When, When, When?

This is a question I painfully lament almost everyday.

When are the “so called experts” going to wake up to the fact that, they in their supposed infinite wisdom, DO NOT have all the answers? Neither are they knowledgeable of all the questions.

Today’s, as in the past, child welfare system is run by those who feel they are about infallible. They feel because they have a degree in a certain field that this qualifies them to make all decisions regarding families and children. Many of those decisions are made in total disregard of “the best interest of the child.”

This runs from the politicians, judges, state or private child welfare agencies as well as many non governmental agencies.

Many of the “textbook experts” are just that…textbook experts! Their knowledge is gained strictly from a book. They feel a MSW or other letters behind their name is all they need. Many of today’s child welfare system workers are fresh out of college; they have no life experience of their own yet they make decisions affecting others experiences.

Bear in mind; I know there are good, qualified people within the system. They do their best to make decisions in the best interest of the child. Many times they are doing a thankless job. However, I feel they are also the minority and not majority.

The system fails to realize they are relegating their greatest expert resources to the sidelines.

Who better to look to in determining the success or failures of the system than those who live within it each and everyday; whether by choice as a foster parent or forced due to circumstances as a foster child?

Their expertise is not found within the covers of a textbook. Their expertise is gained by living it twenty-four/seven! They have to live with and know the impact of decisions made by the textbook experts.

For the past several years I have been inspired daily by the children of foster care and foster parents I have met in person or on line and the stories they have shared with me. These stories of trauma, loss and resilience have taught me that one of the most damaging experiences for any child in foster care is being bounced from one home to another without their ever having a voice in the decision.

These children and foster parents can be powerful teachers. If we choose to listen to them we can create a compassionate, honorable and safe experience for them. We can offer them what we would want for our children by birth, our nieces, our nephews, our neighbors: kindness, compassion, respect, true understanding and humane treatment.

At fifty-seven years of age and one who lived within the system for eighteen years I still remember the words and I remember the faces of those in charge of the system…those responsible for my welfare.
I remember some of the foster parents, the teachers, nuns and priests at the orphanage called Boys Town. I remember those who made me hopeful and those who stoked my despair.

I, and thousands like me, lived, survived and overcame years of living within the system. We had to bear the brunt of decisions made supposedly on our behalf as we did not have a voice.

Yes, I am one of those former children of the foster care system. From birth until I aged out at eighteen I had no say so in any decision made about me. Others made the decision to move me fourteen different times by the age of eleven. At no time was I ever asked how I felt about a move, how the move might be impacting on me. Even when a charge of abuse was made against a foster mother, I was not asked if it happened. If I had been; the answer would have been a resounding NO! It was only discovered over forty years after the incident that it had been a lie made by another child to cover other things up. I, however, bore the brunt of the lie without ever been asked about it.

When one family, who cared for me three different times, attempted to adopt me also three different times they were denied. I was never asked if I wanted to be with this family, was the family good to me or any other questions. I was held voiceless in these decisions made by others that would impact me not only through childhood but well into my adult life.

Much of what I describe from my childhood years in foster care unfortunately is not a thing of the past; it remains very much so today.

Foster parents, in many instances, are also held voiceless. Though the system feels them qualified to be temporary parents to a child they treat them as servants rather than as part of a team. It is they that care for the child 24/7. It is they that know how things are impacting on their young lives. It is they that, many times, have their lives revolve around a system worker’s schedule of things to their convenience rather than to the foster parents’ schedule. It is they that who are told “don’t get too involved” yet it is only natural they fall in love with the child for whom they are providing care. It is they that are the “true experts” yet their suggestions etc. are held to be of no value by the “so called experts.”

It is time the system fully takes advantage of the resources that are available to them. Talk to, listen to, and heed the advice given by….foster parents and former or present foster children willing to offer help. Their expertise was not learned in a textbook…it was gained by living it!

I believe many of the “experts” know we are operating a broken system. My advice; before making reforms based on textbooks, go to the real world…foster parents and foster children. You will be amazed at the real education you will achieve!

Hopefully someday soon the “When, When, When question will be changed to: Can you offer some input? How would you do this? What impact would this have? These would be just a few new questions that would tell us that the “so called experts” have finally reached out to the “life experts.” I don’t think it is too much to ask. 

I guess the final question is…Do the “textbook experts” have the guts to admit they don’t in fact know it all and reach out? If they do, they will find willing hands reaching out in return.


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