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By: Cathern Lethbridge

The following poem is dedicated to children who are in the system as either foster or adoptive children. It also applies to our children of trauma who have had similar experiences in their early lives as the children of the system but haven’t actually been in the system. –

I am a child of the system

My neuroceptive alarm system was set off so many times before I was taken into care…and sadly after I was in care as well.
So now a hair-trigger alarm system I have.
I can hear a whisper from the far side of the house, classroom or schoolyard because I have to be vigilant
My limbic system takes over and becomes hyper vigilant
My system is so mammalian…I have so many reasons to fear

That’s where my negative bias comes from
When I’m at school, the teacher yells at me or, she makes an angry face
My social arousal is so high
I lose it…I’m so in trouble

I am a child of the system

Co-regulation has to be bidirectional, can’t be top down from the adult
But my birth mom didn’t know that, and even some of my other “moms”, “aunts”, “caregivers” didn’t know that either…they just wanted me to behave
I don’t know how to respond to a rupture
I don’t know how to re-establish synchrony
I don’t how to “dance”

I am a child of the system

My first “dance partners” were not skilled dancers.
My social arousal increases; I find it harder to regulate; I get caught in the stress cycle and I fall deeper and deeper into fight or flight…or freeze.
They call me bad. They say I’m lacking in social skills.
They’re right because right now I’m incapable of social engagement

You have to help me flip my survival brain back into learning brain
Aggression becomes my coping strategy…maladaptive but it’s all I have
Or maybe you will be lucky and I will try to suppress my feelings…I will become quiet, submissive, frozen
Or maybe I become victimized…learned helplessness is mine
My maladaptive social behaviours block me from the learning experiences that I need for healthy development
My anxiety is so strong—I’ll either fight, bolt or freeze

I am a child of the system

Teacher, you call me bad but I respond with fight or with submissiveness but I come back to your class every day…unless I’ve been suspended
I eventually come back to class…that’s what kicked dogs do, right?
I will come back to class…
If you will allow me.
Sometimes you will not. You are the rejecting, still face. I’ve met you before in my birth home and in other homes along the way.
I am in a learned helplessness state. You think I’m being compliant. You think you’ve won.

I am a child of the system.

Please reframe my behaviours. Help me reframe my behaviours.
I want to learn in natural situations within my capacity so I can begin to learn the subtle aspects of co-regulating.
I do not want to be what I fear most.

I am a child of the system…will you teach me to dance?

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