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Archive for August, 2011

I spent several hours in the desert yesterday, looking at ancient Anasazi petroglyphs.  Cliff faces and sheets of rock, giant blackboards filled with creation myths, tales of the human experience, journeys travelled and to be taken.  Very few people understand the stories.  Some that do are hesitant to share the tales, their history, with outsiders.  Perhaps they think new people surely can’t, or simply won’t, understand.

Which, of course, makes me think of the fosterwee.  Will this little to medium sized child be a stony edifice wrapped in mystery?  What tales are there to be told that I will not possibly be able to fathom? Will this child have a sense of history and place?  Am I up to continuing that story for them? Will I be able to relate to their cultural background, the life that they have been living?  I often doubt that I will and that is scary for me.  And I think how utterly terrifying it will be for the wee one.

My tour guide yesterday was a really old white guy.  And I have to admit, that I don’t often encounter elderly, caucasian, American men that have a true appreciation for another culture.  And by that I mean a  real craving to understand another other people  (to understand - beginning in the past and moving through the present).  A desire to comprehend coupled with the deep, personal insight that it is not enough to ask simply the questions of others.  That won’t get you the real answers.  It is not the right way to build the bridge, to learn the lesson. You really, really have to try to figure it out on your own.  You have to ask the smart and thoughtful questions, you have to retain your sense of humor, you can’t be resentful and impatient when the knowledge you seek is held back and you can never let go of the quest to know more.  Imagine a lifetime spent on such a quest – extraordinary, in so many ways.

One of the most interesting things that I learned yesterday was that these ancient ones were really clever in their storytelling.  Seems as though they wanted even their own people to take a little time to figure things out.  Apparently, many of the stories told on the face of rock only truly unfold if you follow the path of the sun.  It is not always a right to left thing or an up and down thing.  And it is different on every rock.

But guess what? A ray of morning sun will energize, will ignite, will bring to life the first figure at the start of the tale.  And you just have to follow the light from there.  You watch for shadows and pay close attention to what they might tell you.  It will take all day, you might have to wait until the solstice to find out everything that you want to know but apparently, when the time is right, it will all be there, laid out and ready for you to read.

So, I guess the lesson here is to start in the morning, move slowly through the day, through the month, through the year and take the time to discover all the things that I am supposed to know.

And in case it wasn’t obvious already, Andrew is the logical, rational one in this duo and I am kind of a big old sap.

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Window Guards

Window guards?  Check.

On an unrelated note, WordPress says we’ve had 35 readers today, which I’m pretty sure means we’ve officially gone viral.   Also, we have comments!  From people who don’t live in our house!  Thanks, amigos.  It’s nice to imagine the conversations ahead.

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If an anthropologist from the future were to study the United States in 2011, she’d likely conclude that our child welfare system was designed to remove children from families of color.

The numbers are stark.  In New York, 82% of kids in foster care are children of color.  Studies show that black families are 10 times more likely than white families to be reported to Child Protective Services, and 15 times more likely to have a child removed from their home.  (This isn’t a footnote/bibliography kind of blog, but US stats can be found here.)

Dorothy Roberts, who wrote  Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (terrific executive summary here – okay, no more footnotes) says:

If you came with no preconceptions about the purpose of the child welfare system, you would have to conclude that it is an institution designed to monitor, regulate, and punish poor families of color.

The child welfare system is designed to privilege white people like Carrie and me.  Doors have flown open; we were  certified in record time.  We can be confident that everyone we meet will assume we aren’t drug users, won’t neglect our foster children and aren’t in it for the money.

What’s more, because we’re not poor, it’s unlikely that our child will be perceived as suffering from “neglect,” the cause of 75% of all child welfare cases.  Neglect — poor health care, poor nutrition, lack of shelter — looks looks an awful lot like poverty.

Carrie and I can’t wait to love, nurture, support and celebrate a child in our home.  But our job  just begins there.  The real work in front of all of us is to organize for institutional change that will address the disproportionalities of our system.

Luckily, we’re not alone.  A bunch of groups are organizing the community around these disparities, including the Child Welfare Organizing Project and the Anti-Racist Alliance.  We invite our friends to join us not just in caring for Blitzen, but in creating a just, equitable world for her to live in.

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You remember Fosterhood, our favorite fostering blog.

People ask her why she fosters, and doesn’t she get attached to the child?

“Yes.  You’re supposed to.  I think that’s why they’re looking for human beings to foster and not robots”.

The real question they’re asking though is “Isn’t it so incredibly painful when the children are reunited with their parents that you want to go walk out in front of a bus?” and I get the question, I really do, but not so much.  Because doing nothing makes me feel like walking out in front of a bus.  Maybe it was all of those damn Sally Struthers commercials growing-up.

Doing something is actually pretty fun most of the time.  Like lying awake typing this post because starting at 3:02am that 22 month-old in my bedroom started singing a disturbing mashup of “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “Poker Face”.   And she’s on like the 29th verse already and for all I know she thinks there are 43 more.

I can’t imagine feeling any more alive and happy.

 

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So why do we do it?
What good is it?
Does it teach you anything?
Like determination? Invention? Improvisation? Foresight? Hindsight? Love? Art? Music? Religion?
– Terry and Renny Russell, On the Loose

Judging by the reactions we get when we mention our impending FosterWee, it’s surprising for white urban professionals to choose fostering over brewing up their own children.

Human motivation is a complicated thing.  Carrie gave her first non-answer to the “Why?” question here.  I suspect this blog will document our stumbling non-answers to that question, the sum of which will be our answer.  Can’t wait to read it.

There are lots of reasons that fostering might work for us:

1) Carrie and I are witty, charming and have mad skills with children.
2) We have very few other responsibilities in our lives right now. We have no ailing parents, we’re not on the verge of any crucial medical breakthroughs. We don’t even have any pets.
3) We have time and money.  (For years, Carrie’s answer to when would we have children was, “Maybe when we’re sick of having time and money.”  We haven’t gotten sick of it yet, but…)
4)  We really like the young neices, nephews and friends’ children in our lives.
5)  We’re goofily idealistic, in the face of all evidence
6)  We like adventures.  We’re happy to hop on a bus in China and see where it takes us.
7)  We like working on projects together.  From planning our wedding to weeding our community garden.
9)  We’re willing to get messy and be engaged in our community.
8)  We have a hard-core, bad-ass, ready-for-anything community of friends and family around us.  Carrie and I lived together for seven years before we got married.  When we did get married, we had a team in place — friends to officiate the ceremony, play the music, cook the food, make Carrie’s dress.  Today, we have a village — folks who will cook for the wee, folks who will babysit folks who will create art with Blitzen, folks who will read to him, folks who will play sports with her.  Surrounding an NYC child with the role models we’re surrounded by can’t be anything but a good thing.

Peter Singer might suggest that given all this, we have an ethical obligation to help take care of a kid and family in our community.  I’m not sure I buy that.  The ethics of race, privilege and power around foster care and child welfare are murky.  More than that, we all have to find our own ways of unleashing our talents on this unsuspecting world.

What I really think is that being a foster parent with my partner Carrie and our far-flung-friends will be rewarding and fun.  I think I’ll learn a lot about myself and the world around me.  I think I’ll fall asleep every night tired and satisfied.

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Choosing an Agency

In New York State, foster care is managed by the Administration for Children’s Services.  There are about 25,000 children in foster care statewide.   (Good news — that figure is about half of what it was 15 years ago.)  ACS doesn’t actually certify foster parents or place children in homes; they partner with private, non-profit child welfare agencies who recruit, train and support foster families.

Foster parents are accountable to a bunch of people and institutions (institutions are people too, my friend).  They’re accountable to the child, to the birth family, to the courts who make the decisions and to ACS, who maintains official custody of a child in care.    The agency helps centralize accountability for the foster parents and interfaces between foster parents and the many messy bureaucracies they answer to.

To us, choosing an agency felt like the decision that would shape our foster care experience.  The team of home finders, case workers and child welfare specialists at the agency are the folks that foster parents work with regularly.  (We have contact with our agency almost every day and we don’t even have a child in our home.)

Carrie and I attended foster parent orientations at six NYC agencies.  We researched the heck out of them — “research” is my favorite technique for avoiding work or decisions.  As privileged and obnoxious professionals, we treated the orientations like interview sessions.  (“How does your agency provide ongoing training for foster parents?”)

We hoped to choose an agency in our neighborhood.  Ultimately, though, we chose an agency who started their meetings on time, provided lots of information through multiple modalities, was eager to answer questions, responded to emails and calls, and listened as much as they talked.

Our fostering journey will be surely filled with all manner of frustrating experiences — inefficiencies, poor decisions, inequity, disparity and aggressions both micro and macro.  We’re pretty psyched to have an agency who feels like a partner and ally as we navigate this unfamiliar territory.

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One of the reasons we want to build the FosterWee blog is to create a community that can share expertise with us.  (Carrie I and combine to possess expertise in the following: the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals, vampire novels and baking cookies.)

We know we’ll need help figuring out NYC public schools.  Our future foster wee (FFW?) is likely to be 4-12 years old and to have lived and attended school far from our happy Harlem home.  We’ll probably end up working with the child’s social worker and birth parents to choose a new school.  We spent some time this summer researching schools and trying to understand what our options are, but despite our mad skills with a mouse, the DOE website kicked our butts.  We’re in District 5, we have a zoned school, we’re eligible to apply to some but not all other schools.  If any of you (I’m optimistically assuming more than one reader) can help us navigate these waters we’d really appreciate it.

Oh yeah…  my lack of knowledge about NYC public schools, doesn’t prevent me from having passionate opinions about them.  I haven’t met FFW, but I’m convinced she deserves to attend a school that listens carefully to her ideas, respects her values and nurtures her creativity.  She deserves a school that strives for equity in society and within its own walls; that values democracy and collaboration; that is infused with questioning, experimentation, debate, reflection, love, adventure and joy.

My ideal NYC public elementary school is Central Park East.  I asked them about admission and they suggested that we not complete an application until we actually had a child living in our home.  Apparently they don’t yet understand how we roll, or the extent to which Carrie is a planner.

Please shoot us a comment or an email if you have experiences or information that may be helpful to us.  In exchange, I’d be happy to teach you about the 1982 Cardinals.

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Certified

It’s on.  As of yesterday, our home is an open, certified New York State foster home.  In theory, a fosterwee could arrive any time.

Carrie expected us to be certified this quickly.  After all, we’ve completed the MAPP course, CPR certification, personal interviews,  physicals and psychiatric evaluations and home studies.  As a literalist, though, I didn’t think we’d be certified until we actually completed everything we’re working on (the latest punchlist includes window guards in Blitzen’s room and CPR certification for our backups).  I suspect the agency was blinded by our earnest charm, our rapid-fire email prowess, our signifiers of professionalism, our white privilege, and our posse of backups ready to help.  (They suggested we might want more NYC backups and five applications were on their desk the next morning.)

My lack of imagination makes me unable to imagine any future that looks different from the present, so until last night, I had been completely not-nervous about being a foster parent.  Now that we’re a phone call away, though, the anxiety closet is filling up.  Mostly it’s the logistics that spook me.  Carrie bought a two-pack of toothbrushes, but what if Blitzen wants a toy?  Or an article of clothing?  Or a juice box (what the young folk drink when they’re not busy with their text messaging)?  Where should we send Donner to school?  Who’s gonna babysit after school?  How will we manage our multiple weekly visits with the birth parents?

No wee will arrive in the next six days — Carrie’s leaving town and I shan’t single parent.  After that, though, I guess we’ll keep our cell phones charged and the second bed made

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Open for business

Certified, official, gonna be foster parents, apparently.

My stepfather found our blog by Googling so:

1)  Pretty sure that means we are famous

2) I guess it is time to share the blog with family and friends

I mean, like 3 or 4 people have read it already so we are well on our way to going viral but maybe we’ll circulate the link just in case our peeps are not on the cutting edge of blog coolness and haven’t heard about us yet.

Also, the more I think about the blog, the more I like the idea of someday being able to share all these thoughts and adventures and misadventures with a somewhat grown up foster wee.

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I’ll echo Carrie Ann’s shout out to the Save Our Schools activism.   It was inspiring to listen to old heroes (Debbie Meier, Jonathan Kozol) and voices who were new to me (John Kuhn, Matt Damon, Jose Vilson).  It was energizing to be around folks who are passionate about education and equity.  I got a kick out of being interviewed by CNN (gotta work on my soundbites) and taking part in the planning and organizing workshops the next day.

I wish I had more patience or aptitude for the messy work of movement-building.  (IDEA are the folks leading that charge.)  My special ADD skill set makes me more apt to get lost in a maze of 1975 online boxscores than to build an infrastructure for systemic change.

Being a foster parent, though… As a distractable young grasshopper beginning my journey, it seems do-able.  Here’s why:

  1. The day-to-day goal is straightforwardish: Try to provide a supportive, loving, safe, joy-filled environment today; try to provide a supportive, loving, safe, joy-filled environment tomorrow.
  2. There’s an immediate feedback loop.  We should have a sense of when things are working and when they’re not.
  3. There are potential immediate rewards.  We’re not going to make measurable progress on transforming public schools today, but Blitzen might, at any time, say (like our friend Amelia) “If there is a shark in this lake we’re kayaking, it’s probably swimming the other way, right?”

There were going to be more items on that list, but I can already see that this post will look embarrassingly naive moments after it’s published.  If I learned nothing in MAPP class it’s that being a foster parent thrusts one into a world of uncertainty, frustration and messiness that would make the post-SOS-rally educator squabbles look freshly ironed laundry.

Botton line: There are lots of tasks in the world that I just can’t do.  I can’t wait in a line, take direction, get a degree, organize my desk, blog every day, mingle at a party, turn in work when it’s due, make travel plans more than a week ahead of time or match my outfit without a spreadsheet.  But I suspect that when you mix my good-natured goofiness with Carrie Ann’s thoughtfulness, insight, empathy and good judgement and the support of our spectacular Team o’ Backup Villagers, we can provide a pretty warm home for a small-to-medium-sized Wee.

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