I’m working on a next of kin case for a man who died while incarcerated. He’s been dead since 2001 and nobody has located his next of kin. I wonder how long he’d been incarcerated without contact from someone who cared? I imagine he was discarded before he went to prison. I’d bet he grew up in poverty or in foster care. Early and/or chronic poverty or disrupted relationships adversely impacts brain development. It impedes positive and prosocial experiences. The individual’s intellectual and emotional development is forever impacted and depending on their resilience, genetic predispositon, and environment they may have far less free will than we like to imagine. If we can say they made a choice, we can discard them more easily. We don’t have to worry about what happens to those we consider the least worthy in our communities.
One of the unclaimed decedent cases I’m working is a man who came to the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift. I haven’t enough information to know how he supported himself all these years but he ended up homeless in 2011. He was arrested for camping in Cocoa Beach, Florida, missed the court date for that violation, and a warrant was issued. He was fishing when he was picked up on that warrant. Not robbing banks. Not stealing purses. Fishing. Hauled off to jail. Two months later, he was struck and killed by a driver that veered onto the shoulder of the road where the man was walking. The driver was charged with failure to exercise due caution, found guilty, and ordered to pay $134 fine. The relatives for the man from Cuba have not been located.
My new piece in the NYT Motherlode is about shifting your own expectations in the middle of a child’s anger. What is the goal when we go toe-to-toe with a child?
Children can’t understand how anger works unless we encourage them to wrestle it with safe people. Their attempts may be uncomfortable or excessive.
Read Teaching Your Child to Wrangle, Not Reject, Rage and share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.
Proud to have a story featured in the July issue of foster care alumni Chris Chmielewski’s Foster Focus Magazine, the nation’s only monthly magazine devoted to foster care.
In June 2004, my adopted daughter Rose received not one, not two, but three letters of commendation from United States senators. “It has come to my attention that you have been selected to participate in the 2004 Youth Leadership Forum… This outstanding achievement demonstrates your proactive attitude towards your education,” wrote Senator Ron Wyden. “I believe there is nothing more valuable than a good education. Your impressive record indicates you share that view.”
To appreciate my (then) foster daughter’s accomplishment, one must consider how little others expected of her when she was young. Read the rest of the story at Foster Focus, July 2014
Those places in us we hide in shame? We can stop hiding. We can forgive ourselves. We can move on. Maybe we won’t be great, but we’ll be better. Maybe not even good, but better. Believing in others is ultimately about believing in yourself.
To read more, click The Way Things Overlap.
Then follow me on Twitter @iwritedeb and Jennifer @JenPastiloff.
My essay U.S. Foster Care: A Flawed Solution that Leads to More Long-Term Problems in STIR Journal got a yes vote when New York Times Motherlode writer KJ Dell’Antonia linked to the essay with this quote: “Thousands of kids roll through the foster care system every year. What if it would be better to leave them at home? – KJ Dell’Antonia”
Portland, Oregon is apparently having a difficult time protecting its water reservoirs. A few short weeks ago Portland Water Bureau personnel got their shorts in a wad (Should I say that? It’s not polite.) about the kid who purportedly peed in or near one of the reservoirs.
In May 2013, Portlanders rejected a plan to fluoridate city water for the fourth time since 1956. A scant year later, the city is divided over whether or not Portland teenager Dallas Swonger should be held accountable for the Water Bureau’s decision to divert 38 million gallons of water when the 18-year-old allegedly urinated into the reservoir. Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff called Swonger a “yahoo” to the Associated Press, and issued a challenge when he referenced the size of the youth’s genitals, stating, “He has to get his little wee wee right up to the iron bars…” (Teen Accused of Peeing in Reservoir ‘Didn’t Piss In The Fu—ing Water’ Huffington Post, April 18, 2014).
Maybe I’m missing something—I admit that I don’t have a penis—but it seems like this has turned into a classic pissing match. For all I know, peeing in public could be some kind of male developmental milestone. I’m reminded of a situation at Oregon City High School where a senior was written up for intentionally urinating on the bathroom wall. He was a student who couldn’t afford a suspension, so I asked the vice principal to let me talk to him and come up with a suitable alternative consequence. Turns out, there was no ill intent: the student had been dared by another to try to pee his name in cursive. He agreed to scrub the bathroom walls, and the situation was resolved.
A couple years before that, my son was attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He and his roommates—all students in the engineering and pilot degree programs—flew to Sedona, Arizona where they landed the aircraft and went for lunch. By the time they got back to the plane, the sun was beginning to set and there was frost on the wings. The students scraped the wings with their debit cards, a tedious task. One of them got the kind of bright idea that only third year engineering students who understand fluid mechanics would get: They unzipped their pants and peed on the wing thinking it would melt the frost. Instead they had to scrape off one another’s frozen urine.
Fifty years earlier, my not yet husband Dennis and his friend Don were driving back from the Oregon coast in a red 1950 Ford convertible. They were nearly out of gas, coasting down the hills hoping they would make it to the flatland where there would be a gas station. Suddenly, Dennis had to pee. “I was being efficient,” he says now of the situation that occurred when he was nineteen. “I didn’t want to waste the gas it would take to pull over and then start the car again.” He climbed over the back seat while Don coasted down the hill, unzipped his blue jeans, and peed out the back of the convertible. A Greyhound bus full of passengers pulled up behind the car. Shortly thereafter, a police car pulled them over. Dennis was arrested and hauled to jail. He paid a $55 fine.
I can’t be the only woman in the world that knows men who’ve engaged in such antics. Swonger has a point: with all the dead bugs, vermin, and bird waste that must fall into an open-air reservoir, a couple ounces of human urine can’t possibly be a significant health risk. Maybe we need to sit Swonger and Shaff at a table with somebody’s mother. Mom can remind Swonger it’s not nice to pee in public. Then, she can remind Shaff that commenting on the size of another person’s genitals is always in bad taste. And now that e-coli has been found in three separate tests, all of Portland is boiling its water. Nothing like that to make Swonger’s point hit home.
Rethinking foster care: Molly McGrath Tierney at TEDx Baltimore is a surprising talk by the Director for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services, managing the City’s child welfare and public assistance programs. She led a startling reform effort to improve services to vulnerable citizens of Baltimore.
Watch this touching video of thirteen foster care alumni telling what it was like for them in foster care.
I have new essay up in STIR Journal about foster care.
In rural Oregon, an 11-year-old girl wearing a pair of plastic sandals walked 13 miles to a local tavern and convinced a man she didn’t know to drive her two and a half hours north to Long Beach, Wash. She was sick of foster care. She wanted to go home.
A 2011 survey reported that 13 percent of all foster children run away at least once, and another 9 percent abandon their foster homes to live with friends. When 22 percent of any child population flees the system which adults have provided to keep them safe, something is wrong. These youth may have insights the rest of us fail to see. Studies show foster care is a highway to health problems, homelessness, early pregnancy, arrest, incarceration, and sex trafficking. And those are the lucky kids. Foster care alumni are five times more likely to commit suicide and eight times more likely to be hospitalized for a serious psychiatric disorder.
Then again, decades of research show that childhood maltreatment interrupts healthy emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development, so we can chalk up the poor outcomes to abuse that occurred before these children were rescued, right?
Click the title to read the rest of the article:U.S. FOSTER CARE: A FLAWED SOLUTION THAT LEADS TO MORE LONG-TERM PROBLEMS?