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Three years ago on the advice of a co-worker, I read the book A Chance in the World, written by Steve Pemberton and the book was both riveting and eye opening for all of us that work with children. I also had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Pemberton speak in person and was amazed at his resilience and description of the experiences that he had, while placed in foster care, as well as his journey to Boston College and the search for his parents.
During the presentation, Mr. Pemberton focused primarily on his hardships while in care but most importantly the kindness of strangers or individuals that had crossed paths with him while growing up. One of the most important takeaways from the speech was the power of words and actions that a young child retains over the course of a lifetime.
Mr. Pemberton detailed the kindness of a next door neighbor who had given him books to read, and with that gift, came a chance to immerse himself in literature and a chance to escape the hardships he was experiencing. He reminisced about a middle school teacher who gazed approvingly at him while competing in a spelling bee or the kindness of a high school teacher who took him in permanently during the Christmas vacation week when he finally escaped the abusive home that he had resided in for some thirteen years.
This speech, like his book, challenges one to think how words or actions can affect a young child especially while in foster care. Mr. Pemberton made it quite clear that the positive or negative reactions that children experience with adults over the course of time can leave a lasting impression.
During my career in children’s services, I always explain to foster parents that no matter how trauma affected a child might be the kindness and special events that a child experiences while in care last forever. Often times for children in care, events such as a birthday celebrations, school graduations, prom, pumpkin picking, having an ice cream cone with family, family pictures, or just a day in the park can serve as a positive lifetime experience. Often times we take for granted these events but as was illustrated by Mr. Pemberton in a grainy photo which pictured a sulking and angry looking middle school child , it was he, the only child that DID NOT have a Halloween costume on with his classmates when the picture was taken!
The power of words and positive experiences of children in foster care cannot be measured exponentially, but in the memories that the child has as they age. As I promised Mr. Pemberton during our brief meeting, I will continue to provide copies of his book to our new case managers as a constant reminder of the need to remain vigilant and recognize that the pathway of tomorrow is often rooted in the actions and words a child experiences today.
Steve Pemberton “A Chance in the World” Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012