Banksy’s street art called A Girl with A Balloon, is painted on a wall in South London. Through my lens as a clinical social worker I am torn in two directions with this piece. I feel sadness, loss, despair, and heartbreak because of the loss of her balloon. But, then I feel the complete opposite; happiness and relief with the prospect that the release of the balloon may be a type of freedom from or letting go of something that needs to be relinquished. I then move to the possible meanings of the balloon—a simple childhood toy or a symbol of a loss of something bigger such as innocence, childhood, or love. It could even be a liberation from a memory that brings pain, which makes me see the bravery in the little girl giving her strength to let it go.
If that wasn’t enough to reflect upon, there is more…four simple words, “THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE”; adding to the complexity of the girl and her lost balloon. These words, for me, do not provide clarity of one absolute meaning behind the work; conversely, they evoke a range of complex and opposite feelings that continue to draw me in. Every time I look at this work, a new feeling or thought is present. Below you can see the work in its entirety as it was painted in London.
In my therapy with children who are placed into foster care homes and in my search to understand its affect on their personhood, this artwork signifies the dialectic in working with children in foster care placement. Similar to the complex story of this piece of street art, so are the stories of children who are placed in foster care homes. The challenge in the therapeutic relationship is balancing the stories associated with loss and abandonment and creation of trust and hope in the newly created narrative.
In working with children and youth in foster care placement, what we do know is that with invested adults and a healthy family environment, they can begin to gain hope despite feelings of loss. Because their stories tend to be broken, fragmented, and sometimes scattered over time, they typically have difficulties telling them. Laurence J. Kirmayer (2000) in “Broken Narratives: Clinical Encounters and the Poetics of Illness Experience” talks about the experience of individuals telling stories in a clinical setting. He states,
They must fight (be good rhetoricians or debaters) to tell their story and to have it heard and more or less accepted, authorized, or taken up by others. They try to control the circumstances of its hearing and, to some degree, its interpretation. p. 173
In my practice, the child currently living in or who has a previously lived foster care experience must tell their story with a sense of control so that it can be heard by the other. Because of this, a dilemma develops within the interaction between the child and the other in how to tell their broken stories without the other shutting down. A broken story falling on deaf ears is, in my opinion, one cause of a continued struggle for children in the child welfare system. I recently came across a tweet by A Family for Every Orphan,
This is a quote by Jason Johnson, the Director of Church Ministry Initiatives with Christian Alliance for Orphans in Texas. The profoundness of this quote is that it causes the other to ponder their role in listening to and understanding the broken story of children in foster care homes. As a therapist in child welfare, I have a unique opportunity to JOIN with these children and their broken stories to develop a new narrative that includes hope. Just as in Banksy’s street art, if you look at one solitary meaning of the picture and avoid thinking of others, you may have missed possibilities of meaning. There is just one caveat in this work, it’s up to me to really hear them and help create a story that includes HOPE.