In 2005, a group of South Australian children and young people in care selected 37 important rights to go into their Charter of Rights. When the Office of the Guardian came to distil the essence of these rights into a few succinct quality statements for it’s monitoring framework, one of the last to be added was ‘This child is loved’.
It was not that we denied the importance of love but among the other precise and objectively verifiable statements it looked ambiguous and elusive. In the end, its claim to a place in the 12 quality statements could not be denied.
The benefits of being loved have been captured in Celebrating Success: What Helps Looked After Children Succeed published by the Scottish Government in June 2008. In a survey of young people in care, 23 of the 32 participants, when asked what helped them to be successful, immediately identified a person who cared about them.
I’ve got a good relationship with [my foster parents] – they treat me like their own child so I return it, you know?
Anne, foster mother of Daniel, says ‘He’s one of our own, always has been and always will be’ and her daughter Celia says ‘He feels like a proper brother and always will be’.
But beyond reciprocal affection, feelings of nurture, warmth and safety are implied by, and imply, a caring relationship. To a young person, being loved can mean…
Having nice things and not being dirty and cold and hungry all the time. And not having to do work all the time, being at some adult’s beck and call … having privacy, having your own room, having simple things that others take for granted, like deodorant and sanitary towels when you needed them.
The comments of the Scottish young people also demonstrate that being loved can open the way into a world of other positive connections and experiences.
They don’t leave you out or nothing … you feel like you are part of the family. They just treat us the way they treat their own son … my foster sister, who’s the same age as me, she’s actually got a daughter and when I see them, whenever I see my nieces and nephews it’s like ‘uncle Liam’ and it’s cool.
We were always involved…going along with my foster mother to dances and stuff like that which was actually great fun and a big treat … and there were holidays … it was a family situation.
Being loved gives fundamental lessons about how positive relationships work and sends powerful messages that go to the heart of one’s worth as a human being.
I think the most folk need is trust. If you can see that somebody trusts you it makes you feel happier, it makes you feel as though you want to get it right in your life. It makes you want to get your life sorted out and basically get on with it.
My foster carers trust me, and they love me like I was their own daughter.
The benefits of being loved are profound. The bonds of love are enduring, sometimes persisting through the experience of neglect and abuse. The bonds are diverse in form ranging from the robust affection of the workplace, the obligations and connections of a clan group, to the passionate singular attachment to a parent, sibling or partner. In all forms, the healthy loving relationships of children and young people in care are worthy of our closest attention. Can the child in care who you know name people who love her? Does the child you know have people who talk of their love for him?