I was having a conversation the other day with a man who has a long history in twelve step programs. He told me that as a result of that history, he lives in his “own little bubble.” I started to laugh and told him that we all live in our own little bubbles. We do what we know. We know what we’ve been taught, or more accurately, what we’ve learned from our own experience and our perspective on that experience. What’s outside our bubble we are more or less blind to.
I have seen this attributed to some anonymous person in AA, but also to Einstein: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. We are clearly not getting the results we want and expect with what we do with our foster children. Too many are walking around their entire adult lives, stuck. For all our therapy and all our pills, and all our supposed knowledge, we are obviously doing something wrong with kids who through no fault of their own, end up in the system. How do we figure out what that is?
The first step is to recognize that our experience is not the same as a kid placed into foster care. We don’t know what it does to the kids when they lose everything. Our “own little bubbles” are very different from theirs. I had a former foster kid once tell me that I didn’t get it: “I lost EVERYTHING, “ he told me. He was right. I was kicked out of college the first time I went; I have lost a job here or there; I have buried many family members whom I loved and still miss; I have even buried four of my kids. Every loss hurt – many still do – but I never lost everything. Ever. I think that today the citizens of the Philippines would be able to identify with that man beyond anything I ever could.
Recently I had a young (11) boy in foster care tell me that it was understandable why his aunt and uncle didn’t keep him. After all, he said, “They had their jobs, they had me, they had my sister, and (he emphasized) they had all the pets to take care of.” As though it were perfectly obvious to the world that he was the obvious candidate to be dumped. Pets vs. me? No question.
I have been looking at safety this week. And I realize that I have missed the boat on that subject my whole working life. Oh, I’m good at picking up things that others miss; I know a lot about keeping kids safe. But it’s all relative isn’t it? A forty on an exam beats a twenty. But they are both failing.
How on earth could I keep the citizens of the Philippines safe this week? I couldn’t. I wouldn’t even know how to begin. Yet, I and my fellow workers in the foster care system, especially in the world of foster care adoption, assume that we know how to do it with these kids? Whose experience, whose bubbles, are as far from our experience as our experience is from the people in the Philippines.
It is the worst kind of arrogance, isn’t it: when one doesn’t even suspect that one is arrogant?