him to see. Driving his own car is a freedom he loves, only taking 3 attempts, he passed his test and has access to his own car. Looking on filled with hope and terror the first time he drove out of the driveway on his own we could only think back to the fear that must have gripped our own parents years ago. That question again, will he be ok?
Life’s biggest achievements for him have come with education, reaching milestones that put him in the smallest of minorities. As we discussed with a recent community visitor shortly before he came of age, the rates of children in care who graduate high school are incredibly low. Such a rarity is it, that an event like a graduation for a child in care warrants its own celebration, to go on and study at university as well is almost unheard of. Again, he is breaking the mould.
Thanks to a remarkable high school he reached graduation in one piece. Graduating with a Diploma in Business and achieving an OP exit equivalent of 8 (That’s 5 higher than me). You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face that graduation day, nor ours. Clouds parted and everything looked more hopeful once again. It was early one morning a month or so later he walked into the living room and just looked at us blankly.
“I just got a text, I got in.”
First round offers for university had been distributed, he’d received an offer for his first preference. Shock, awe, fear and happiness washed over him in equal measure, the future suddenly looked different again, but brighter.
Will he ever be prepared for what the future brings? Probably not.
Are any of us ever prepared properly? Probably not.
Now it’s time for us to be proud, let him take the reigns and watch him shine.