While having our coffee this morning, and listening to the wind whip through our neighborhood, my husband remarked, “Its amazing that the trees in our backyard have survived all the windstorms and hurricanes that have run through here.”
“They must have good root systems,” I casually replied.
Root systems – that's what holds trees firm in the face of brutal storms and gale-force winds. Root systems – its what we all need to hold our lives firm in the face of the brutal storms and gale-force winds that besiege and beset us in life. Children need roots most of all.
We understood this intuitively when, as young, naïve kids, we decided to start our own agency focusing on permanence for youth in foster care. We named the agency, “Rootwings Ministries,” drawing upon the quote generally attributed to journalist Hodding Carter, II - "There are two things we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings."
All children need both roots and wings. Sounds simple. Yet so many children’s root systems have been ripped out from under them as a result of trauma. Then, when the storms of life come along they are tossed about like tumbleweed rather than holding fast like the trees in our yard.
This is especially true for children who experience out-of-home placement in foster care or juvenile justice systems. First, they often experience traumatic events in their life-before-the-system such as domestic violence, abuse, neglect or abandonment. Then, they experience the profound grief associated with being separated from their birth parents, as well as grandparents, siblings, school, friends, neighbors, church and others who are significant in their lives.
The good news is, often they do.
The question is, what happens on the windy days of life? Do they have roots that will help them weather the storms?
Children who have experienced trauma need roots in a family, in their community, in their culture and in a community of faith. Each of us can play a role in helping children develop the sturdy root systems that will serve them well in every storm life brings their way.
We strengthen children’s root systems when we work to ensure that every child is entitled to a safe, stable, permanent, legal family of their own – either their family of origin, kin or through adoption. We can never satisfy ourselves by saying that some children are “unadoptable” or “too old” or “too disabled” or “too competent” to need a family.
We strengthen children’s root systems when we welcome children who have experienced trauma into our neighborhoods and communities and never consider any child a “throw-away.” In our schools, the child who bullies may need our help and love just as much as the child who is bullied. Instead of “zero-tolerance” we need to offer help, hope and healing to all children, reaching out in a supportive way to all families.
We strengthen children’s root systems when we embrace them within our faith communities. The biblical concept of hospitality refers to loving the “stranger” and we are instructed again and again throughout both the old and new testaments to welcome the alien, the orphan, the stranger, the “least of these”. If you are part of a community of faith – have you taken an inventory lately to truthfully assess how welcoming you are to the alien, orphans and strangers in our neighborhood, community or in the global community? If not, maybe today, while you listen to the wind outside your window, it might be time to start.