Originally posted June 16th, 2013:
First of all, happy Father’s Day to all. It is one of those “family” holidays I’ve avoided since losing my Casey. But I’m slowly emerging from the darkness, so that I can at least tolerate it. Life marches on, n’est pas?
Now to Poland. I’ll start with a little travelogue because I’ve become fascinated with the country of my daughter’s birth. It is roughly the size and population of the State of California. It’s capital, Warsaw, sits at a latitude above Vancouver, Edmonton, Paris, London and Berlin, but south of Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Moscow. When we were there in 1991, it was suffering through a grueling transition from communism to capitalism, where the cost of living was roughly at parity with the West yet wages were stuck in the East. It was not a pretty picture.
Fast forward to 2013. Unemployment remains high at about 10%. It plans to join the Eurozone but still uses the Złoty. While much of Europe is mired in recession, Poland is growing, albeit modestly and, fortunately, it’s debt to GDP is a fairly benign 50%. So I’m rooting for Poland!
Onto orphan care: After WWII, Poland was demolished and left with an estimated one million war orphans who made their way into the state Dom Dziecka system. Dom Dziecka (the c is soft) means “Children’s Home.” That’s where Casey ended up.
In the course of writing my book, I connected with a couple in Poland – Vic, a South African, and his Polish wife, a social worker named Joanna – who gave me an illuminating view of orphanage care in Poland. They run a charity called Agape-Trust.org. I encourage you to check them out.
As we found in Mrągowo, the children’s basic needs were met – feeding, diapering and so on – but emotional needs were sorely lacking. In Casey’s orphanage I estimated that the orphan to caregiver ratio was roughly 10:1, not uncommon. What blew my mind, according to Vic, was that caregivers were trained NOT to bond with the children, even to the point of holding them face-away. It was considered unprofessional, much like a therapist-patient relationship. To make matters worse, as many as two thirds of the children in Casey’s orphanage were handicapped, so the caregivers’ top priority was protecting them from hurting themselves. The quiet ones, like Casey, were left on their own.
This system is changing, much like it did in the U.S. after WWII. Now with an estimated 25,000 orphans, the Dom Dzieckas are being phased out in favor of foster homes – smaller living units with better opportunities to form healthier relationships with caregivers. Foreign adoptions remain highly discouraged. Vic wrote to me recently about their work, something I always find fascinating. Here is his latest email.
We have registered our Polish charity, the Fundacja Dzieci w Rodzinie (Children in Families). We have been granted EU funds to run a series of workshops called “Creative Parents, creative Children.” This is aimed at disadvantaged families to help parents (mostly mothers) to broaden their vision and build self esteem.
Our focus is now on helping families in this area to prevent children ending up in the orphanage system. We still keep on with meetings for the orphanage children on Sunday afternoon/evening. Some of these children/teens will be the next generation of dysfunctional families. A few of the girls come out of the system already pregnant, and many are pregnant soon after leaving the system.
Unfortunately, young sociopath men have pathological radar that senses these vulnerable young women, and they have such low self esteem that they accept being abused. Even women with a good self esteem can be broken down if they are isolated from their family and friends by their abuser. These young women have no family worth that name and lack friends outside their depressive environment.
Lack of attachment is the primary reason we cannot connect properly with many of these children. Reading on your new website I found it very insightful the difference between bonding and attaching. We are hoping that we will be able to help some of these children, teens, and young adults about attachment with the help of animals.
We were given a couple of goats and bought a couple more. None of these goats were used to people. I tried to connect with these goats as an exercise by, as it turned out, attaching as opposed to bonding. It was done on the goats’ terms. It worked great, but of course these goats had been attached to their mothers, so I was building on something that was there already.
Well, we will see how this develops.
Good luck on finding a publisher. We will be praying for you.
God bless you Vic and Joanna!
Written By John Brooks
John Brooks is a former senior media financial executive who has turned to writing, suicide and adoption advocacy since Caseys death in 2008. He recently completed a memoir about his experience as an adoptive father and his journey to understand his daughters suicide, titled The Girl Behind The Door: My Journey Into The Mysteries Of Attachment. He also writes a blog, www.parentingandattachment.com.
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