First, I'm aware that there's supposed to be a second part to the "Forever Child" series. I thought it was supposed to air this week on "The National", but I searched the CBC website and couldn't find it. If anyone knows when Part Two of "Forever Child" is airing, I'd really like to view it.
Second, I absolutely empathize with Denise and Murray Hastings, the parents profiled in "Forever Child". As I've written before, I used to work with youth with (sometimes quite severe) intellectual disabilities and their families. I know that there's very, very little out there in terms of support - I've had to be the one that tells the parents so, and it got to a point where it really did tear me apart, where I was asking myself at the end of every day, "What's the point in staying in this job? I can't help these families, because there's nothing out there for them." And I was actually fairly successful at working things out for the youth that I worked with, because I was very persistent and I worked with some very good, very dedicated people who were prepared to look outside the box for solutions and to move mountains if they had to in order to get good outcomes for the people they supported. They know who they are. I wouldn't have lasted nearly as long in that job as I did without them. It's partly for the parents like the Hastings that I write this blog. The people in charge of allocating funding for the disabilities sector need to know that families are in crisis.
But I write this blog for disabled people as well. And, frankly, I'm tired of reporting that doesn't give disabled people a voice.
I liked this video for the message that it got out about families in crisis. I did not care for the way Ryan Hastings was portrayed in "Forever Child", starting right from the title.
"Forever Child" is Disrespectful
Ryan Hastings is 29 years old. He is not a child. He is an adult, with an adult body, and adult rights. He needs a high level of care and assistance with his activities of daily living, yes. But society has many senior citizens who are in the same boat, due to a number of conditions that affect their physical and/or cognitive functioning, and we do not refer to them as children. We recognize that they are adults.
People with intellectual disabilities are already stereotyped as being "eternal children". I understand why his parents call him their "forever child". I understand that using the phrase for the title was to emphasize that because the placements where Ryan Hastings can get the intensive care that he needs are so few at the moment, he will always be a "child" to his parents in that they will always be providing a high level of care for him.
But, for media purposes, there has to have been a better, more respectful title for this piece than "Forever Child". The parents are not the only people in this story.
Ryan Hastings is Portrayed Disrespectfully in "Forever Child"
And for those that argue that I'm just playing semantics, consider how the video actually portrays Ryan Hastings like he's a child. Would you want these aspects of your life broadcast on national Canadian television and on the web if you were a 29-year-old male?
- Footage of you without your clothes on as your parents dress you
- Footage of your soiled adult Depends
Would you want to be standing next to your mother during an interview with her about the pressures of being your caregiver?
We don't know for sure how much Ryan hears and understands. He can't help that he needs support. Even if he doesn't understand a word of it...is it still really fair to him?
Has anyone ever considered that Ryan may sometimes, in his own way, feel the walls closing in on him, as Denise feels that they are on her? He has a vocabulary of ten words - he can only express his thoughts, feelings and desires to a very limited degree. He and Denise seem constantly at battle over whether he can do what he wants to, when he wants to. Denise doesn't mention that he has any other relationships besides the ones with her and Murray. His life is as small as theirs. He's as trapped as they are.
It's not Denise and Murray's fault. They're just doing the best they can.
But it's not fair to anyone in that family.
Not Blaming the Hastings
I'm sure that these things have occurred to Denise and Murray Hastings, and that it's all a part of their sorrow. I don't blame them for any of this. They're exhausted, and it sounds like they've lost hope, and it breaks my heart. I wish that I could work with them. I wish there was some way I could help.
No, I don't blame them. I blame a government that doesn't value the work of caregivers and the potential of disabled people enough to properly support either in making sure that disabled people can have full, meaningful days in their communities.
And I absolutely blame the CBC for being another Canadian media outlet that seems to think that this sort of blatantly one-sided reporting is acceptable when it comes to disabled people. We've seen it before, with Global Television's "16x9" segment about Annette Corriveau's fight to legally kill her severely disabled children. I don't like this idea that when there's a human interest story about issues surrounding intellectual disabilities, Canadian media thinks there's only one side of the story to tell, and that only the people that can communicate verbally deserve respect.
I actually debated whether I wanted to write this post, for the very reason that it draws attention to a video that I think was terribly unfair to Ryan Hastings. But I think some important points needed to be made, and I hope that my intentions in sharing and commenting on "Forever Child" are clear. You can view the first installment of "Forever Child" at http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/ID/2306284333/
I hope that the next part of "Forever Child" better meets the high journalistic standards that I've come to expect from the CBC.