The social worker came to see Holly, our foster daughter, in preparation for the final hearing. She arrived at lunchtime, because trying to follow a routine doesn’t seem to be so important anymore for some.

The social worker wasn’t anyone I already met. She told me she was just doing a one off visit to “get a feeling of the child”. It wasn’t even 5 minutes after she arrived when she asked Holly to follow her in the in the playroom, where they could spend some time together and play some games. Holly followed without any objections. It’s alarming to see a child so small and young to just walk away with a stranger, without even turning around once or show any sign of uncertainty.

I sat in the kitchen with my son Ben, and while we were having our lunch, I listened to what was going on in the playroom.

Holly showed the social worker all her toys to with pride and a touch of malice: my book, my ball, my doll. And then the social worker asked her if she wanted to help her with a drawing. She took out of her bag some colouring pens, and a black and white drawing of a house. Holly got closer to the table to see the picture, and the social worker asked, “what colour would you like to use for the door?”. Holly doesn’t know the names of colours and she just stood there, in silence, waiting for the next questions.

A couple minutes later, I heard the social worker asking, “Who shall we put into the house with you?”. Silence. More silence. And then a soft, “I don’t know”. The social worker was happy to step in, “Your mum?”. Holly said yes, and I could hear a smile in her voice. She is very attached to her mum, and every time she sees her or someone mention her, Holly brighten up with love.

The social worker was asking more questions, but I couldn’t really work out what they were saying. Then she asked her, “What do you like of your mum?”. Holly emitted a funny squeak. She definitely understood the question, that’s why she was giggling, but she couldn’t form an answer. I just thought that there is so much of mum she loves, that she couldn’t pick just one thing and therefore decided to stand there chuckling.

When the social worker asked what she didn’t like about mum, Holly swiftly dodged the ball by asking for one of the stickers that were popping out the social worker’s bag. She momentarily forgot all good manners and just proclaimed, “I want one of those”.

But the social worker wasn’t ready to give up as yet, “What makes you happy?”. I heard Holly saying “bobol” so the social worker repeated the question. Little did she know that bobol is the way Holly pronounces the word bottle, the one she still drinks every night to help her fall in sleep. It’s not that she doesn’t know how to say the word bottle properly, she just likes to talk as a little child and mispronounce words. I saw Holly behave that way with mum, and mum finding it very cute and worth of praises and cuddles. Holly pondered about the question for a little while, as if she was thinking at what happy means. This time she just said, “I don’t know”.

Then the social worker asked, “What makes you sad?”. Holly answered, quickly and concisely, “Laura”. Me.

I sat there on my chair. My heart skipped a bit. I held my breath for few seconds and then I let the gravity of that answer sank in. And that reality hit me harder than any kick Holly has ever thrown at me.

I wondered if she was aware I was listening from the other room, and if she knew how much her answer hurt me. But more importantly, I wondered how many times I unintentionally hurt her, when all I wanted was to offer my help.

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