Safety should be a basic right for every child. Safety is security. Safety is acceptance. Safety is the ability to sleep safe and sound at night. Safety is the experience of being protected from danger and hurt. As for security, it is the ability to have stability in your living situation, relationships, financial status, food, health, and privacy. Security is also emotional safety, which manifests in the ability to speak openly, to be your authentic self, and to be vulnerable without fear of shame.
There are plenty of people who were deprived of safety in their childhood. I was one of them. I didn’t feel safe when I was removed from my father’s house when I was 13. Initially, since my father dictated where I lived, I was placed with his brother because my allegations of abuse were not proven yet and my father had parental rights. While there, I was scared for my physical and mental safety. What if he came and took me? I went nights without sleep again. With no one to support me, I was vulnerable, alone, and scared.
The relationship between my aunt, uncle, and I was not secure. It wasn’t a safe environment for my voice to be heard or respected. I can think of many times throughout my childhood and throughout the years I spent in the system where my voice was never actually heard. Because my father, my aunt and my uncle did not get along, I didn’t see my aunt and uncle for two years. My fear for my safety caused me to start hyperventilating. A severe panic attack washed over me when the forensic investigator told me that I was going to be staying with them for a while.
I ended up alone in a psych ward. Since I didn’t prove to be a danger to myself, the psych ward staff told me I could go back to my aunt and uncle’s place, or I could go to a mental hospital. I chose the latter for my own physical safety. I was finally somewhere safe where my father couldn’t get me. For the first couple of days, my mother came and visited me, and brought me clothes, something I did not have. I was loved, safe, and happy for the first time in a long time. The day after our last unsupervised visit, my parents went to court. I was not there, was not a part of it, and had no clue what was going on. Since there were no criminal charges yet, my dad won the custody battle against my mom. My mom was taken away from me too. The system put a wall between me and my mother, just as my father had done.
I wasn’t even there or had a voice to say if my mother’s parental rights should be terminated. I think that emotional safety, feeling heard, and physical safety are all tied together. When you have all of those needs met, you find security, which is a sense of safety. As a young child, I was taught by my father that children are meant to be seen, not heard. I never had room to safely express my emotions, or receive support around them without being judged for them. I believe acceptance is essential for safety. When I was first placed into care, I had no place where I felt like I belonged. I had no voice, was running low on hope, and my emotional needs were not met. Additionally, my team didn’t ask me what I wanted to do for my last semester of middle school since my father was on the run. A lot of students lived near our trailer home and witnessed the police activity and flipping of our trailer. When I returned to school, my personal life had no privacy. I spent the last month of school hiding away in the main office, just to survive the days. I was terrified that my dad would follow me from there to find me. No one heard me when I expressed my fear. Surely, he did find me.
Safety is the ability to be heard and express yourself with validation. These needs should have been met sooner, but I was a child of the foster system, another number, not a voice, not a person. When I was 17, I developed a strong, connecting, and trusting relationship with my maternal grandfather.I asked my grandpa if I could live with him. He immediately said yes. It took over three months to approve it. While I was awaiting the approval, the staff at the group home withheld my medication from me one night wrongfully. I left and ended up homeless, leaving me to couch surf and try to figure my way out. I was running out of money and resources, and my health was rapidly declining. I wanted to be with my grandpa so bad. It took weeks of me refusing to go to homeless shelters for youth for my team to finally agree to let me rest and stay with my grandpa. At my grandfather’s place, I found safety for the first time ever in my life. I sleep safe and soundly, and have the security to be heard, validated, and accepted. I have financial security, emotional security, and the ability to stabilize my health. I also have the privacy and space needed to make my own choices, grow, and to feel safe.