The Orphans of Calgary
The Arabic word for orphan is yatîm. Generally, an orphaned child is confronted by poverty and has a weak position in society. A minor child in such a compromised set of circumstances possesses nothing, not even the knowledge of how to cope. A child does not have the experience and life skills to make it on his or her own.
It seems that, Muslim or non-Muslim, that we are very familiar with sending money overseas to help children in less fortunate circumstances than ourselves. Those in developing countries without parents; those with parents but without the means for food or shelter; and those who can't afford to go to school for many reasons. World Vision, Orphan Sponsorship Program, Compassion Canada, Childcare International...the list is endless. And while we continue to give and believe that we are doing all that we can, we are not. There's more and it's quite simple. Yet for either the reason of not being aware of childrens' needs in Calgary or not wanting to recognize that one can actually do something, many orphans exist in Calgary. These children have been taken away from their families by Child and Family Services because they lack the necessities they need in life. Most of the time this is temporary and children solely need a stable home while things with families get sorted out. Sometimes, this move is permanent and new guardians are sought. It is vital that we understand the process behind what happens and how we, as stable and mature adults, can help children during this trying time.
Child and Family Services Authority (CFSA) is the overseeing body in the province of Alberta whose mandate is to, in laymen's terms, watch out for the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of all children. If anyone suspects that a child's needs are not being met, CFSA can be anonymously contacted, potentially starting an investigation into the situation. In most cases, this investigation is mediated without the children being removed from their home, as intervention, counselling and parenting classes are offered free of charge to the family. In some cases though, the neglect of the child is more severe and they have to removed immediately and placed in the care of a stable and nurturing family. Sometimes the children are placed with relatives (CFSA says this is the ideal situation and what they strive for), and other times, with a family they do not know. Most often than not, Muslim children who are removed from their homes do not get placed with Muslim foster families...unless close relatives are stable and able to care. The main point of this blog entry is to educate everyone about the dire need of Muslim foster families in Calgary. There's a few important things to consider:
Lesson 1: CFSA is not the enemy
There's a very strong sense in the Muslim community that CFSA are child snatchers. People who have been known to report cases of abuse to CFSA have been shunned and reprimanded by their community for making the call. Some Muslims (and non-Muslims who work with Muslim children) I know actually refuse to call CFSA even if a child DISCLOSES to them that they are being harmed and abused at home. It is sickening to think that lack of education about CFSA and fear about nothing has led us to be in such a situation. I'll reiterate the above point that CFSA is not the enemy nor do they resort to taking children away from their homes right away...this is actually their last resort. CFSA provides a number of free resources and programs to families. They also are in charge of providing provincial funds to families with children with disabilities under the FSCD program. So let's get it straight in our heads that CFSA are the good guys and out to protect children. Our program has ongoing meetings with the NE/SE manager in Calgary to create protocols for case workers entering schools. She is also working with us to educate teachers and eventually parents about CFSA with the hopes of fears and myths being dispelled.
Lesson 2: Any adult in Alberta is morally and legally obligated to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect
That's right folks! Teachers are even more liable because if they don't report, they could face a fine of $25,000 or 24 months in prison. So if a child discloses to you then you had better call CFSA as soon as possible. Because there may have been other calls about the same child and your call may actually be the one to prompt CFSA to conduct an investigation. Also, when you do call, it's anonymous and you shouldn't tell ANYONE that you called. That's how community rumours start. I actually had a mother message me on Facebook, triangulating information about a family that was involved with CFSA...which our program had nothing to do with. It's ridiculous how people try to get information from you. So remember...make the call and don't squeak to anyone that you did!
Fact: Sometimes, it's the parents themselves who call CFSA since they realize that they aren't meeting their children's needs. This takes guts and I admire those parents who reach out for support before it's too late.
Lesson 3: Be a foster family for Muslim children...or ANY child!
CFSA has tried and tried to get more foster families from the Muslim community. Muslims love complaining about CFSA that children are placed with non-Muslim families but they do nothing about this! There are only 5 Muslim families in Calgary who have offered to take Muslim children in...and we apparently have 80,000 Muslim in this city, growing strong? While MCC allowed CFSA to hand out flyers during Eid prayer (umm, not an optimal time in my opinion), flyers won't do anything. There needs to be opportunities to talk and educate in the mosques and musallahs. Imams need to give Khutbas about taking in Muslim orphans. There needs to be more talking, more conversations and more Muslims standing up and telling other Muslims to get in on this! I don't need to mention the rewards of helping a temporary orphan, but the Quran speaks very highly of this act.
Surah Al-Nisa 36th verse:
"Serve God, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For God loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious..."
Surah Al Insan 8th verse:
"And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive."
Lesson 4: "Don't speak about that which you do not know"
Our community is so good at gossiping and spreading rumours. But when it comes to sensitive cases such as families you may know who are dealing with CFSA, it's best to keep your mouths firmly sealed. It's no wonder I hear rumours from people who don't mind their own business regarding families involved with CFSA. And some even try to get involved, triangulating inaccurate information and even worse, divulging to the family where their kids are temporarily staying. It's time like this that I am glad I don't speak Arabic, otherwise my ears would most likely burn from the rumours spread around the schools and community. Bottom line: zip it!
Lesson 5: Step it up, Imams
I'm not sure if there's a been a Khutbah about foster families for Muslim children...there have been plenty about the hellfire, that's for sure. And women who don't wear hijab. Ah, I digress. If this need is going to get out into the community, we need the ammunition of Imams who can stand up and say the message...not only online but in their Khutbas and in their dealings with families. And I mean there's plenty of evidence in the Quran and Hadiths about the importance of helping orphans, so there's no reason NOT to endorse this using religious contexts. Some Imams scare Muslims into fearing Allah so I am sure they can switch things around and come from a more compassionate perspective for once.
Lesson 6: Prevention is where it's at
So yes, I've spoken quite a bit about the intervention side of things... but what about prevention? That's what my work focuses on anyway. Unfortunately, Muslims are quite good at being reactionary towards issues rather than thinking back to how they could prevent it in the first place. Offer pre-marital courses for goodness sake; parenting seminars; connect families to resources; open the doors to the mosque more than 5 times a day; allow PROFESSIONALS in the community to educate Imams about mental health issues; TALK about mental health and parenting; and make it OK for parents to ask for HELP, etc etc etc. It's sad that there's a large group of solid, talented, knowledgable and professional Muslims in this city who can't get an inch away from an Imam to be given the light of day to talk about issues such as this one. But don't let this stop you from spreading the word.
Because I am sure there are plenty of Muslim families in this city who have empty bedrooms in their houses...so why not give one to a child?
Here's what you can do:
Call CFSA if you suspect that a child's needs are being neglected. Their phone lines are open 24/7:
(403) 297 - 2995
Calgary and Area Child and Family Services Authority ensures the safety and well-being of children and teens who are 17 years and younger who are experiencing physical, emotional, sexual abuse or neglect.