The Damage of Neglect

Fatouma and Abdoul as children

This is a Canadian story but sadly, it can happen in any child welfare, foster care system, anywhere.

Fatouma and Abdoul were born in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia from Somali parents. When Fatouma was turning 6, their mother got sick and passed. Her grandmother died the same year. By the time the family was sponsored to come to Canada from a refugee camp in Djibouti, there were only Fatouma, Abdoul, and two of their aunts left. Months after arriving in Cape Breton, the family relocated to Halifax. It was there the children were quickly taken into the child welfare system. Fatouma was 8 and Abdoul was 6.

“What I remember,” Fatouma tells me, “was social workers: two of them coming to the door with ten or more police officers, and saying to my aunt that they were there to take me and Abdoul.”

“Nobody sat us down and gave us an explanation. They didn’t give us a translator. I remember my aunts saying, you are not taking our kids. I remember the cops tackling my two aunts and beating them in front of me. Abdoul and I looked at our aunt, and I said I wasn’t going to go. The officers were trying to put us in the police car and I was fighting with them, and I got slapped because I didn’t want to get in the car. And then I remember sitting in the hospital just waiting for where they were going to send me.”

After the hospital, the children were sent to a temporary foster home, but after a week they were removed from that house and sent to the Dayspring Children’s Centre. It was there that the process of alienating them from their language and culture began.

“Every time I spoke my language, the only language I spoke, I would be in a time out in my room,” Fatouma remembers. “They assumed that we were using it to communicate about getting into trouble.”

“I found out that we were moving and I had no idea where we were going. They just kept telling us they had a good home that fit us and it was going to be better than the Centre. Me and Abdoul were really scared and really nervous. We kept saying: we’re together, so we’ll get through it.”

“The social workers dropped us off on the doorstep and said, ‘here they are, these are their names,’ and then they just left us. I never saw them again.”

In that home, the Gal foster home, Fatouma would repeatedly report abuse. Police and social workers returned her when she ran away, and repeated what she told them to the family which resulted in even harsher abuse. Her warnings to social workers that the foster family were from a rival tribe in Somalia and that the placement would put them at risk were ignored.

It would be more than a year before she was finally removed. Abdoul was left in that home for three more years.

For Fatouma, there was no rescue. Removed from the Gal home, she was bounced between placements. In the group homes, beginning in Grade 6, she would report the men who came around, harassing her, stalking her, looking to exploit her. One of them forced her to come with him to Montreal. Walking home from school with a friend, one of the men followed her, terrifying the girls. When they spoke to the police, the officer warned Fatouma about attention seeking behaviours. The state that had decided they were better parents for the children than their family failed in every way to keep her, such a young child, safe.

“When I got removed from the Gal home, I got put in a home in Cherry Brook but that didn’t last very long. I ended up going into every group home. Finally, they put me in Wood Street because they said I wasn’t listening and I didn’t know how to follow rules. They said I needed to be put there — in a locked home — until I could be obedient. I got really sick in Wood Street, so they extended the 30 days I was originally placed there. They took me to court and got me three more months.”

“I found out I was pregnant in Wood Street. I was 14 going on 15.”

Fatouma reported to workers that she had been raped but, once more, nobody believed her. Instead, they noted in her files that she was a prostitute. She was never given any sexual education, information about birth control, or ever taught about consent.

“I got really sick and they were saying it was the flu. The nurse insisted I did a pregnancy test and it came out positive. When they called my worker, they said right away: we’re going to look for a home for your kid.”

“I said, you’re not taking my baby from me. And they threatened me. They said, you can’t even listen to the rules of the staff, you can’t look after a child. They were saying I was irresponsible. I begged and begged, ‘what do I have to do to show you?’ They told me to take all these parenting courses, but they wouldn’t show me where to go and what to do. By the time I got out of Wood Street, I was so far along in my pregnancy. I didn’t have much time, but I took courses at the Dartmouth Family Centre. I got the certificates and showed them to my workers.”

“Then they said I can’t keep my baby because I lived in group homes. They said there were no homes who wanted to take a teenage mom and a baby, they just wanted the baby. I kept saying no, so they got a woman who wasn’t trained yet and they placed me in her house.”

“I believe I was sent to her house the day I got out the hospital, and I only met her the day I had my daughter Nemiah. I went from the hospital to this woman’s house and within the first week and a half she was already complaining about wanting more money because I was using too much power and water. She wouldn’t buy me food and I was breastfeeding. I told my worker how she was treating me, and they said she was complaining about me. So I said I couldn’t stay there but they said I had no options.”

This sad story is typical of other stories even in the US.  There is so very much more to this story.  If you are interested, you can read it at this link – “There was no care.”

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