Here is an introduction to our first ever Mini Quilt Block Drive Mama - Tricia!
As you can see she has this cause we work for at the very heart of her being so I hope you will respond with great enthusiasm and give her a wonderful warm welcome! Over to you Tricia...
When Nicky Eglinton told me that she was looking for people to host a mini block drive for Siblings Together I volunteered to help immediately, because this is something close to my heart. I was subjected to serious abuse as a child but somehow, I don’t know how, I knew that if I told anyone what was happening to me, my family would be broken up and I might not see my siblings again.
When I moved to California as an adult and I did not have a visa to work, I decided that I wanted to do volunteer work instead and that maybe I could use my childhood experiences to work with abused children. I became a Court Appointed Special Advocate, working one to one with children in the foster care system. I had access to all aspects of the child’s life and would meet with them regularly and also make reports and recommendations to the court when their case came up for review. It was through this work that I first became aware of how often siblings were separated because there weren’t enough foster care placements that could take them. Whenever I worked with a child who had been separated from their siblings I did what I could to arrange for them to get together and share some fun activities. My thinking was that if I could help them to create positive memories together, it would at least give them something in common and something they could reminisce about as they got older – ‘Remember that time we did…’.
Searching for activities for them, I became involved with a charity that organised out reach programmes for children in care, and I ended up becoming Chairman of the Board. We held week-long camps in the mountains for the younger children, where they slept in teepees, with no running water or electricity which was quite a culture shock to them! I loved driving groups of children to camp and hearing their questions and concerns ‘But what will we do without tv?’ When I picked them up at the end of the week they had always, without fail, had a wonderful time, and were left with many happy memories. We also ran backpacking trips with donkeys for teenagers, and day long activities, and I organised a talent show for the children every year. I could see first hand the powerful effect that these activities had on the lives of these children.
However, I often felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more to help them, so when I returned to England I did a post-grad degree in psychotherapy. I wrote my dissertation on dissociation, researching the lifelong effects of early years trauma, and in my private practice I work with adults, many of who have experienced abuse or neglect as children.
The volunteer work I did also had an impact on my family, with my son giving up his PhD because he wanted to be a teacher. His wife has become a Special Needs teacher, and often encounters children within the system. My youngest daughter is a senior social worker, and works in Child Protection, which means that she is the person who has to remove children and place them in foster care. Through her I have learned how the system works in this country. I think it’s a shame that social workers are given a tough time by the public, often seen as child snatchers, even though removing children is always a last resort. It is actually enshrined in law that every attempt should be made to keep families together whenever possible by providing support, and when that can’t happen, siblings should not be automatically separated. (There are times when siblings have to be separated because of the nature of the abuse.) My daughter has told me that when children are removed they can often be moved several times in the first week alone, and the chances of them staying together at that point are very slight. Extensive assessments are carried out to determine the needs of each child, and if the recommendation is that siblings should be kept together, placements are sought where this can happen. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough suitable foster homes to cope with the need, and it then becomes the duty of the social worker to try to maintain contact with the siblings, although because of the pressures within the system, this may only happen 3 or 4 times a year. This is where an organisation whose sole purpose is to facilitate these sibling relationships through the activities they organize in the way that Siblings Together does becomes so important.
Throughout my life I have been a maker. I remember knitting for a new sister when I was nine years old, and embroidering my Irish dance costume when I was still in primary school. A few years ago, through my son’s mother-in-law, I discovered quilting, and a new addiction was born. When I joined Instagram I eventually discovered this group and it felt like the different strands of my life fell into place.
I have been asked ‘Why quilts? How do they help?’ and I wanted to share my thoughts.
The life of a child in foster care is a hard one. Although we want children to be removed from an abusive or neglectful environment, how much thought do most people give to what happens next? There is often a stigma attached to being in foster care, and it’s not unusual for these children to become disruptive or develop learning difficulties. They are often moved from placement to placement with their few possessions stuffed in black plastic bags.
Imagine then, how a quilt might become a prized possession for them. If they were given the quilt while at a camp with siblings, it becomes imbued with happy memories and becomes a tangible connection to each other. Add to that the idea that a stranger cared enough about them to make it for them and it can come to symbolize hope.
These are not random thoughts, they are firmly rooted in psychological theory. Donald Winnicott was a British paediatrician and psychoanalyst who had a huge influence on how children are raised. He coined the term ‘transitional object’ and wrote extensively on its importance. This is an object, often a blanket or toy that gives security to a baby or child as they encounter changes in their lives. More and more the importance of these objects is recognised and some schools allow children to take their favourite object into the classroom. Adults also have their transitional objects although they might take a different form – a favourite armchair or item of clothing, a piece of music an activity – whatever it is, we draw comfort from it. At a time in my life when I was going through a huge trauma, I was often seen wearing an old sweatshirt of my son’s because it brought me comfort, and I knit or stitch when I’m stressed.
Making a quilt for Siblings Together is a special activity for me. As I cut and stitch I think of the child who might receive it. I put as much thought and love into the quilt as I possibly can, and I hope that it will provide many years of comfort for a child as they travel on their journey in life. I am amazed by how many people participate in this project and beyond happy to help with the block drive. I look forward to putting the blocks together, knowing that each one has been made with great thought and kindness.