I forget what we were doing together, my 6-year-old foster sister Ella and I, but I remember laughing as she told me a story from school with excruciating detail. I remember Ella's sparkly pink, marbled, sequined shirt that was too small for her and which she never took off. Her hair was in loose braids with fly-aways escaping every which way. I recall her infectious laugh, bubbling over despite her best efforts to control it. Watching her talk with such excitement, I realized that I'd do anything for her. Love emanated from my fingertips to my toes and as I smiled, nodded, and laughed with her. I clearly thought, This must be how God looks at us, his children. Ella was shining, imperfect and a bit of a beautiful mess. I saw her as God saw her—his child—whom he loves and with whom he is most pleased (Matthew 3:17).
In my fourth year of nursing school at Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia, my senior clinical preceptorship was in an inner-city pediatric emergency unit. I was both ecstatic and terrified of this new challenge. I was asked to help with an admission assessment on three sisters, ages 8, 6, and 2, who had been removed from their home due to parental use of cocaine. The girls were on contact precautions due to their likely substance exposure. I walked into the room with my flimsy yellow gown and long purple gloves to find three loud little girls, clothes visibly soiled, shoeless, hair long and knotted, with smiles plastered hesitantly across their faces. They were jockeying for attention from my coworker as he was attempting to assess them. I chuckled quietly as he struggled to get an oxygen saturation probe on the finger of the 2 year old who desperately wanted to touch the nurse's blue stethoscope.
Following our initial nursing assessment, the collection of blood and urine to test for cocaine ingestion, and medical clearance by an emergency physician, a pediatric-trained forensic nurse would assess the sisters. The information gathered during this assessment would be used by police if needed. I set this information aside and returned my focus to the girls, joining one of them on the floor. As we colored the gowns of princesses and chatted about Skye from Paw Patrol, I thought about how unfair life is.
How unfair that there are children in Canada and worldwide who begin their lives amid chaos and uncertainty. I knew the likely path for these three sisters as I had been a part of Ella's story. Ella had spent half of her life under the care of the Ministry of Child and Family Development and lived in various foster homes, some more supportive than others. I had witnessed firsthand how one event could project a child on a different path, through none of his or her own doing. My heart ached.
I desire to use my nursing knowledge and skills to help children like Ella who have been in the foster system. My nursing degree has provided knowledge about wholistic healthcare that envelopes spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. Currently, the Ministry's main focus is on the physical well-being of the child due to the potential for immediate threat of the child's life.
Although children are under the care of the Ministry, I want to assist in rehabilitating them emotionally and mentally in order to give them the best chance at life post care, whether that is returning to their birth parents, being adopted, or aging out of the system. By providing space to practice social and emotional skills, we may be able to change the trajectory of a child's life. I want to pilot an intervention study focusing on the development of coping skills and emotional awareness. The study would include pre- and postmeasures of a child's cortisol levels with the aim of discovering if such a program alters a child's stress level.
Working with foster children reminds me that all children were knitted together in their mothers' wombs because God loved the very idea of them (Psalm 139:13-14). Each child deserves wholistic healthcare and I believe that this should be a priority.