Apr 272010

I love hope.  Love people who are hopeful.  Love stories that have a happy ending.  I want the guy to get the girl.  The dog to find its owner.  The foster kid to return home.  The orphan to get a family.  And for all of them to live happily ever after.

When I really think about how hope operates – how it changes lives – one thing becomes apparent. 

Hope requires action.

Action causes a perfectly comfortable family to open their door to foster kids.  Action moves a couple from hoping for a child to adopting a child.  Action moves a person to tutor or mentor or write the check or organize the party or the event, so that foster kids can have a shot at a better future than past.  Hope requires action. 

If you are in the mood for some action and live in the Oklahoma City area, take a look at www.fluxokc.wordpress.com or follow @fluxokc on twitter.  You can be part of celebrating the graduation of a foster kid.  If you are outside of OKC, call your local DHS/DCFS office and see if they need help throwing a party for their graduates.  Only 3 out of 5 foster kids make it through high school – we should make a big deal out of it! 


Feb 072010

(this is the 3rd part of a discussion on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences – if you haven’t looked at the first two posts, I recommend starting there)

She was beautiful – petite with shoulder-length auburn hair, blue eyes and a quick smile.  She sat across the desk from me as we discussed work first, then family, and finally life in general.  She was interviewing for a job, but I forgot about that quickly, as I found myself much more interested in her story than in her qualifications.  Childhood was not kind to her – she was one of three kids born to young parents who struggled with poverty and substance abuse.  Her first contact with foster care was at age 3, but after a couple of years she was allowed to reunite with her parents.  Soon they moved to another state – it was easier for her parents than dealing with the close monitoring of child welfare. 

Within another year or two, she was back in foster care, and this time she would never leave.  She saw her parents from time to time – they were never quite “bad” enough to lose their rights to her, but never quite “good” enough to get her back, whatever that means.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to her – she only knew that she missed them.  Twenty-one foster homes later, she graduated from high school, went to college, got married, and was now interviewing for a job.

What?  How did that happen?  Why isn’t she depressed?  Sick?  On drugs?  Who convinced her to go to college?  How did she become part of a normal, loving relationship?

That is the million dollar question.  And tomorrow, I will give you a million dollar answer.  One that you can be a part of.

Feb 012010

He was 17.  Tall and handsome, with thick, curly black hair and dark brown eyes.  He created distance with those eyes – they weren’t emotionless or cold, but they did express a sort of reservation to engage in a conversation.  He answered my questions without elaboration – mostly “yes” and “no”.  What grade was he in?  He wasn’t sure – hadn’t been in school for a couple of years, and the case worker hadn’t tried to enroll him yet.  The last grade he had completed was 9th.  He looked surprised when I asked what he wanted to do after he turned 18.  What did he want to achieve?  Did he want to get some additional education?

“I’m not smart enough to go to college.”

Many kids in foster care and the juvenile justice system find themselves educationally delayed, losing one or two school years by the time their peers reach 12th grade.  The delays occur for a variety of reasons, largely related to school attendance and continuity.  As tragic as that is, perhaps the greater tragedy is that the kids often don’t understand why they are behind.  Just that they are 1 or 2 years older than anyone in their class.  And often that translates into the belief by themselves or others that they aren’t intelligent, aren’t as capable as everyone else at setting or achieving educational goals.

At age 18 kids “age out” of foster care.  15% of them do not have a high school diploma or GED.  Only 2% will graduate from college.  The lack of education translates into poor job options – by 25 years of age they will earn 1/3 less than their peers and be less likely to have a job that provides important benefits such as health insurance.

But what disturbed me most was the hopelessness of his statement.  I’m not smart enough…Who told him that?  More importantly, who is going to tell him something different?  Will you?

What YOU can do: tutor, buy school supplies, sponsor a kid’s school activities (sports, choir, etc.), help kids apply to or visit college and vo-tech campuses.  Contact your local child welfare/foster care agency and ask how you can help.

Jan 312010

She was 13 when I met her.  Much of her last 3 years had been spent in and out of foster homes, with some occasional brief stints with her parents or other family members.  She was polite but a little distant and suspicious of me – I suspect that she saw me as  yet another adult with lots of questions to ask, but no compelling reason to care about or even consider her answers.  I rattled through my usual list.  Any major illnesses?  Medications?  Allergies?  Feeling OK today? 

Then, a question that struck a nerve.  “What grade are you in?”  Her head dropped, and the walls defending her soul lowered for a second, revealing shame.  “6th, but I am supposed to be in 7th.” 

A common answer – I’ve heard it a thousand times.  Educational delay is a ubiquitous struggle for kids in state custody.  The average foster kid is one full grade behind their peers by 6th grade.  The lack of life stability, both before and during placement in foster care, causes them to miss valuable chunks of school.  They change schools frequently, often several times a year.  And even if they are able to attend, exactly how are they supposed to pay attention? Can you imagine sitting through math class while wondering if anyone knows it is your birthday?  Or how your siblings are doing?  Could you learn about history and ignore the thought that your own life is likely sooner to be written about on the obituary page than in the history book? 

My heart broke for her.  “No worries – everyone here is a grade behind.”  Her head snapped up and her eyes met mine with a question. “Everyone here is a grade behind,” I said again.  “It’s because you have moved a lot, right?  And every school has different curriculum, different schedules.  Plus, it’s not like you haven’t had other things to think about.  Don’t worry about it, just keep going.  They won’t throw you out.  Just keep going, keep learning, keep showing up.”  A faint smile, a brief hug, and she was gone.

She needed what we all need – acceptance, validation, encouragement.  She needed to know that it was OK to keep going.