Bart and I had supper tonight with Pat O'Brien and one of his staff members and her daughter. Just a Sport's Bar, nothing fancy, but the food was good and, as imagined, the conversation was fascinating.
We first went to part of Pat's workshop on Humor (or, as he pronounces it, Yuma) and did some laughing, and some thinking, and some listening....
Then supper we shared about our lives, got caught up to date, and listened to a little of his staff member, Mary's, story. Mary does foster care for much older teens 16-21 and makes a permanent commitment to them. She was telling us about an article in the paper about her and how she allowed her address to be printed.
A result of the article was a letter that was she received from a boy in jail. A 16 year old, he wrote to her and said, "I know you usually take gay and lesbian kids, and I'm not either one, but I think I'd like to live at your house." He invited her to visit him in jail and she agreed. When his sentence is over, she plans to invite him to live with her.
"Have you always been the kind of person who would have no fear in letting your address be published in the paper or letting a kid move into your house straight from jail, or have you evolved into that kind of person?"
The result of the question was a discussion about how we all are unsure of what we handle until something comes into our lives. We then discussed how knowing then what we do now about what the future would hold, might have us chicken out before we started.
But the bottom line is there is an incredible resiliency in the human spirit and we CAN and DO face many things that we were not formerly sure we could handle. But the more we are able to handle, by God's grace, the more we realize we can do.
On of my missions is to recruit families who are willing to life through the horrors to end up to be resilient people of faith who will take on the harder things. As Bart said, quoting Jaiya John this morning, "what we currently have in our country is not a "child welfare" system, but a "help parents get the child they want" system, when it comes to adoption."
What we need to be doing is looking at the kind of kids that are out there. In 2005, 48,853 children were adopted out of foster care. Of this number, 41,117 were age 11 or under. Only 7736 children were 12 or older when they were adopted.
Does this mean that there were no teenagers in foster care who were free for adoption? Of course not. In studying this report., where I'm getting my statistics, you will see that there were a great number of children who were in foster care and legaly free. In fact, in that year alone, over 24,000 of them were emancipated as adults from the foster care system.
But what do we continue to do? We continue to recruit families who want to take children under 6. We spend a lot of money, time and energy to recruit and train these families so that they can jump into competition with other families just like them who want a child or children to meet their need to parent.
Obviously, we still need to do this. But do children under 6 each need 100 families all wanting that same child? I realize that I am probably going to make all kinds of people mad in saying this, but are we not focusing our energies, as Dr. John accuses us, on meeting the needs of the families wanting children instead of the children themselves.
If we were looking at the issue of waiting children in foster care, we would be recruiting families for teens with on probation with an array of mental illnesses. We would be looking for families willing to take large sibling groups. We would be looking for parents willing to parent children with FASD or RAD or sexual acting out or the dreaded "fire-setters."
But the answer we always receive is, "I could never do that."
If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said the same thing. But you know what? We've done it. We're doing it. We're living out some of our worst nightmares, and not only are we OK, but we love our lives and we'd do it again. In fact, we will.
Wow, I'm getting carried away. But it is true. The kids that are out there, the ones aging out this year, or next year, or five years down the road, are the ones who need us the most. The families that will take a 5 year old with no issues are a dime a dozen.
We need to find those who will willingly do something harder. But there are few takers, and it's an impossible sell.