The Pen is Mightier…

I hadn’t been representing foster children long before a wise social work supervisor passed along this gem: “In the helping professions, without good supervision and good self-care, you can easily come to resemble the population you treat.” I pondered that, and came up with case after case where…

Child writing threeThe social worker seldom returned phone calls, turned in shoddy and late paperwork, had excuses for everything, had to leave promptly at 4:30 p.m. to get to happy hour no matter how many clients they’d blown off that day and otherwise engaged in shaming, blaming, minimizing and denial when it came time to figure out why the case was going nowhere.

Those social workers and therapists (and LAWYERS) are by far in the minority, but they’re out there. They’ve come to resemble many of the parents whose children end up Child writing twoin foster care, and even some of the children themselves–they’re not pulling their share of the load, they take no responsibility, their talk sounds like “victim” talk.

Imagine you’re fourteen years old, you have mental health issues, the state has kindly taken you out of a situation where you’re not getting any help and stashed you in a “group home” (ORPHANAGE), with other kids as troubled as you are. The staff at that group home may be well meaning, but also overworked, underqualified and underpaid; moreover, they’re dealing with clients who are brilliant at creating drama. Meanwhile, your parents and your case worker are both playing the “blame the (traumatized) kid” game to the exclusion of helping the kid. What do you do?

Child writing oneThis is part of the reason these children get a lawyer. They call me–even in four point restraints they have a right to call me–and after they’ve vented and brought me up to speed on the issues of the day, they all get this suggestion: WRITE IT DOWN. Write down every time they leave a message for me, the social worker, the social worker’s supervisor, their therapist, anybody whose job it is to help with the case.

Write down when and why their parents don’t show up for visits, when the social worker/attorney/counselor blows off a visit with short notice or no notice.

In other words, take one leaf from the social worker’s handbook–document EVERYTHING–and, more importantly, let everybody know you’re doing it. There’s a difference between a teenager leaving this message, “This is Joey. Call me back…” And a teenager leaving this message, “This is Joey Smith. My case notes show I’ve called you four times in the past two weeks, and your supervisor twice, to discuss changing schools….”

Anne FrankThe written word assures the child that they’re not crazy–six unreturned phone calls (not counting my three calls to the same folks) to people paid to help the situation is rotten social work–and that’s a significant pattern when it comes time for court. But simply writing down what’s going on also radically increases the chances the case will move in a positive direction. Such is the mightiness of the pen, even when wielded by a disempowered child.

How do you “speak truth to power,” and hold somebody’s feet to the fire when they’re not pulling their share of the load? Why is it so hard for us to do this?

To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card.

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72 comments on “The Pen is Mightier…

  1. I really wish I knew the answer to that question. Prior to doing my senior project at school, I thought if you kept at someone to fulfill their duties, they’d do it. However, I now know that’s not the case. My (completely unqualified) opinion is that you have to make a BIG stink and take it to the people. Use the compiled evidence to send stories to the local press. Better yet, have the kids in this situation do it. Because they’re young and need help, it’s not only a human interest piece, but also something the local press will care more about. Kids reaching out for help is something that the press seems to like focusing on, based on recent news reports for me here in SoCal.

    • Isis, I no longer trust the fourth estate to respect anything but profit, by and large, but I agree that a big part of nonviolent social change is gathering witnesses. Ghandhi’s work in India, for example, would probably have had no significant results without the international community’s witness to what Britain was doing in India–and that took responsible, accurate, timely media coverage.

  2. We’ve been told not to rock the boat. My premise is that I speak for those who have no voice. Primarily within my practice where I can’t change the bad financial advice someone got, but I can offer them ideas on remedies and see what I can do to fix things.

    • Makes you wonder what boat you’re sitting in, and how you got there if the thing can’t stand some rocking… Good for you, Martha, because money is often symbolic as well as practical. Take charge of your money, and you’re well on your way to taking charge of your life.

  3. Grace, I commend you for the work you are doing for these children. It is so unfortunate that some of them just get lost in the system, when all they want and need is someone who will take them in hand, stand up for them and show them some love and let them know that they do matter!

    • Sharon, each family is different, and part of what make the work difficult is that we can’t predict which family will benefit from what approach or what services. You move heaven and earth for one family, and nothing good happens. You take a similar family in circumstances just as bad, haul them into court once, hook them up with some counseling and pay a month’s rent, and… all better.

      That’s frustrating, for me, the social workers, the courts, and everybody trying to improve the situation.

  4. wow.. that is a tough situation. I don’t think i can even comment without sounding ignorant! But my guess is that a lot of people already feel hopeless and get very cynical…

    • May, you make a strong point. These families have been in dire straits for generations, and the social workers are told to turn things around in a year or less. Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and outgunned? The gravitational pull of some bad habits is enormous, and then too, all change is scary.

      It’s a tough, complicated field, but returning a child’s phone call is simple.

  5. I have no answers to this question only that I have a friend who works in a group home. Her in-laws own the home do I think she’s qualified to work there no. I do think they try to do their best to help and provide for these children. The stories she tells me about the kids and why thy are there hurt my heart. It seems like these kids are just thrown away by their parents into a system (government) that really doesn’t care about them and then when their 18 they are left to fend for themselves. Most of these kids don’t have a chance because it all started with their parents. Bad decisions of drugs and alcohol have left these kids with mental and physical problems then put in they hands of the government that doesn’t seem to care. It’s very sad.

    • If she’s unfit to work there … then someone needs to speak up… it’s not helping the children at all…. People have to encourage these children … no one ever speaks to them about the “future” except for “tomorrow”… It’s not always the parents don’t care about them.. things happen and then once kids are in these homes it take the parent/parents to move heaven and earth to get them back! Trust me… I know.. I was one of them! My mother couldn’t take care of me for a year and my grandparents and aunts wanted to take care of me.. but the welfare system wouldn’t let them.. but let my brother be taken care of by my aunt…. The welfare wanted to keep me so I could be adopted out but thankfully my mother moved heaven and earth to get me back!

    • Or it started with their great grandparents. I do curse the darkness, but it’s also important to note that for the resources they have to work with, many of these families, residential facilities, social workers, and therapists work miracles.

  6. WOW! how times have changed! I wish I had a “lawyer” like you when I was in foster care! I am not sure how you do it but I hope and prayer there are more good lawyers like you looking out for the foster children… because my Social Worker wasn’t! #fostercareforthreeyears

    • Following up… after reading other’s comments…

      It’s not always the case that children don’t have a chance… I was in foster care for 3 years.. my family wanted to keep me when my mother couldn’t due to her circumstance.. the courts/social worker wouldn’t let my grandmother keep me, but in turn let my aunt keep my brother.

      After 3 long years I went back to my mother and she raised me on her own (father deceased) and I grow up just find… It’s all about what “YOU” want in life… Can’t always blame the “parents”. My life wasn’t “normal” but I know when I grew up what I wanted in life and I set out to achieve it…. I didn’t follow in my parents footsteps.

      And a lawyer who can help a child see there is better things in life while they are living in limbo is a great thing for this society!

      • Vanetta, thanks for that comment. I never knew you were a foster kid, but you’re surely an example of a rousing success. I see all the posts you make about your daughter and your spouse, and know you’ve built a life full of love.

        WRITE A BOOK, my friend!

  7. Write is down. Wonderful advice. This reminds me of the training and advice that I received years ago as a new member of management.

    • Betty, it strikes me that if the social workers can be pulled down by the difficult circumstances they work in, then the children can be pulled up by the examples around them. When I call a child, I expect them to call me back, and let them know it (within the limits of phone availability and house rules).

      Documenting the case, using the phone to get results, following up… that’s just good social work and good lawyering.

  8. This just makes me so sad. I really don’t have a situation where this has happened. Jobs I have had of course, but that is an easy fix. Anything I have to say just seems small compared to a child being let down over and over again.

    • Mary, most people will rally for the little kids. It’s the teenagers who are snarky, not so cute, wrestling with adolescence, and attracted to a disillusioned cynical impersonation of adulthood who often get short schrift. There are also major mental health diagnosis (bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia) that tend to come out of the woodwork as adolescence moves toward adulthood.

      The write it down business can help them too–they can see they “thought” they called back promptly, but really, ten days went by before they followed up. Or they can think they’ve been “calling all week,” when they only left one message on Tuesday, and forgot to leave a number where they could be reached.

  9. Writing it down is a wonderful idea. I remember when young, buying a diary thinking it would help but after writing my true thoughts down I panicked and ripped it up. I didn’t want anyone else to read my thoughts. Things were never discussed in our house. I did find the next best thing though, reading! It didn’t really change anything but it let me forget things for a while. I also think helping others is a great way to cope!

  10. That is great advice for us all. Write it down. Whenever I call a help line for anything, I make a note of the name of the person(s) I talk to. If they are helpful, I love being able to say, “Thank you, Grace. Have a great day.”
    But you are right, it is powerful to be able to say, “That really is not helping me, Joe. I would like to speak to your supervisor, Joe.”
    Have a great Sunday,Grace. And please keep up the good work.

    • And it’s empowering just to think there’s something you CAN do when it feels like you’re getting nowhere. And don’t get me started on the benefits of journaling (for me). Nothing smacks me upside the head like my own words, spinning the same wheels I spun a a year ago, or my own words, showing me I’m not in that rut any more.

  11. I find “write it down” is often the very best advice that you can offer someone. I was just counseling a co-worker who is dealing with an office bully who is her direct supervisor to do just that. I find that careful documentation of any situation tends to make people sit up and take notice, as well as taking the issue much more seriously. I think it was Voltaire who wrote “to hold a pen is to be at war…” Seems very accurate in many of these cases. Keep fighting the good fight, Grace.

    • Very thought-provoking quote, Vicki, and further proof that the written word is powerful. The down side of that is that we think because something exists in document form, it’s more likely to be true.

      Erm… right. We’ll just ignore my check register.

  12. I am so glad those children have someone like you in their corner.

    Your advice to the children sounds just like the advice I was given by “someone” a few months ago.

    • It makes the child more of the case’s social worker–the one keeping a corporate memory of who’s done what to get the case moving toward its goals. Unfortunately, for a lot of these young people, their lives and their internal landscapes are so chaotic, I might as well be telling them, “translate this into Low German” as “write it down.”

  13. Genius! Simple, yet so effective! I’ve provided journals to countless troubled teens in my years as a teacher, but with more of the emotional outpouring in mind. This advice is empowering! I will be passing this idea on to teens, teachers, & counselors I know!

    • Kristina, I make it a point to tell the kids to put ME on the list of people they should keep track of in writing, because we’re all human, and I drop the ball sometimes too.

      But there is a small journaling function with even a phone log. You can see you’ve called and called–or you can see it FEELS like you’ve called and called, when in fact, you only left a couple short messages.

  14. You have to care and not let the “system” beat the caring out of you. The people we have dealt mostly care, but some are in it for the money or for some personal sense of worth fulfilment. The kids get left with fuzzy lollipop and no way to find permanance and help. It should be about the kids. Many times it’s not.

    • And the social workers often take the worst hiding. They’re the ones who have to physically remove the children from the home, look the kid in the eye and tell them “you can’t stay with Mom right now.” They’re the ones who have to rat the kid out when the child has shown bad judgment, refused help, and otherwise put a spanner in the works.

      Child welfare is a tough gig, no matter what part of it touches you. You’re right, though, BL, you can’t let it beat the caring out of you.

  15. Another heartbreaking commentary on our foster care system. I really don’t know the answer. I was always conscientious and responsible in my profession (nursing) but I see what you are referring to in all professions these days. It is almost an across the board societal boredom with jobs, home, family, etc. To use the foster child as an example, initially he is a new case, interesting but then it becomes just one more of the same until it is really easier to set him aside and go to happy hour. After all, it’s Friday and there is still a paycheck.

    • And Dot, I have no problem with Happy Hour, with leaving at five–I leave at five myself, often, but I do have a problem with a pattern of eluding responsibility, blaming the client, making excuses, and NOT PICKING UP THE PHONE.

      And I need to emphasize that most of the people I work with are wonderful–from foster parents, to lawyers, to social workers and therapists. They’re hearts are in the right place and they’re trying hard.

      But every tribe has its malefactors, and the foster care system does too.

  16. I don’t have the answers, but I am reminded that “writing it down” is great advice in so many situations, from taking control of your bad eating habits to documenting bad happenings in the work place. Also, thank you for caring about children.

  17. I work in a call center for a MAJOR insurance company. I can’t tell you how many times a week, when I offer a call back, I am told that “yeah, right, you won’t call back.” It hurts me to hear that. I might not call back as soon as you might like but I call back when I promise. Sometimes I even make surprise call backs. I love to do that and make someone happy because it is one less call they have to make.

    I find it very hard to tell one of my coworkers that they did something wrong. Last week I trying to ask someone to review something they missed and the dismissed me! Caused me a ton more work because they didn’t do their job correctly. And I took it. I feel like such a schlep for just accepting it.

    I really wish I had an answer as to why I find it hard to be DIRECT with people.

    • I do too, Amy, and I’m veteran of 25 years in the courtroom. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I also don’t want to deal with their baloney when they can’t admit they’ve screwed up. I’m turning cranky in my dotage, or impatient. Something.

      • I agree. I find myself lacking the willingness to put up with the stuff…I also get really impatient with those I love and I don’t mean to or want to but it seems to “escape” me. It makes me sad. I wish I could be more direct.

  18. At work, I always try to give a person a chance to respond, but if they don’t after several attempts at contacting them, I go to their supervisor – all of this in writing. If that doesn’t work, I go to my supervisor and let them know the situation. I think the suggestion to write down and document everything is wonderful, and it is very useful to be able to say, “On 8/1 I called and left you a message and followed up with an email, then on 8/6 I did the same, etc.” They will have a hard time with so much documentation, trying to deny or put the blame on someone else. The situation you’ve described is heartbreaking and these kids deserve better.

    • In all fairness, Barbara, the social workers deserve better too–the good ones. They work endless hours, get very little thanks, don’t make that much money, and are exposed to all manner of danger and disease regularly.

      And then some lawyer starts in with the zealous advocacy shtick in court…

    • Mary Jo, you are absolutely right! That balance between security and freedom is in constant renegotiation for both toddlers and teenagers, but by the time a foster kid is a teenager, they’ve often been abandoned by what family they might have, or the kid’s issues have worn family out.

      Little kids have little problems, big kids have big problems…

  19. Wow! You have some really empowering experiences. I always try to remain positive and pass along positivity to people who don’t want to do any work. Reacting negatively has never, ever helped me get someone to do something.

    • Jackie, great point. If you can catch ANYBODY being effective, creative, responsible, patient–anything positive–in these situations, you can inject forward momentum into the case. If you thank people for getting back to you, affirm the client for calling their lawyer rather than having a tantrum, applaud the staff at the group home for letting the client call me even during dinner/group therapy/quiet hour…

      It’s lighting candles in a dense darkness, and those candles are visible from even a great distance.

  20. I don’t know how you do it. I try very hard to leave school at school, for my sanity; and I am mostly successful. I don’t know how yours doesn’t just follow you around night and day.

    I’ve heard a few horror stories over the years and I have students who live in situations so different from what mine was that I can’t imagine how they function, much less graduate from high school (even if they sit in my resource class for four math classes). Even so, I’m hard on them because if they don’t function in high school and they don’t step up and earn that high school diploma they’ll have no options.

    And do answer the question:

    With adults: If I think about it, I don’t hold someones feet to the fire. I just do it my own damn self. Because if you can’t do what I asked, when I asked then if you ever do get around to it, you’ll probably do it wrong and I’ll have to fix it anyway.

    With students: I just stay after you until you either do it or your fail. While failing a class doesn’t bother some of them it does bother the rest. I don’t want their excuses I just want their work. Done correctly. They may not learn a lot of algebra/geometry some years and there are a few who haven’t graduated because they fail my class. I don’t lower the expectations; so maybe they won’t be too surprised when they get fired from a string of jobs because they didn’t meet expectations.

    • Sabrina, I feel about your job the way you feel about mine: How does she do it?! With all the standardized testing breathing down your neck, lock down drills, kids coming in with horrendous untreated mental health problems, parents thinking their kid should get special treatment all the way into Harvard… No wonder a Go Ruck is falling off a log to you.

      And I’m also sure, if I were in your classroom, and I made a good faith request for help, I’d get the help. Come fire, flood, or famine, you’d find a way to get me that help.

  21. Grace I understand completely where you’re coming from and have actually encountered something similar. Not to step on your toes but the guardian ad litem that was assigned to a family I know was one of those slackers.I tell people all the time if they’re having any sort of trouble, “document it”. If you call someone with a question or complaint write down the date, time, name of the person you talked to, and if possible their employee number, for each and every call. If you talk to more than one person, when you ask for or are just transferred to someone else whether they’re a supervisor or just another employee, write it down! I admit to not doing this at times when I should be more careful, or to losing the paper I write things down on so I now have a spiral notebook that I record things in. I’ve also learned that if I email someone I have a blind carbon copy, as it’s called, sent to me so I have an exact record of what I said in the email. It’s what’s referred to in the army as CYA, “cover your a##”, and fits the old adage “It’s better to be safe than sorry”.

  22. Working as an RN on a Psych unit I had to listen carefully, clarify often and document concisely (using quotes when possible).

    When I bought a new car and it didn’t have the upgraded stereo that I’d paid for I made many, many calls to people who passed the buck to others. I had taken careful notes with names, dates and conversations. I compiled this into a letter to the car company and that got me immediate action. The stereo was installed less than a week later. 😉

  23. My friend was in foster care, and it’s not always that the parents don’t want the kid, she was there because her mother couldn’t afford to feed her

    • Ana, I’ve seen kids end up in foster care because Mom and Dad happened to get arrested the same day. Both were released on bail, charges eventually dropped–oh, sorry, our mistake!–and yet the kid goes to a facility that deals with both foster kids and delinquents. The simple fact of arrest means Mom and Dad can lose their jobs and their housing.

      This child has done NOTHING wrong, the parents have done NOTHING wrong, and all of a sudden, she’s dealing with “therapeutic behavior modification programs,” housed with junior criminals, and treated as if she needs to “earn privileges.”

      Sometimes, my job just makes me cry. And then I think about how the parents must feel, and how the children must feel…

  24. The pen is mightier than the sword. As a teacher documentation is of the utmost importance. Everyday I document what each reading group does and any individual or small group instruction I give to a student. I keep records across all curriculum areas regarding my students. I keep records of each call I make to parents and print out all emails sent to me. In addition, I send out weekly newsletters updating parents on what has been going on in the classroom. I also keep documentation when communicating with other staff members. It’s not the fun part of my job, but it is essential to getting my students all that they need. All of this documentation protects the teacher and the student. My hat goes out to those social workers working in the foster care system. I have two aunts in California who work with adoption and mental health patients. Their case loads are huge, but they get through it for their kids and patients. Their job is a “calling” just like teaching. If your heart is in the right place you do whatever it takes to get the job done the right way.

    • Amy, just reading about all the documentation you produce makes my eyes cross, and yet, any organization of any size at some level “runs on paper.”

      And the social workers deserve our compassion too, you’re absolutely right. They can take all the classes in the world, and read all the books, but until they’re strapped into the job at Social Services, they have no way of knowing that they’ve gotten themselves into.

  25. Grace, I am in awe of not only your fiction, but also of your “real life” background. Your work is so important and necessary. Thank you!

    • Julee J! Glad to see you’re back on the keyboard! It’s important for somebody to do my job, but I’m relieved to think it’s isn’t important that I be the one doing it. There are a few more books I want to write, you see… full of happily ever afters, and everything turning out FINE. For everybody.

  26. When I taught,the one thing I told my middle school students was this: If you have a problem in school with another student or an adult (teacher/principal/parent), go to an adult in the school that you trust. (I emphasized that it could be anyone in the building they felt comfortable talking to: teacher/lunch lady/librarian/janitor). Tell them you need help with problem X because as much as teachers and staff want to help, many of us care for 150 to 180 students. We may not understand or know the extent of the problem. We can’t read your mind; most days we can barely read our own.

    We were fortunate to have a student advocacy program in our building. I think it helps kids to know that they have an adult in their corner whose main concern is the kid’s safety and success. The advocate may not have all of the answers to the problem but they are there to help guide the student and provide support while they find the answer.

    • Delia, I’m encouraged to hear about programs like student advocacy. Some schools also have peer mediation programs, and other conflict management systems. Education generally–right up to the college level–tends to be at something of a loss when it comes to managing conflict, but I think that’s changing for the better… S-L-O-W-L-Y.

  27. My heart breaks for these children, who must feel helpless & hopeless at times. I am glad they have you in their corner. I am sure that some of the people there to help are overwhelmed emotionally & time-wise, but I would think that if they are in the field, they should be trained to respond.

    • Sharlene, most of the child welfare professionals I work with are just that–professionals. They’re doing their best with the resources available in the time allowed under difficult circumstances. The children seem to know whose heart is in the right place, and who’s on some personal agenda that isn’t about the best interests of the child.

      These kids have good instincts, probably developed as a means of surviving. Those instincts serve them well.

  28. I am barely an adult (in the legal sense) but this post resounded greatly in my heart. While I was never in a situation to need contact with a social worker, I lived in a dysfunctional family and at one point even considered putting myself up for adoption with a different family. Writing had become my sole place to vent, as the adults did not believe me when I spoke of my life. While I now have emerged from those chaotic years and feelings, looking back, I would have liked for someone to believe me, the pain that flower through my words on paper and in person.

    • Mary C, thank you for that comment. “Someone to believe in me” is one of the two things we’ve found that makes a difference in a foster kid’s life. The kids who have even ONE person who remains steady and positive in their life, have an enormous advantage over the kids who are emotional flotsam.

      Interestingly, the other indicator of success in a foster child is an ability to find healthy social recreation–to PLAY. Not go out for track, make the debate team, sing in the Youth Choir, and otherwise pack the schedule with organized accomplishments, but to goof off without getting in trouble.

      I hope not only pain flowers through you and your words, but also pride that you endured that upbringing, and joy that you have transcended it.

  29. Thank you for speaking your own truth about the reality that so many children face in our country. I recently joined the staff of CASA of the Tennessee Heartland (CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates) as an Advocate Coordinator where I monitor dependency and neglect cases in Juvenile Court, mentor our volunteer CASAs, and do community outreach. I work in a court that is overloaded with cases, generally underfunded, and lacking good legal counsel for children desperately in need of support. The best thing that can happen for these young people is to have a CASA assigned to their case. In many instances the CASA becomes the only consistent, stable adult in these kids’ lives. And their sole purpose is to advocate for the child’s best interest, with the most important goal being that each child is placed in a safe, secure, permanent home.

    I feel so very blessed to serve my community in this organization, with my amazing volunteers. It’s incredibly daunting and can be overwhelming when you read the case files and come to know the horrors that these children face, both in and out of the system. But it only inspires me to fight harder.

    Self care is one of the most important things that those of us involved in this system (advocates, attorneys, case managers, everyone!) can do. We have to protect our hearts and spirits so that we can go out and do battle for the children.

    So I guess I don’t really have an answer to the question you pose. But, I do want to thank you for the books your write, for your beautiful characters. Reading your stories, and those of many of your contemporaries, is my favorite form of self care.

    Many, many thanks!

    • My family and I provided care for foster children for twenty five years. We learned quickly that in order to take care of them you have to take care of yourself as well. We also learned that you must listen to those that you care for. Usually the children came from environments where they were not valued nor were their needs met on a consistent basis. When we listened to their words as well as the actions and behaviors we soon learned more about the child than we ever did by reading a case file.
      We also soon learned that “window time” or time spent in vehicle was a prime opportunity to talk. We learned more tidbits of information while riding in a car than anywhere else.
      Spend tie with your children and listen!

      • Sue, excellent points! For several years, I commuted with my small daughter beside me. We had some good talks, and the same held true on the way to horse shows years later. And then there were those transcontinental road trips….

        In an earlier age, maybe those talks would have happened after sunset, when only one room in the house had candlelight… I’m just glad we had our “window time.”

    • Jessica–thank YOU. The best interests vantage point can be the hardest one to find, and the hardest one to take. Long may you fight for it!

      And you raise a good point–we in the system need the self-care, firstly, so we don’t collapse from vicarious trauma, and secondly, so we model to the clients what self-care looks like. Most foster kids have no acquaintance with the concept.

      And maybe things have changed in 25 years, but I’m sure I went through a full law school curriculum without ever hearing the term “self care.” Not. Once.

  30. As women, I think it’s hard to do this because society tells us we are to be “nice.” And a woman who is confrontational is not labelled assertive, she’s called a bitch. There’s an inherent double standard in the language surrounding women who get things done. Our entire culture is slanted this way.

    But it’s so true that words empower, especially the written word. Good for you to empower these kids. What a sad, sad, broken system. I hope some of your students learn to turn their anger and frustration into writing, too. it’s so cathartic.

    • The part about the job that I don’t emphasize often enough, Ellie, is that most of these kids are amazing. They have humor and resilience, wisdom and determination. That ANY of them end up a contributing member of society–much less as a social workers, lawyers, models parents, and accomplished artists–is a testament to the miracle of the human spirit.

  31. Grace –

    Thank you for helping not only the children in foster care but also the people who take them into their homes and try to make their lives better.

    Back in the 1980’s when our sons were in 4th and 5the grade we became foster parents ourselves. Keeping in mind that we had let the foster care system know that we wanted to take in a boy our first phone call concerned a girl in need of a home to stay in. When they mentioned she was a Type I diabetic my heart went out to her because I am one as well and was concerned if she would otherwise be placed with someone who understood her medical condition.

    They asked us to pick her up at Hasbro Hospital where she had been because of her diabetes. We couldn’t believe when they released her to us not only with no medical supplies or clothing that fit! We alerted them immediately but were told it was a “short term” placement so no additional help would be given. If I wasn’t a Type I diabetic she would have ended up back in the hospital that evening. Of course one reason we had requested boys was that we had plenty of clothes they could wear if necessary. Instead I sent my husband off to the store since even her shoes and socks were too small for her.

    Her father was a convicted child molester but he was able to pick her up on week-end but her mother (who he had accused of being the “bad person” wasn’t able to see her at all. He take her out and give her soda filled with sugar, etc. and end up at the emergency room because her blood sugars were off the charts. Again no help from child protective services.

    My sons both went to a private school and we paid to have her go there as well so she didn’t feel like she wasn’t part of our family but often people asked if we were doing it for the money we received.

    Fortunately eventually she was placed back with her mother as her father’s lies unfolded.

    We took one other placement where again child protective services didn’t disclose what was actually going on. After talking it over with our sons we decided that until child protective services were willing to be honest to us as foster parents that in the best interest of our own children that we couldn’t be involved in this type of situation.

    It was a hard choice to make and I wish I could say that where I live things have gotten better over the years but unfortunately they haven’t.

    How do we right this wrong that is being done to not only the children but also those who truly wish to help them? I don’t know but you’d think that after 30 years of waiting to see it happen some progress would have been made.

    Perhaps children like ours who are now grown with families of their own will help to make the adults running these programs more responsible. Unfortunately we failed to make a difference.

    • Jeanne, we could quaff many ale (or cup of tea) over the foster care situation generally. It comes down to being the sum of the people involved in it–from judges, to foster families, to neighbors, legislators, church ladies… the people affected and affecting the system are many and varied, and if any one of us drops our share of the load, the children are at greater risk.

      And we’re human, which is both the vulnerability and the strength of the system.

  32. This was one blog I had to take in, think, digest….and then came all the amazing comments…wow. Funny how we seem to have some “thing” that keeps us together, that makes us similar ….I think in this group and most of the readers I have come across (and of course authors too) , it is heart….
    I see so much heart on (in) this blog…week after week.

    I am quieted with reflection of all that I have read here this week.


    • I’m going to rat Hope out–she’s also quieted with reflection on some books she’d like to write. Send her your “you can do it!” energy, because we ALL have good stories to tell.