Book Review: Too Scared to Cry by Maggie Hartley


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Maggie is a foster carer in England who has launched into writing powerful and heartfelt memoirs. I am so glad to see another person open their lives to others so that they can see firsthand the work of caring for the most vulnerable and damaged children.

Maggie at the time of this story has two other foster children that she’s had long term. Oliver who is ten, and Kate who’s seventeen and just confided that she’s pregnant. On the night of this discovery a duty social worker Clare calls. She says that another Carer in the area has become very sick and so can’t keep caring for the two children she’s taken in a few weeks back. They are a sibling group, three year old Ben and four year old Damina. She is reassured the children will be “no problem at all.”
When the children are brought to Maggie’s she notices a very big problem as the first day comes to a close. These are completely silent withdrawn children. Maggie questions Clare on the situation that caused them to come into care. She said that the nursery teacher had discovered signs of physical abuse on both children. They do have a six month baby brother Noah, but as the health visitor had been around and things seemed fine theydidn’t feel the need to take him into care.
Maggie struggles very hard to get these kids to participate at all in life. Every small step playing with a toy, or saying one word is rewarded. It is the arrival of Noah in care a few weeks later that propells the other two to life probably through the comfort of having their baby brother with them. Maggie is heartbroken at the state Noah is in. Though clean and physically not malnourished Noah suffers from failure to thrive. So that at six months old he can’t hold his head up or roll over or do anything much except stay in the same position he’s put in like he’s a doll. Maggie had never seen this in a baby and she’s extremely concerned. For the longest time Noah makes no noise at all not even to cry. As the children open up more she discovers that anytime anyone made a noise the kids would be hit or a fight would start between the parents. Now that Maggie knows the route of the trauma she’s able to encourage them lovingly and playfully with a good routine. Her other foster kids join in with the play to show them that it’s safe to just be a kid.

It takes months for Noah to improve and it happens after contact is stopped between the children and their birth parents. The parents were making no effort to improve or get their kids back. By the time the other carer is well enough the children are completely different. Most especially Noah. He’s crawling and making all the baby noises. He cries now, wailing for his needs like a healthy baby should. The children play and interact like any other kids. It truly seemed like moving them from the environment where they were so badly treated and frozen by fear, into a stable loving one turned them quickly around.
Clare priased Maggie’s efforts calling them magic. While that’s nice to think about and she is an extremely skilled foster carer, I’m learning that children suffering from attachment challenges as these three have really can go either way. With the best nurturing care in the book these children might have still been walled off from everything around them. Or could have progressed to a point and then stopped. I’ve read so many heart breaking stories of families with attachment disordered kids that were adoptedfrom being three days old but were in the womb of a mentally ill, drug or alcohol adicted (though that doesn’t have to even be present) mother and no amount of a normal life from that point on can turn them around. Or they’ll get a six month old baby and it’s already too late.

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