Times of scarcity can make people afraid—fearful that their meager resources will disappear with no chance of replenishing them. In response, some people hoard what they have and keep things far beyond their useful life (Strings Too Short to be of Use). Others find it too painful to share—feeling that there just isn’t enough to go around. If hard times persist the discomfort can grow to a conviction that–always and forever–resources will only be depleted, never replenished. In a culture of scarcity, the temptation is to shut down–to do whatever possible to minimize the possibility of loss. In this kind of atmosphere, it can be very hard to maintain a sense of creativity and openness—to cherish and nurture what is good.
Yet, in even the most difficult circumstances, creativity can and does emerge. Over hundreds of years and countless cultures, frugal cooks have learned to make a little go a very long way. Vegetable peels can transform water into broth for soup and breadcrumbs can stretch a bit of meat into a meal to feed a family. There is a difference between living on scraps and learning to find the most creative use for what is at hand.
The foster care system is permeated by a culture of scarcity. There is never enough money to adequately pay or train foster parents; there is never enough time for caseworkers to fulfill their dreams of helping all of the kids in their care; there is never enough talent to meet the many complexes needs foster children bring to the system charged with their care. It is understandable that everyone in the system can easily come to feel that they are forced to live on scraps, to “make do” with what is at hand.
However, there are always those who make creative use of what is at hand. For over thirty years, Youth Communications has created opportunities for foster youth to transform the events of their lives into powerful, educational stories, demonstrating that hardship can bring forth creativity.
Fostering Media Connections has come onto the scene more recently to promote speedy implementation of the Fostering Connections to Success Act, illustrating that journalism can be used creatively to encourage success, rather than expose failure.
At A Home Within we ask mental health professionals in the private sector to volunteer to see just one foster child or youth in weekly psychotherapy “for as long as it takes,” showing that asking just a little bit from a lot of people can creatively address a very large need.
Do you know of other examples of creativity that have emerged from foster care’s culture of scarcity? Will you share them with others? How can we work together to make sure that there really is enough to go around?
By Toni Heineman