‘I am walking home’
by Lis Kroeker
“I am walking home”, explained Jonah to Mrs. Comer at the side of the road. “Home?”, Mrs. Comer asked, “Where is your home?” Jonah looked at Mrs. Comer puzzled and annoyed. “You know, my school, I am going home!”
Jonah attended our school from Kindergarten until the end of last year in Grade 3. He lived in a foster home with his sister and the two grandchildren of his foster parents. Jonah’s story was full of sadness. His birth mom was an addict living in the streets of a big city, where he and his sister had been found living in the streets or in Crack houses, often going for days without seeing their mom. No one knew who Jonah’s father was. They were abused and neglected.
Challenged not only by the neurological damage to his brain as a result of his mom’s addictions, but by his story of trauma as well, Jonah attended our school every day. He attached to his teachers, and clung to anyone who made him feel safe. His teacher, a master of attachment, embraced Jonah into her classroom. She collected him every morning when he arrived, she cheered him on as he painfully struggled to learn to read and write, and she celebrated with him as he emerged into himself.
Often, Jonah would become overwhelmed by his surroundings, and as his confusion and alarm rose, his ability to regulate his emotions and find his mixed feelings disappeared. He became violent and attacked those around him. On one of these occasions, Jonah ended up hurting his teacher. He panicked and grabbed her and dug his nails into her arms. Calmly (and with amazing courage), the teacher spoke to him softly, assuring him that he was safe and that she wasn’t going to leave him. The day after the event, she stood by the door of the school ready to welcome him back, and sat with him in a quiet place to talk about what the day would look like and about how they would get through it. Jonah was horrified by the fact that he had hurt her, and she offered him her forgiveness and assurance that she loved him very much.
Last June, the foster parents informed the school that Jonah would be moving foster homes. We met with the family and the social worker and we pleaded for them to keep Jonah with us. But it appeared to be beyond their control and their rules (which I failed to understand). Jonah said goodbye to us as we closed the school for summer.
Even though Jonah’s teacher and our principal visited Jonah’s school in the beginning of the school year to help the new team to understand him from the inside out, Jonah was not able to stay in the school for long. His aggressive behaviour escalated to the point that the new foster family couldn’t manage, and by October Jonah was moved to another foster home and another school. Jonah wanted to come back to our school, but it was against policy rules, so he was sent to another school. By November, Jonah was only able to spend half an hour a day in his new school. He was perceived to be unmanageable and violent. Nobody wanted Jonah. His foster family didn’t want him, and again he was transferred, and sent on to a new home and a new school. We phoned the school board and told them that we wanted Jonah back in our school, but our requests and offers were not attended to.
So it was in the middle of a cold December day, that Mrs. Comer noticed Jonah walking down the highway. A mom from our school, Mrs. Comer recognized Jonah and stopped to talk to him. As they interacted, Jonah explained that if it would take five minutes to drive to the school, it should only take him two hours to walk back to our school. He was going home.
Mrs. Comer gave Jonah a ride to our school. Our principal chatted with him, hugged him and listened to him, and then had to call the social worker. Jonah was picked up by the social worker and taken away again. This morning I received a call from the counselor of the new school that Jonah is to attend. She wanted to know about the safety plan that we had put in place, and wanted me to explain why it was that we hadn’t addressed all his aberrant behaviours in our plan. Our plan was a plan for the adults. It talked about what we would do to help Jonah to feel safe. It talked about how we would compensate the environment so that he could manage himself safely. Our safety planned talked about creating a context of connection, where order and structures would be put in place in order to support this child. We talked about a plan that would solicit Jonah’s good intentions through our relationship with him. Our safety plan talked about creating a village of attachment for this child.
I find myself often thinking about Jonah. We were able to give him a place of rest in our school. We gave him a place where he was able to grow and develop and feel safe. I feel overwhelmed by sadness when I think of a little boy walking down a cold road trying to find his way home, and I hope that he’ll be able to find it again.