Many of my Superparent friends; foster carers, adopters, kinships carers, guardians chose not to watch Superkids on Channel 4 last week. They said being Superparents had left them too broken, exhausted and sad and all they could face was a bit of I’m a Celebrity and an early night. The programme could have carried an irony warning.
Although everyone says they bloody love those who care for the state’s children, words can come up empty when the shit hits the fan. I took a deep breath of sweet-smelling air, thought of the poetry and Lemn Sissay and switched over. I’m glad I did – the kids, the poetry, the human spirit….
The Superkids, who were completely super, had awful starts in life and been bundled around the care system. They were hurt, hurting and rootless. The state, their parent clearly does some great work, but still has a long way to go before it can truly say it universally provides what Superkids need and deserve; relentless, fearless, forever parenting.
The State’s Superparenting obligations are of course carried out by individuals. If the state is serious about reducing the number of moves that children in its care endure and improving their life-chances, then supporting and scaffolding those on the caring front line must be its bread and butter. Hurt children hurt, children who have been tested will test and children who have learned they are not worthy of a permanent home will chase chaos. To stick alongside kids when this is the daily reality is the difficult bit, the forever bit. It’s when Superparents of all hues need to hear ‘you’re doing something incredibly difficult, we’ve got your back, it’s not your fault’. It’s when they need to know that schools, health services, social services, members of parliament are right there, rolling with the punches, sharing the same objectives and the same knowledge about trauma and broken childhoods. It’s a dirty, human, emotional business. It’s also a real test of the state’s commitment to forever, no matter what parenting. When the shit hits the fan, will the state pitch in with a mop or a clipboard?
It perhaps sounds easy to be a Superparent when you’ve never done it yourself, when you’ve never come face-to-face with the soul-shattering rage our children rightly feel then helped them unpick it, when you’re not the one chasing, mending, grieving, problem-solving, relentlessly, day after night, after week after month after year after year. But it’s the hardest thing most of us will ever do.
I marvel at the lengths individuals go to for their Superkids and the life-changing Superparenting they provide. And I despair at the lack of value put on their efforts and skill, the lack of even general knowledge about how trauma looks and behaves in the real world, the way the state, without meaning to, squanders their talents and goodwill. If Superparents are to stand a chance of providing the relentless parenting our kids need and deserve, the state must in turn stand by them and the children they care for, relentlessly, day after day after week, after month after year. And at the very least, Superparents shouldn’t be left too broken and dispirited to face watching a programme about the children they put themselves on the line for.