What If We Are Wrong?

I came home late yesterday afternoon from the annual adoption conference up in Albany. One of the workshops I went to was run by Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK), a non-profit arm of Wendy’s set up originally by Dave Thomas himself to promote adoptions of the foster kids in the country who have no one.  It was, of course, all about their success – their tremendous success actually.  The leader of the workshop was prepared, knowledgable, and articulate.  So I asked her the question that I have not been able to get an answer to since Family Focus decided a long while ago that we were not ready to partner with this program.  While she was unable to answer the question either, she did give me the name of a higher-up in the organization that might be able to, and I will follow up for sure.

The question is: what happens when it doesn’t work?  How do you protect the child –  the mulitply-betrayed child, by definition (or he/she would not need to be part of the program) – how do you protect the child when all these extensive, personal (they look into the child’s background to find folks who know/knew the child) and “aggressive” (to use their word) means to find a family don’t work?  What does that do to the child who now knows definitively that there is nobody, even among all the people he/she has ever known, that will become family?

And then there’s the question of funding.  WWK now partners, we were told, with at least one state government, whose funds will allow them to hire 50 child recruiters.  Each recruiter is expected to carry about 20 cases.  That is a thousand kids.  And that opportunity for those kids is mind-blowing to us in the field.  It is wonderful.

But those of us in the field, older than say 25, know that government money comes and government money goes for reasons that too often have nothing to do with the value of the programs being defunded.  What happens to those 1000 kids who will be in various stages of this program, if (when?) the state government pulls out?

So I will go to the person at WWK who might be able to answer these questions.  But I am pretty will sure that there will be no answer.  Because nobody thinks like that.  Aunt Rita (Happy Mother’s Day) would say that nobody thinks, period.

I was very very lucky as a teenager to be in a high school that confronted us with the big questions of life very early.  Talking about “ends vs. means.” would not have been out of place in my school from the ninth grade on.  From today’s perspective it would appear to be a fantasy educational experience.   But it was – lucky for me – very real.

The entire WWK workshop on Friday inevitably led me to thinking about ends and means.  The obvious “end” or goal of the public adoption programs at Family Focus, like all such adoption programs, is to find families for the children who so desperately need them.  But we long ago decided that in dealing with kids who have experienced such deep consequences from the failure of the adults – many different adults (and coming from well-intentioned adults doesn’t change the experience)  – that it was our responsibility to protect those kids even – no, especially – from our failures.  We decided that a successful adoption program required us to be successful for these kids even when we failed in our goal of getting them adopted.  Absurd talk? Confusing?

It’s actually pretty simple. It’s where my high school’s question of whether or not the “ends” justifies the “means” comes in.  We recognized that if our processes for getting these kids adopted, at least, empowered the kids, they would be better off for having dealt with us, no matter what the outcome.  Their experience of themselves would be forever changed, even if they ended up not getting adopted.  To go through our processes would be to make decisions, not to have them made for you; it would be to have your “no” respected, not opening the door to adult harassment: “C’mon, this is better for you; don’t throw away such a great opportunity etc.”; it would be to experience the protection of having your boundaries defined and protected without being “guilted” into anything.  Empowerment, which erases victimization, became our means to adoption.  Or did empowerment become our “end” and adoption our “means”? Who cares?  We can argue that in philosophy classes.  Meanwhile, we empower.

Our “Chocolate Milk Club,” by the way,  becomes our protection from defunding.  The income that comes from the monthly dues, will allow us the fiscal means, at least for cash ourlays, to finish out any case we begin.  Of course, that also requires a staff so committed to the value of empowerment that they would finish the work on any case for free.

The first question we have for any and every successful program we see is “how do you protect the kids when your processes fail?”  Your 70% success rate really doesn’t mean much to the other 30%.  Or your 90% success rate really doesn’t mean much to the other 10%.  Even your 99% doesn’t mean much to the other 1%.  If you don’t see that, we must be very wary of your “means”  no matter how good your “ends” look, even to us.

Covering for one’s inevitable failures always requires asking, and answering, this question: “What if we are wrong?”

Happy Mother’s Day.





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2 Responses to What If We Are Wrong?

  1. Jack,

    Interesting post for Mother’s Day. Children need to be safe and protected. That’s always been my bottom line, with my children, and with the young clients that I see in my psychotherapy practice.

    Family Focus has gone far beyond my scope in making sure that extremely vulnerable children are, in fact, safe and protected, as the process you have so carefully developed secures the protection of these children.

    If all mothers and fathers out there would agree that our children need to be safe and protected, than how could anyone NOT see that those multiply traumatized children who are NOT in the safety and protection of their families be provided safety and protection – by the agencies, schools, social service workers, mental health practitioners and others who take on the responsibility of working with them?

    Anyone who takes on the responsibility of working with these children needs to take responsibility, in my view, for developing a process that provides for the safety and protection of these children. Nothing short of empowerment does that.

    Sandy Berenbaum

    • Helen Westover Shimansky says:

      I agree, Sandy. Over the years, I’ve had contact with other agencies, and none of them matches the passion and the commitment to the “damaged” children for which FFAS advocates so well.

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