Trying to create this new training for families looking to adopt kids whom they don’t know from the foster care system is forcing me to do some deep, and occasionally frustrating, thinking. These kids have not only been multiply rejected by individuals (mother’s family, father’s family, their foster parents etc.) but they have been betrayed by our culture. The purpose of the foster care system is to get the kids back home, but these kids, through no fault of their own, aren’t going back home. The backup system is to get the kids adopted by their foster parents, who know them. But these kids, again through no fault of their own, are not being adopted by their foster parents. The final plan is to get them adopted through agencies like mine (here goes: Family Focus Adoption Services). But that takes money that is simply not there. I could tell stories for a year’s worth of blog posts just of the kids I personally know about over the years who’ve lost adoptive families simply because there was no money available to do the work it would take to bring the child and the available family together – and then, of course, have them succeed.
So, we have to scrounge, and scrounge we do. We beg for money, we cut pay, we skip paydays, we do work gratis. It is never enough. But the real heartbreak comes when we do make a match between a child and a family and don’t have the resources to do the work that would keep them together.
Many years ago, a woman came to us for a unique request. The agency which had responsibility for the child her family had been matched with wouldn’t pay our fees. So the woman came to us and asked us to teach her everything we knew and she would do the work herself. We did, she did, and the adoption succeeded. We see her every once in a while and the boy she made her son is now long an adult.
That then is our latest plan: change our training, intensify it, teach the families as much as we can about what we know so that they need less outside services. Easier said than done. Because the real training isn’t about how to raise our kids; it’s about learning about your self so that, among other things, you can understand how to love our kids. And that is a killer to get into a training curriculum. Especially one that one wants to keep interesting.
Over the years, one thing that I have learned in trainings is that I hate “role plays.” I find them general, impersonal, artificial and forced. And I know that many of my colleagues also hate them. So we won’t use them. What we will teach instead is something I call “imaginary scenarios.”
When I took my first three kids, in 1978, I also moved sixty miles away from my job. I had to get a local job and I had a hell of a time finding one. A friend, who was a social worker, had told me that my best long term bet to do what I wanted to do (change the world, of course, like a good sixties kid) was to go get my Masters’ in Social Work and my Masters’ in Business Administration. So I headed that way. I registered in Marist for the MBA and in Adelphi at the same time for the MSW. This, despite having three kids at home (8, 10, and 12) and (finally) a full time local job, and a second part time job.
I hated school. It’s never been my thing. I always found it too restricting, too limiting. But I went – for a few months. Then one morning, I woke up and said to myself, “What is going to happen if I do all this for the next two years; then I graduate, let’s say, on a Friday; and then I wake up dead (imaginary, remember) on Saturday. I am going to be berserk furious that I spent the last two years of my life doing what I hated (going to school.) And with that, I quit school and never looked back.
And so, what I began calling “imaginary scenarios” became a foundation of my thinking. (After all, one doesn’t “wake up dead.”) Of course – thirty three years later – now that I have no money and a current salary that is less then 2/3 of Luis’, I am recognizing that I might have acted precipitously. Maybe.
Anyway, using “imaginary scenarios” as a thinking tool to figure out what I really want, think, believe, and – especially – feel, has been very powerful for me over the years. It also allows me to put myself in another’s shoes. Much more effective, because much more real, and always more personal, then role playing. It is among the first things we plan on teaching to our families.