Foster Care Alumni Need to Reach Out to Other Alumni & Youth in Care Today!

I’d like to share a story with you. It’s about a little boy, but it could as easily be about a little girl. Picture the following in your mind:

A baby boy has just been born. He should be wrapped in his loving mother’s arms with her scent all about him and with family gathering full of joy at his birth. But he doesn’t feel those loving arms nor hear the sounds of joy. The smells are those of a hospital ward. He is moved from one nursery to another. He is alone. Days, weeks and months pass…the calendar moves toward his first birthday…yet he still remains alone!

Finally at fourteen months of age he hears someone…a stranger…calling his name. Someone is picking him up and saying “they are taking him home.”

Years pass. He has heard strangers repeat his name and say “Pack your bag…you are leaving!” ten different times…he is only six years old. Each time he has heard it, he has just begun to make friends…now they are gone. He begins to feel comfortable where he is…now it’s time to move again.

Each move has brought him to unfamiliar surroundings and people. Each time he has had to pack his “brown grocery paper bag” with all his worldly possessions.

No one has yet called him Son…he is only called by his first name. He hears he is a foster child for the first time. He hears the word “bastard” in relation to him as well. He is also called names that cannot be repeated here.

No one loves him. He doesn’t belong wherever he has gone. He is treated differently than others. No one wants him. He has no permanent home. He walks home from school to his temporary home slowly, having developed a fear that it may no longer be his home when he gets there.

He suddenly finds himself in a home where things are different. He is treated with love. He is treated as part of the family. He starts to lose his fear of leaving school to go home. He is getting comfortable where he is at. He is in this home one year, two years, three years. He believes he has finally found a home. He has made and kept friends for longer than a few months. He passes a fourth year; he is half way through another year.

He arrives home from school one day and sees a stranger in the house. He slows down going up the walkway and begins to tremble. He sees the one he loves and calls MOM crying. He now knows that stranger in the room is a case worker from Catholic Charities. He goes to his Mom to hold her…to cry with her. He knows what this means. He packs his “paper bag” once again. Carrying it, he slowly is walking out of the house he has known for four and one half years as home. He looks back as he is slowly driven away…he knows in his heart he won’t be back to live here again.

He learns much later in life that this foster family, as well as their son and his wife, each attempted to adopt him…not once or twice, but thrice. Those responsible for making the decision each time gave a resounding NO! He is told the foster parents are denied because of age, though they are only in their mid 40s. The son and his wife are denied because she is not of the proper “Faith” for him to be raised in.

He has been placed in a juvenile detention center with young men who have committed every imaginable crime. His only crime is he has no parents or home to call his own. He is the youngest boy on the block, as well as the smallest. He is forced to learn how to fight quickly, he is savagely sexually abused. Feeling despair and worthless he attempts suicide. His bed is a thin mattress on the floor, as the block is overcrowded. He lives here for over two months while yet another temporary home is found for him.

He is in a strange place once again. He is in a new school. He has no friends. He is treated as a stranger at this place. He is not a part of this family. He is forced to eat alone. He is given but one meal a day which forces him to steal from classmates lunches to lessen his hunger pangs.

He does not sleep in the house, but on the unheated back porch. He is only allowed in the main portion of the house to use the bathroom.

Christmas comes…the only gifts he receives are the clothes that were given him by the St. Vincent de Paul Society a week earlier, as his semiannual clothing allotment. There is nothing from this family for him under the tree.

Months pass. He is told to “pack his bag.” They are coming for him in the morning. He is being moved yet again…and he doesn’t know where he is going.

He is asleep this last night, when suddenly he is jolted awake. Before him stands another person…exposing himself. He intends to have the boy remember his last night in this house. He screams out in terror. He lashes every way possible. He hears someone coming, asking, “What is going on?” He tells his story, but is not believed. He is told, “You no good, ungrateful, lying little bastard! No wonder no one wants you! Get your bag and get your ass out of this house!” He hears and feels the hard slap and sting of a hand across his reddened face. He is forced to sit on the outside stoop in the cold night, to await them coming to get him in the morning.

He is picked up. He is on a plane for the first time in his life and doesn’t know where he is being taken. The person taking him is not speaking to him. He lands in a place he has never heard of and has no idea where he is…only that he has been moved again.

You have been reading this for just a few minutes. In those few minutes this young boy has been moved fourteen times. He has been moved from the only place he considered home and the people he loved. He has made friends and lost them. He has changed schools. He has been made to feel a part of a family and as a stranger. He has been brutally sexually assaulted. He has at age ten attempted suicide. He is alone again.

These few minutes you have been reading this has actually been the course of the first eleven years of this young boy’s life.

Can you imagine how this young boy felt! If you have lived within the system you know the adjectives.

By age eleven system has already determined this young boy a failure and moved him to an orphanage out of state to let him be someone else‘s problem. They expect him to age out of the system and to join the ranks that statistics show he will continue to be a failure throughout his life.

At age eleven this young boy already reached a major crossroad in his young life. After fourteen moves, others making decisions about his life amongst other things; he faced a choice. He could whine about his childhood, accept others already declaring him a failure and proceed in that manner or he could assume responsibility for his own life, set goals & expectations and do all that was necessary to achieve them.

Cards were dealt at birth. Rather than being dealt a royal flush he was dealt maybe a pair of twos and told to play it the best he possibly could as he could not throw any cards away and hope for a better hand. He, with the help of others along the way, was ultimately responsible for how the game turned out. He could whimper and whine and just say deal me out or he could somehow attempt to make that pair of twos look like a royal flush…the choice was his and his alone.

He chose not to take the already crowded road of whining nor accept what others had already determined about him. He was going to make something of himself not because of the system but rather despite it. He began setting goals for himself and charting the course necessary to achieve them.

Over the years he wanted to graduate high school…he achieved that. He wanted to obtain a college degree…he achieved that. He wanted to become a public speaker…he achieved that speaking to audiences of as few of twenty to as many as five thousand, including three international conferences. He wanted to  found foundations to help other youth…he achieved that starting two foundations as well as serving as Executive Director of another foundation and currently serving on the Board of Directors for an international foundation today. He also wanted to be a writer…he achieved that by authoring two books, writing a number of articles for newspapers & magazines as well as today maintaining a well visited web site and blog. He has goals he is still reaching to achieve.

Bear in mind life has dealt him many setbacks along the way, but he learned at an early age to view them as opportunities and know that no matter how bad things seemed to be….they could be worse, as it is for some.

Within every person there is a rose. These qualities planted in us at birth grow amid the thorns of our faults. He, in early life, had looked at himself and saw only the thorns; the defects. He despaired, thinking that nothing good can possibly come from him. He neglected to water the good within him when he was very young, and eventually that good could have died. He might never realize his potential and see the rose within himself had he not been forced to at age eleven.

The card game of life is yet to be completed, but no matter where the winding road of life may yet take him he believes victory has already been won!

Why do I share this story with you?

I want all foster youth and foster care alumni to realize you do not need to accept what others tell you about you, you can overcome any negative caused to you while in the foster care system. I won’t say the road will be an easy one. The road will require determination and hard work as well as overcoming stumbles along the way. I also want  foster care alumni who have overcome to realize they have an obligation to help others within the system today as well as those who have aged out but yet still struggle on their road of life. Those still struggling to overcome need to also help those in the system as by helping others you will also be helping yourself! The statistics of failure that run rampant amongst foster care alumni must be changed!

One of the greatest gifts a person can possess is to be able to reach past the thorns and find the rose within another. This is the characteristic of love, to look at a person, and knowing his/her faults, recognize the nobility in their soul, and help them realize that they can overcome their faults. If we show them the rose, they will conquer the thorns. Then will they blossom, blooming forth thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold as it is given to them. This is the challenge to all who have gone through the foster care system. They must realize their full potential and also let those still within the system know theirs!

There are many ways one can do this. You can join national organizations whose mission is to advocate for youth in care or connect them with alumni as mentors. One such organization is Foster Care Alumni or America (http://www.fostercarealumni.org/ ). You can join local organizations whose mission is to make life a little better while youth remain in care. You can mentor a foster youth, especially one where the system has decided will age out of it. There are so many groups out there just waiting for volunteers to walk through the door…be the one! Each must help youth in care avoid many of the struggles they may have had while in care or avoid the pitfalls encountered after care. I say again; as one helps others we will help ourselves!

May is National Foster Care month. Though it would be good for one to get involved any day or month of the year, if you are not involved as yet then May is a good time to start. Over 450,000 current foster youth need you, the almost 29,000 who will age out during this year need you. I am sure with over 12 million foster care alumni across the country everyone can find at least one who would love a stretched out hand, a restive shoulder to lean on as they may continue to battle to overcome.

To those who read this and have or will face some crosses and tribulations in your life, please………Remember….when you feel your life’s crosses seem overwhelming…. it helps to look around and see what other people are coping with. Many bear crosses that we can only begin to fathom. There are those with disabilities, some face terminal illness, others live poor or under dictatorships….the list is endless! You may, in the end, consider yourself far more fortunate than you imagined. Whatever your cross…. whatever your pain…. there will always be sunshine after the rain.

The story I shared above is not an imaginary one. It is my story. I share it not to trumpet my own horn but rather to let youth in care or those who have aged out and are having trouble overcoming things endured in their youth before/after care can overcome them.

Yes, I have faced many crosses in my life, I have stumbled and fallen many times trying to carry them. Each time however, I have been able to pick myself up and move a step forward. I will be honest, it has not always been easy nor has it been through my own strength but combined with my own desires, work as well has helping hands of others. There will be crosses for me to bear in whatever life I have remaining…but I will not allow them to overburden or defeat me. I also know that many have far bigger and heavier crosses to me to bear…mine are small and light in comparison. I know if I can do it so can each youth in care today and those who have already aged out…no matter how many years ago you aged out.

It won’t , as I said before “be easy” but if we reach out to each other we can all make it.

People may have failed you in the past, the system may have failed you and there will others along your path who will fail you as has happened to me. All one hopefully can and will do is accept it and move on. But PLEASE….DO NOT ALLOW YOU TO FAIL YOU!!

I now conclude this with a final word of advise for ALL of us: Don’t live in your yesterdays, as they are done and gone. Nothing you did then or others did to you  can be changed. Don’t live for your tomorrow’s for they were never promised to you. Live for TODAY…for today you have complete control over what you do, live it and live it to your fullest potential! Help others to do the same!

Two Men Who Made a Difference!

Readers of my blog or my book know I spent what I considered the most formative years of my youth (age 11-18) as one of Father Flanagan’s boys at world renowed Boys Town, Nebraska.

I consider those years my most formative as they are the years where I would learn things and have some folks influence me that would stay with me throughout my life.

People who taught me some life lessons or influenced me were folks like Mr. Clarence Weinerth (Debate Coach), Ms. Geneveive Condon (English Teacher), Moe Synskie (Choir) and Dr. Patrick McGinnis (Guidance Counselor). I was able to thank Mr. Weinerth before he passed in 1997. I had a special meeting with Dr. McGinnis at the Alumni Reunion in 2011 to say a heartfelt thank you. Ms. Condon & Moe I never said thank you before they passed but I say thank you now.

There were however two men who taught me the most and whose influence has carried me through the very trying times of my life since my youth. Two men who unfortunately I never took the time to say thank you to for how much they did for me and still do for me all these years later.

I never knew my father as a child. I would not meet him until I turned forty years old. I had a foster dad whom I always called DAD and do so til this very day, however he was hundreds of miles away during these formative years.

The two men I speak of are the late former Executive Director of Boys Town, Msgr. Nicholas H. Wegner and the late former Director of the renowned Boys Town Choir, Msgr. Francis P. Schmitt…for the seven plus years at Boys Town both were to become the “father figures” in my life.

Msgr. Schmitt
Msgr. Wegner

Both men were big in stature, strong disciplinarians. had booming voices but yet both were very gentle in heart and caring in spirit.

Both men had an open door policy for me, especially during my high school years. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I used the policy. I could talk to both of them about anything going on in my life and there were some very tough days during my years at Boys Town when I needed to talk or just have someone available with an open ear and a caring heart.

Both men taught me of the importance of faith in one’s life. They taught me about one having stand on their own two feet, discipline, hard work, fighting for what one believed in and to not forget to care about others who may be less fortunate than I. Both men taught these lessons not only in their words but by their very actions…they practiced what they preached! Msgr. Scmitt also taught me to have a special love of music, especially liturgical and classical. I think of him when our cathederal here in Fargo does its once a month Latin Mass and sing Gregorian chant.
Both men could have gone and done something different in their lives. Msgr. Wegner was at one time offered the opportunity to become a Bishop, he made the choice to stay with “his boys.” Msgr. Schmitt could have done anything within the musical world but Boys Town and his choir was his home.
I’d like to share a couple of stories about both men which I shared in my book entitled, “Lost Son.”
Msgr. Wegner:
Each high school boy was to have a job on campus. This is how we were to earn our thirty dollars a month we were given.I had a great job my freshman and sophomore year. Msgr. Wegner had his home connected to the chapel. My job was to be up at 5:30 and to be at his home by 6:15. I was met by Mrs. Ann Fischer, his personal cook. Mrs. Fischer was the mother of the famous Fischer boys of the National Football League. It was my job to help prepare breakfast and serve for him. It was great working with Mrs. Fischer. She always saw that I had a snack to take to school when I left for class. She said a growing boy needed more than three meals a day.It was during those two years that Msgr. Wegner and I got to be fairly close. Though the adults were not suppose to give us money Msgr. always saw that I had a few dollars in my pocket. Once breakfast was served he usually invited me to join him at the table. We always had interesting conversations.It was at the start of my junior year that I was greeted by Msgr. Wegner rather than Mrs. Fischer one morning. He took me aside and put an arm around my shoulder. He informed me that Mrs. Fischer had been killed in a car accident the previous night. She had been like a mother to me for the two years I worked with her. I lost someone special and the tears came.

Msgr. Wegner personally took me to the funeral and then to her home afterwords to eat and to meet her sons. Apparently she had told them about me. They knew me as soon as I entered the door. It was a sad day for me.

Msgr. Wegner did not hire a new cook after Mrs. Fischer’s death. Thus my job at his home ended and I moved on to work with the Director of Food Services.

Working for Mrs. Fischer and Cy is where I learned to cook and bake. A skill still in use today being a single person.

Msgr. Wegner’s and my relationship however continued throughout my remaining years at Boys Town. His door was open to me whenever I wanted to visit with him if he was in town.

During my senior year while I was still entertaining the thought of becoming a priest he arranged for me to spend a week at Mount Michael Abbey in Elkorn, Nebraska. It was shortly after that week I decided it was more my desire to be like Msgr. Wegner than a real vocation making me think of becoming a priest. I decided not to enter the seminary. I believe Msgr. Wegner knew this would be my decision but he allowed me to make it on my own rather than directing me in any one direction.

Msgr. Schmitt:

I have to tell you about the escapade with Msgr. Schmitt. For this story I will call him just “Schmittie.” One was not allowed to call him that while we were at Boys Town but once we graduated he felt we earned the right to do so. Schmittie was the Boys Town choir director I spoke of before. Now Schmittie loved the good things of life. He loved his berets, his loud Hawaiian shirts, rich expensive cigars and his Chives Regal.

I, as well as others, were always asking him to let us try his Chives. We always got no for an answer.

Underneath the high school dining hall was a quarters where the priest on campus went for their meals as well as relax. They had a private dining room as well as library area. This is also the space where most of them kept their alcohol…especially at Christmas time.

Schmittie seemed to get his share of bottles of Chivas at Christmas. A friend and I were determined that the Christmas of our junior year he would have one less bottle.

A few days before Christmas my friend stood watch as I crept and and snatched a bottle while Schmittie and a few other priests were having dinner.

We ran back to our cottage and down to the basement. I had never tasted hard alcohol before and did this stuff ever taste strong and have a bit. We had about three shots a piece and were feeling pretty good. We hid the remainder.

As we came upstairs who was standing by the doorway but Schmittie. He said he knew it had to be us who took his Chivas. Of course we denied it. He said he wanted to give us something to enjoy it with and handed us both one of his rich tasting, expensive cigars. He also reminded us that choir rehearsal was in an hour and left.

Well, I just had to have another shot of Chivas and a taste of this cigar. Back downstairs I went. My friend didn’t join me.

I had two more shots and lit up the cigar. Was that ever a mistake. I don;t know which caused most of the room spinning but did it ever spin. Soon I was looking for a bucket.

Anyone in the choir did not miss a choir rehearsal. After attempting to clean up, away I went despite still having the room spin and feeling sick.

Schmittie saw me as I entered the rehearsal hall. He just knew I was sick. All he said was, “Larry,feeling OK?” Smiling all the while as I looked and felt like hell.

It seemed that night that he worked the baritones and basses extra hard. All the while I just couldn’t wait for rehearsal to be over.

Schmittie never said another word about the incident until 1987 when I went back for my first reunion. His first words to me were, “Larry, feeling OK?” We both had a good laugh and I finally admitted his Chivas tasted pretty good and it was his awful cigar that made me sick.

It was at this reunion the alumni made a special presentation to Schmittie. He had left Boys Town about ten years earlier. The presentation was a large oil painting. Around the outer corners were various pictures of the choir. In the center was a smiling Schmittie wearing a beret, a Hawaiian shirt and a cigar in his mouth.

Msgr. Wegner passed away in 1976 and Msgr. Schmitt in 1994 but their legacy in my life continues to live on. The were the father figures in my life growing up at Boys Town; when I needed it most. One couldn’t have asked for two better ones than them!

I miss them both but I know they are never far away as it is their lessons taught and influences that I rely upon in life. The years of Boys Town are over forty-three years in my past but these two men and what they meant to me make it seem like just yesterday.

I will always regret never taking the time to say thank you to them and sharing with them what I just shared with you the reader. Hopefully this message with make its way up to them.

Since I did not know my birth family until I searched them out as an adult I have found several useful web site in that effort. One of those site is called, “Find a Grave.” Recently I decided to see if anyone had set up a memorial for Msgrs’ Wegner and Schmitt as one had been set up for Fr. Flanagan. I did not find one for either of them so decided to do one for each of them. I used some of my own words for each but also drew upon some words which were written by others far more eloguent than I. The memorials may be find at the links below. I know I am not the only Boys Town alumni who were taught lessons by them or have influenced their lives, there are thousands, feel free to leave a note or flowers at these memorials:

Msgr. Wegner:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSmid=47706875&GRid=84709443&

Msgr. Schmitt:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSmid=47706875&GRid=84711574&

When I graduated from Boys Town I did not realize the impact these two men had had on my life, it took me almost twenty-five years to realize it. Then it was too late to thank them personally as both had already passed to their just rewards. I will forever regret my stupidity!

May God grant them both eternal rest and peace…they both earned it! Your lessons were well learned and I say Thank You!

A Christmas Prayer, Wish & Gift to All

Dear Family, Friends & Brothers/Sisters of Boys Town~

Today Christmas is less than two weeks away. By now most of us have put up our trees and decorated until they glisten, bought, wrapped and placed under the tree gifts to our family & friends, prepared our Christmas Eve/Day menus.

We are ready to welcome family & friends into our homes to share in the spirit and warmth of the Christmas season.

This is all fine and expected during the holidays.

I do hope each of us will take time to remember the real reason for Christmas. It is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

As you gather with family & friends I pray that you will not only remember the reason for Christmas but will also remember those families that will have an empty chair at their Christmas table. Remember those families with servicemen and servicewomen who are in harms way to protect us. Most importantly remember those family who will have that empty chair each and every year due to the over 5,500 who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms in Iraq & Afghan conflicts…whether we agree with the conflicts or not.

Take time to remember those Christmas’s past, cherish the memories as we never know whom we may not have with us as we gather next year.

I know I remember my years at Boys Town and how special they made Christmas for those of us who did not have a family or home to call our own. I remember and cherish memories of the 1st Christmas I was able to enjoy with family I found at 52 years of age with my cousin Carol and her family and the year that followed when I met all my family of the Borysiak side of the family. These are memories I will cherish for a lifetime.

Yes, Christmas time is a time for memories, love, spirit, warmth and joy!

My wish and prayer for each of you who read this is a very Merry, Blessed and Joyful Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Below is a link to a small Christmas present for each of you:

A Christmas Gift to my Family & Friends:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJk8jvQpXN0

This is a walk through what is now totally Father Flanagan’s home at Boys Town…back in his day it was not only his home but a dorm for the boys, classrooms & chapel.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWhBhBcvkaI&feature=related

Peace, Larry~

More FY 2010 Foster Care/Adoption Data

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
AFCARS data, U.S. Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children, Youth and Families

Because AFCARS data are being continuously updated and cleaned, the numbers reported here may differ from data reported elsewhere in report breakdown. These data reflect all AFCARS submissions by states received by June of 2011.

Adoptions  from foster care   52,340:
married couples…34953, 67%
unmarried couples…1140, 2%
single females…14465, 28%
single males…1392, 3%
10 states with highest # of adoptions from foster care:
CA 6044
TX 4709
FL 3385
MI 2597
PA 2365
NY 2205
AZ 2045
WA 1633
OK 1628
IN 1458
Waiting adoption end of FY 2010 107011:
10 states with highest # “legal orphans” & waiting for adoption:
CA 13396
TX 13111
NY 6603
MI 5236
FL 5011
IN 3092
WA 3089
OH 3011
OK 2872
IL 2844
MA 2758

NOTE: Children 16 years old and older whose parents’ parental  rights have been terminated and who have a goal of emancipation (aging out) have been  excluded from the report.

Data for FY 2011 will not be available until June 2012.

 

FY20010 Foster Care Data

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

AFCARS data, U.S. Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children, Youth and Families

(Based on data submitted by states as of June, 2011)

Children in foster care on September 30, 2010? 408,425

Children exiting foster care during FY 2010? 254,114 via:

Reunification with Parent(s) or Primary Caretaker(s)  51%  128,913

Living with Other Relative(s)  8%  20,423

Adoption  21%  52,340 ( roughly 2,500 fewer than in FY 2009)

Emancipation (Aged Out)  11%  27,854

Transfer to Another Agency  2%  5,114

Runaway (Lost track)  1%  1,504

Death of Child  0%  338

NOTE: Deaths are attributable to a variety of causes, including medical conditions, accidents, and homicide.

Children waiting to be adopted on September 30, 2010? 107,011

NOTES: Waiting children are identified as children who have a goal of adoption and/or whose parental rights have been terminated. Children 16 years old and older whose parents’ parental rights have been terminated and who have a goal of emancipation have been excluded from the estimate.

Fewer youth have been entering foster care the past few years. Youth aging out of care has been increasing. Adoptions have been fluctuating between 50,000-55,000 the past 5 years.

Data for FY 2011 will not be available until June 2012.

Second Book Available On Line…FREE!

After 2 yrs of procrastinating, 3 days of retyping manuscript & necessary html coding my 2nd book is now available on my web site. You can go to my main web site ofhttp://larrya.us/ and click on cover of 2nd book or go directly tohttp://larrya.us/book1.html Since they are no longer being published or available at on line stores here is where you can read both books for FREE -:)

My 1st book, “Lost Son” is my personal memior of years in foster care, search & discovery of my birth family, hope & healing.

This 2nd book, “Give Voice to the Voiceless & Forgotten is poetry, articles, stories & possible solutions to reforming CPS,foster care & adoption.

See why I am so passionate about foster care & adoption reform.

A Response to Penn State Scandal

It has taken me over a week since the Penn State scandal broke to attempt to bring my anger under control and attempt to present a reasoned response to it. I will not say some anger may find its way into this blog entry as it remains but I will attempt to keep it under control. I however cannot remain silent!

Adults, no matter the position they hold in society, are to protect our children. Despite what the Pennsylvania “mandate reporting law” states; the adults involved in this story did not do that. They, in a few situations, may have met the letter of the law but they failed in meeting their moral obligations.

I can speak on this subject matter due to my own personal experiences when I was a youth.

I was raped as a youth and had another sexual abuse situation attempted on me. I for years blamed myself for this. It took me over forty years to even share these experiences with anyone because I was ashamed.

When I wrote my first book about my experiences in foster care I didn’t want to share these experiences but knowing I wanted to be as truthful as possible in my writing they had to be shared, though not in graphic detail.

In my book “Lost Son” I shared the following two instances:

One

“The stability of four years came to sudden end in May, 1960, when I was abruptly removed from the Monshor’s home. I was placed in the Wayne County, Michigan Youth Detention Center. My crime: at age ten I was guilty of not having a family to claim me as their son nor a place to call home.

The Detention Center was to be my home until a new foster home was found. Here I was placed amongst youth offenders who were charged with a wide assortment of crimes. My bed, to start due to overcrowding, would be a thin mattress in the open area of the block.

I am the youngest boy on the block, as well as the smallest. Though I attempted to fight as best I could I was unable to overcome the attacks of older boys. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted.

One day after being assaulted and left naked in a cell, I felt my life was no longer worth living and attempted to hang myself with a belt. I was discovered before the act could be completed and placed in an isolation cell, where I would remain for two months.

Those responsible for the repeated rapes are never charged or held accountable in any manner.”

Two

“On the night of April 15, 1961, I was told to pack my paper bag, and that I would be leaving in the morning. All I could think of was, “Here we go again.”

The final insult of this foster home came on my final night there. Their son, seventeen at the time, came back on the porch late during the night. He nudged me roughly. When I opened my eyes, light was coming through the porch windows so I could see him. He was standing over me, exposing himself, close to my mouth saying, “Take care of this for me.” I remember kicking out at him and then wailing away at him. I hit him everywhere I possibly could creating noises as he crashed into things. All the time I was yelling to arouse the rest of the house.

Finally his Mother came out to see what was going on. I yelled out, with tears rolling down my face, “He tried to force himself on me sexually.” He called me a liar and said he was just checking on me.

His Mother believed him and not me. She said, “You are a rotten no good for nothing boy, a dirty little boy, a liar. No wonder no one wanted me as I wasn’t fit to have anyone to want me. Good thing you will soon be out of our house, you ungrateful little bastard.” At least she got the bastard part correct.

I sat there in stunned silence with what I heard, while crying now uncontrollably. Then I had my chance. I stood up and decked her son. I got a good hit in as I knocked out one of his front teeth…not bad for a scrawny eleven year old.

I was so ashamed of what had happened that  night that I did not share it with the social worker. I have not shared it with anyone as I have remained ashamed until now…forty plus years later.

I always felt I needed to keep it as my dark, dirty secret. As I thought of writing this chapter, I finally came to realize I was not the guilty party that night, I was the victim and thus could now forgive myself and let it go. I still obviously remember that woman’s final words to me. I still shudder when I think of this foster home.”

I share these situations to help you realize how a victim of sexual abuse may respond or not respond to it. The depth of the negative feelings one goes through as well as it may take years before they are able to share it with anyone.

I am sure victims of the Penn State situation could very much identify with what I felt when this happened to me.

In the case of the very graphic incident of 2002 in the football locker room showers it was not abuse that occurred…it was rape it was a felony crime! It was witnessed and yet the police were not called.

The Pennsylvania law does not mandate the average citizen report the above described case to be reported to authorities but rather it be reported up their immediate chain of command on the job. Only seventeen of the fifty states makes it a crime to not report abuse of a child to the authorities. This has to change!

Various officials at Penn Stated failed the youth that were sexually abused. In a few of the cases that have been detailed there were actual witnesses yet they failed to even attempt to stop the abuse they witnessed but only told their immediate superiors of the events.

How the victims must have felt knowing someone could have rescued them but did not!

I feel nothing but contempt for those witnesses who failed these youth!

Though the officials at Penn State are not required under their current laws to notify authorities when they were informed how could they not feel their moral obligation. How could they basically wipe their hands of the matter after they were informed feeling they had met the letter of the law and that was the end of it.

Abuse of a child is despicable! For one to not act to protect a child when they see abuse happening to a child is despicable! For those who are informed that child abuse has happened to not report it to proper authorities is despicable!

I can only hope and pray that those who were abused have or will soon find a way to heal, to realize it was not their fault but rather the fault of the one who abused them. It is my hope that their lives have not already been completely destroyed.

It is time that ALL fifty states pass a law to make it mandatory that whoever witnesses or has reasonable suspicion abuse is happening to a child MUST report it to law officials.  If the states will not do this then the federal government must. This law must be the same in all fifty states. We must protect our youth!!

We can never allow a situation such as Penn State, the Catholic Church (I am Catholic), to ever happen again!

A dying man’s race to adopt

This story needs no commentary from me as it speaks for itself….except have tissues ready!

By ALLEN G. BREED – AP National Writer | AP – Sat, Sep 24, 2011

SHARON, S.C. (AP) — With everything she had to do that morning, Marshall McClain could not believe his wife was wasting time making the bed.

“What are you doing?” he gasped from the brown recliner where he spent his nights.

Tracey McClain was killing time, waiting for the lawyer’s call, waiting to hear whether the adoption was a go and 11-month-old Alyssa would finally be theirs.

Alyssa’s mother had long since given her consent, but attorney Dale Dove hadn’t been in a particular hurry to locate the biological father. In the case of absentee fathers, he told the McClains, the longer the child can bond with the prospective parents before an adoption notice is filed, the better.

“Time is your friend,” Dove had said.

But time had suddenly become the enemy.

An infection raged through the 61-year-old Army veteran’s withered, 115-pound frame, and the intravenous antibiotics couldn’t keep up. Doctors said he had just a couple of days.

But the man who’d survived 60 combat missions in Vietnam had one more task to complete. He wanted to give his name to the little girl who’d been the light of his life these past six months. More importantly, he wanted Alyssa to have the right to collect his benefits after he died.

During the past few days, Dove and others moved heaven and earth to make the adoption happen. An opening had suddenly occurred in the judge’s docket, and Tracey was scrambling to get herself and Alyssa ready and over to Rock Hill, about 40 minutes away.

By the time Tracey returned to the bedroom to say goodbye, the hospice nurse had arrived.

Even with the oxygen tube at his nose, Marshall’s breathing was labored. He was unable to speak, but his eyes were open, and Tracey knew he could understand her as she leaned down to kiss him.

“I love you,” she said. “I’ll be back.”

___

Tracey and Marshall McClain’s life wasn’t perfect — but it was pretty darned close.

They’d met on the job. He was a long-haul truck driver, and she — 17 years his junior — was his dispatcher.

Married on New Year’s Day 1994, they started their own trucking company a year later. Over the next 16 years, they’d built their Charlotte, N.C., business from five tractor-trailers to a fleet of 32 owner-operators.

The couple constructed a spacious three-story house on 33 wooded, northwest South Carolina acres that they shared with three racking horses — Rudy, Hunter and Little Girl — and a pair of goats named Thelma and Louise.

Each had a grown child from a previous marriage. Marshall’s daughter, Amy Lane, lived about three hours away in Summerton; Danielle, Tracey’s girl, lived with them. If there was any diaper changing in their future, they figured it would be for their first grandchild, who was on the way.

But all that changed one Sunday morning last fall, when an 18-year-old stranger walked through the doors at Sanctuary Hills Church of God of Prophecy.

The 2-month-old girl in her arms was pale and spitting up. The young mother appeared distraught.

“I’m not sleeping,” she said. “She’s not sleeping.”

One of the women in the nursery offered to take the baby home for a while. The mother agreed without hesitation.

The McClains added mother and baby to their prayer list, but that was the extent of their involvement — until early January.

The church friend told Tracey that Alyssa had been hospitalized for breathing trouble and dehydration. When Alyssa was ready to be released, the friend asked if the McClains could keep her for the night.

After they got her home, a winter storm hit. By the time the snow had melted off, the McClains were in love.

The mother already had a 3-year-old son. She wasn’t ready to be a mother of two.

“Alyssa … has been passed around to several families that mom did not know much about,” a social worker wrote. The mother “has not bonded with Alyssa.”

On Jan. 28, social services granted the McClains temporary custody. Less than a week later, the mother signed away her parental rights.

___

About two years ago, during a family vacation, Marshall became violently ill. His skin turned a sickly yellow, and the already painfully lean trucker began dropping weight.

Over time, Marshall underwent numerous surgeries to clear blockages or take biopsies. He would bounce back after each operation, only to relapse later.

The business was doing well enough that Marshall decided to retire. When Alyssa came along, he was able to devote full time to raising her.

He was the one who, when she awoke crying, declared that she’d just have to cry herself back to sleep. Five minutes later, he was up to comfort her.

He would sit in his recliner and bounce Alli on his leg, singing “Ride the Horsey” or “Jesus Loves Me.” He worked hard to make sure her first word was “Daddy” — and it was.

When Marshall first became ill, doctors feared it was pancreatic cancer, but tests came back negative. In late March, that initial suspicion was confirmed.

He had just started radiation and chemotherapy when physicians discovered abscesses in his liver. They ordered intravenous antibiotics.

Danielle and her fiance, Kevin Susigan, moved their wedding up a year to May 14 so Marshall could walk her down the aisle.

The first week in July, Marshall went to Carolinas Medical Center near Charlotte for some tests to see how the abscesses were responding to the treatment. While he was there, one of them ruptured.

When doctors said there was nothing they could do to halt the spreading infection, Marshall decided to spend his last few days at home, with family. Tracey asked him if he was frightened.

“The only thing I’m scared of is leaving you here with all this responsibility,” he told her. “But, other than that, I’m ready.”

___

Dove, the lawyer, was on vacation at the beach with his wife. They weren’t scheduled to come home for several days, but something told them to cut their trip short.

He was in his office Friday, July 8, when Tracey called with the news about Marshall.

“Holy cow,” he said. “We need to get this thing DONE.”

Dove’s staff had located Alyssa’s biological father just days earlier. He was at the Moss Justice Center in York, awaiting transfer to prison to begin serving a five-year sentence for drug distribution.

The lawyer had two options.

He could file a notice of adoption proceeding, which would give the father 30 days to respond — days he knew Marshall McClain did not have. Or he could go to the jail and get the man’s consent.

At 8 a.m. the next day, Dove was ushered into a closet-like room with a thick glass partition and a telephone receiver on the wall. On the other side sat a slight young man in an orange jumpsuit.

Dove explained how the McClains had been taking care of Alyssa. He told him of adopting his own daughter 26 years earlier, and what a blessing it had been. Finally, he explained the situation with Marshall McClain, and the need for urgency.

The father — a baby-faced 19-year-old with blond hair like Alyssa’s — was visibly moved. He was leaning toward signing the consent, but demurred: “I don’t know these people.”

“Well,” Dove said. “I can help with that.”

Dove stepped outside and called Tracey McClain. He told her to write a letter introducing herself and Marshall to Alyssa’s father, and to get it there as quickly as possible.

By 1 p.m., Dove was slipping the hastily typed page through the slot at the bottom of the window.

Tracey told the man about Marshall’s service in Vietnam, and about the successful trucking business they had built together. She wrote of their supportive church family, and of the older sisters and cousins who would love and help care for Alyssa.

Tracey promised to send him reports on his daughter’s progress, and to “uphold you in a positive way” to her.

“You would be giving us the greatest gift by allowing us to make Alyssa part of our family,” she wrote.

Tracey had also sent several photos.

“They look like good people,” the young man behind the glass said.

He told Dove he wanted the weekend to think it over. But he didn’t need to wait that long.

Later that day, he sat down with a pen and a piece of yellow legal paper.

He said that he had never known his own father, and was grateful for the McClains’ offer to let him be part of Alyssa’s life. He wanted her — and them — to know that, “Just because I’m locked up doesn’t make me a bad person.”

“The last thing I ever wanted to do was give my daughter away … ,” he wrote. “But you are the parents now and truely have been since the beginning and I have faith in God whatever decisions you make for her will be the best ones.”

___

Dove was gassing up his truck around 9:30 a.m. Monday, July 11, when his assistant called from the jail with news that the father had signed. He immediately called Family Court Judge David Guyton’s office and explained Marshall’s condition to the judge’s assistant, Sandy Neely.

“Is there ANY possibility for the judge to hear the case?” he pleaded.

She put him on hold. After a short time, she came back and asked if they could be there by 1:45.

“Sure,” he replied.

He immediately called Tracey McClain. He was still on the phone with her when he got a beep.

It was Guyton’s office.

“We JUST had a cancellation,” Neely said. “Can you be here by 11?”

Dove looked at his watch. It was nearing 10, and he was still in his jeans. He would have to get home and change into his suit while his staff drafted the paperwork.

“I’ll probably be a few minutes late,” he warned Neely.

As Dove raced home, it dawned on him that he’d have to make sure Alyssa’s court-appointed guardian would be there. And since Marshall would be unable to attend, he wanted the woman who’d done the home study present to attest to the loving atmosphere in the McClain household.

Miraculously, both were available.

Back in Sharon, Tracey McClain hastily pulled on some slacks and a dress shirt. When Danielle came downstairs with Alli still in her pajamas, she told her to go back and change her into a dress.

Dove reached the court building at 11:09. The hearing did not get under way until 11:31.

___

With his close-cropped flattop haircut, chiseled features and ramrod straight posture, Guyton looks every inch the Marine captain he once was — and Army National Guard lieutenant colonel he still is. But he has a special place in his heart for adoptions.

Taped to the inside rim of his bench is a photo of his 7-year-old daughter, Hannah Grace. Dove represented the Guytons in the adoption.

For the record, Dove noted that Marshall McClain was not present in the courtroom.

“This adoption, though, is something that he wanted,” he said. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Tracey replied as Alyssa let out a yelp. “I believe that’s what he’s holding on for.”

The guardian and other witnesses were quickly called, heard and dismissed. Squirming in a cousin’s lap, Alyssa cooed as the small pendulum clock over the judge’s left shoulder ticked away the minutes.

Toward the end of the hearing, Dove noticed a serious error in the adoption decree. The couple’s name was misspelled “McCalin” throughout.

Breaking with protocol, Guyton allowed Dove to make the corrections by hand.

The hearing ended at 12:05 p.m. Dove wanted to snap a photo of judge and family, but Tracey said she couldn’t wait, and hurried to her car.

A couple of miles out of town, she dialed home. Danielle answered.

“Tell your dad we’ve got her,” the mother said. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Danielle repeated the news to the room. Her sister Amy leaned close to her father’s ear and whispered, “She’s ours.”

McClain’s breathing eased. The muscles in his face relaxed.

The clerk’s stamp on the final decree reads 12:09 p.m. Marshall McClain’s official time of death was 12:17.

 

Boys Town Alumni Honor Their Fallen

It is rare I post a blog entry that does not deal with foster care or adoption. However, today I must make an exception.

This past weekend (July 29-31, 2011) Boys Town Alumni returned to the place they call home for a reunion. It was a time of sharing memories of days gone by, renewing friendships with brothers/sisters (Boys Town began accepting girls in 1976). It is a time many of us look to every two years.

This reunion, though many events were memorable, had one event that stood above them all. Saturday (July 29) was dedication to the restored and updated Veterans Memorial honoring fallen brothers in service to their country.

Boys Town dedicated the original memorial at a reunion in 1991. It was simple but definitley left one who visited know that the young man who answered the call of their country and fell would not be fogotten as time went on. However unless one personally knew one of the fallen most alumni did not how many or who had fallen.

Each reunion a ceremony is held at the memorial to remember as a whole those who died. It usually gathered a not so large crowd of attendees as few could relate on a personal level to anyone.

George Buckler ’64  at a recent reunion had an idea to refurbished the memorial and to include marble slates on which bronze plaques would be placed inscribed with the name of the fallen. The idea was quickly adopted by the Alumni Association Board and the project was underway in November 2010. Funds were raised (over$20,000 was need and this goal has not been completely met as yet), planning, designing, etc.

On Friday I however made a visit to the site alone. I wanted a private time to reflect and shed a tear for one young man whose name is now on the wall. James Acklin was one of my best friends during years at Boys Town. He was also my debate partner in our senior year. I remember the grief when hearing of Jim’s death. Of course the greif was far, far greater for the young wife & two sons left behind (Rose, Jamie & Joey).

Saturday brought the fruition of all the efforts that had been made. The dedication was simple but memorable. This year hundreds made sure they were in place for the ceremony. It began with Posting of the Colors by the Boys Town Junior ROTC Color Guard, National Athem, Pledge of Allegiance & Prayer.

The guest speaker was John E. Hamilton, Junior Vice Commander VFW.

Flags that were flown in Afghanistan were given to the BT ROTC and Alumni Association by SSgt Mary, Baille USAF, herself a Boys Town alumn and recently returned from Afghanistan;

It concluded with a Prayer, Taps & Retiring of the Colors.

I know a few tears, mine & others, were shed during the ceremony. I concluded being there by slowly going to the wall and gently touching Jimmy’s name.

Now alumni and current residents of Boys Town will know by name those who answered the call of their country  and gave their all by name.

Seventy-one ( confirmed deaths )young men’s names are now on the memorial: forty-four from WWII, four from from Korea, seventeen from Viet Nam, one from Iraq/Afghanistan and six while still in uniform. Some new ones may be addeed in time when confirmation of their deaths are received or future conflicts.

Father Flanagan taught, his sucessors continued to teach, that one must honor their faith, family and country. These men learned that lesson as well as many others who have served and were able to return home. Over 800 alumni served in WWII. Over 2,000 aluni have served whether during war time or at peace.

After December 7, 1941, the 22 member class of 1942 wanted to immediately enlist. Fr. Flanagan convinced them to await their graduation. On the afternoon of their graduation they marched to the recruitment office..all 22!

Most of these young men were never able to fulfil the dreams they dreamt while at Boys Town. Most were never to marry and watch their chldren grow up. They heard the call of their country and they answered.

In the future I am sure a young woman’s name will be added to the wall as girls are not only now a part of the alumni of Boys Town but also are serving our country.

There are cities in this country that have memorials which may remember 71 young men/women who have fallen. I am sure however there is no high school in the country as Boys Town who have had so many serve as well as so many fall in that service. Service to country and others is a trademark of Boys Town.

Boys Town and its alumni are proud to call them brothers of the family of Boys Town. It is hoped for generations yet to come that they will be remembered. This newly refurbished memorial should help to accomplish this mission. It is hoped by me and some others that soon the Alumni Board will approve a move to make any alumni who has fallen in service to their country will be made Lifetime Members of the BTNAA. The majority of alumni who have fallen fell before there was the BTNAA and others fell too early to have had the chance to possibly even join the association yet alone become Lifetime members. This and the memorial is the least we can do in remembrance of the sacrifice they have made in our behalf.

When someone asks me about heroes…I will point them to this memorial of 71 heroes! Rest in Peace my fellow Boys Town brothers!

A Tribute to a Foster Mother by Riverbird

This entry was written by a young woman who spent part of her youth in foster acre. She wrote this as a tribute to her foster mother this past Mothers Day. I requested and she consented allowing me to post this on my blog as I feel it deserves an audience, Thank you Riverbird (not her real name at her request) for consenting to allow me to post this. The entry speaks for itself!

I have managed to, in my life, have the best and worst moms in the world.

My birth mom was insane and hurt me in ways i’ll likely never fully overcome.
My foster mom saved my life.

My birth mom called me her mistake.
My foster mom believed in me when no one else would.

My birth mom did drugs and “forgot” to feed me.
My foster mom waited patiently when I was too terrified to eat at her house. She even “snuck” me snacks later to make sure I didn’t go hungry.

My birth mom told my school that she wasn’t surprised that I was failing.
My foster mom fought with the school so that they would give me tutors and work with me.

My birth mom told me I was stupid.
My foster mom showed me I was smart.

My birth mom spent hours plotting ways to hurt me.
My foster mom spent hours finding ways to save me.

My birth mom yelled at me and beat me for the smallest of things.
My foster mom was quiet while I yelled and screamed. She knew I needed to get it out.

My birth mom laughed in my face when I was being hurt.
My foster mom helped me rediscover my own laugh.

My birth mom gave me nightmares.
My foster mom helped me to dream.

My birth mom built a life of fear.
My foster mom introduced me to love.

My birth mom kept me from having friends.
My foster mom is the “mom” that my friends get to meet.

My birth mom started my life.
My foster mom will be there for life.

My birth mom has left me with a mothers day of terrifying memories, pain, and unbelievable sadness.
My foster mom has given me a reason to smile and be proud on Mothers Day.

My birth mom may have stolen my past,
But my foster mom gave me a future.

Thank you, Mama D, for bringing me out of the darkness.
_________________

by: Riverbird

 

A Note to Present/Former Foster Youth

The note below was shared on Facebook with the Foster Care Alumni of America Group. It was such an amazing, awesome, heartfelt article that I requested permission to reprint it here on my blog. It expresses so many of the thoughts and heartaches I experienced while in foster care but also shares the positive thought that one can make it no matter the obstacles they may have to over come.

by: Sunday Koffron

Bad stuff happens to good people, it is not fair but it is true. You deserved better than you got. From your original parents, from your workers and from the system, they let you down. That is not your fault. You did not make this mess you are currently sitting in, nope you didn’t. Where you are at is not the wrong place. It is exactly where they dropped you off and left you to your own devices. I would say you are exactly where you would be expected to be. But the truth is if you are not currently incarcerated, homeless, and pregnant by 20, or have lost custody of your own kids, you have already beaten the statistics. Got a job? You are a raging frigging success! I commend you, that is no small feat for folks like us.

Some of us have had it worse than others. Some of us go on to be academically successful; some have great success in their careers. Some of us beat all reasonable expectations by still being alive at 25. What I am saying baby, is that you are ok. I know you don’t believe me now but it is true.

Growing up I was lucky that I had staff and social workers who had come through the system, and they would tell me that I had the power over my own life, that things would get better and that I could do anything I put my mind to. *cough* *choke* *gag* oh yeah, *eye roll* they just didn’t understand what it was like to live in my head. They must not have been as damaged as I was in the first place. They must not have lost as much as I lost. They must not have had to resort to the kind of stuff I did to survive. They just didn’t get what it was like to be me. I just knew they were all wrong about me. I was not like them.

I cut, I drank (I blacked out), I fought, I slept around, I couch surfed for years and I did a lot of really stupid things. I hitch-hiked a crossed this country several time trying to find someplace – any place I belonged. I loved people, hurt people and I made many mistakes. It wasn’t pretty for a while, but I survived, I thrived. …And so will you my sweet, sensitive, wounded little sister (or brother). I can see those eyes rolling now. I know you think I am wrong. I don’t know what it was like to live in your head. I don’t know what it was like to live your life or feel your pain. And I don’t know exactly. But what I do know is that our lives, our pasts, and the amount of pain we have been able to withstand have left us uniquely qualified for survival. You won’t catch me shedding a single tear because the garage door open broke.

There is a lot left here for you to do. You are the voice for our younger foster kin, our little brothers and sisters who are stuck in a broken system, most of whom will find themselves out in the cold and on their own the day they turn 18, just like you and just like me. Your voice can help advocate for them. Your voice can help change that. You have a book to write, a song to sing, a meal to serve, a hand to hold or a billboard to paint. You are crazy strong and foster care gave you a crazy powerful will.

No, you didn’t make that mess, it’s not fair but I know you are capable of cleaning it up. I know you are fully capable of doing anything that you put your mind to. And I know that you have a lot of good left to do in this life. Keep on keeping on, I have high expectations for you.

 

Sen. John Kerry Introduces Reconnecting Youth To Prevent Homelessness Act

This week, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced the Reconnecting Youth to Prevent Homelessness Act to protect children in foster care from ending up on the streets. The bill features a section dedicated to protecting and providing support to LGBT youth.

In a statement, Kerry said preparing for and planning responses to youth homelessness is vital, especially when considering the amount of children that face this challenge.

“As a father, it’s a punch in the gut to imagine children living on the streets, but this year alone, one in fifty American kids will be homeless,” he said. “There are common sense reforms we can implement to help make things better.”

NPR reports that an astounding 40 percent of kids who age out of foster care will become homeless. And according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, out of the 2 million youths who experience homelessness each year, 1 in 5 identify as LGBT.

Because many LGBT youths find themselves homeless because of familial rejection, the bill would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to create programs that are centered on “reducing dejecting behaviors and increasing supporting behaviors and understanding among families to improve the chances of LGBT youth remaining at home.”

The bill would also make sweeping changes throughout foster care programs, such as keeping kids in the system until they reach 21 years old and creating easier accessibility to funding and education resources.

Ex-Foster Youth ‘RISE ABOVE’

I found this article interesting as well as inspirational for youth of today in the system…it lets them know they to can make it!

April 21, 2011 in Washington Voices

Justin Vinge, Josephine Davis and Mariah Hottell have a lot in common. They’re bright, articulate and successful college students. They’ve also been called disposable, unwanted and told they’d never succeed. These Spokane Falls Community College students are former foster youth who are proving their detractors wrong.

Recently, the three shared their stories at a College Success Foundation storytelling workshop in Issaquah, Wash. The foundation funds and administrates several scholarship programs like Passport to College Promise, which makes it possible for foster care youth to attend college.

“We’re all part of the Passport program,” Hottell, 19, said. For young people who’ve spent their childhoods moving from house to house, never feeling like they belonged, the sense of community they’ve found at SFCC is empowering.

On a recent afternoon, they met in the Student Union Building to talk about their shared experience. They wore black T-shirts imprinted with a bold upward pointing arrow, designed by the 20-year-old Vinge. He said the arrow has two meanings. “It points to the person wearing the shirt and it also means to rise above. I kind of wanted to speak for everyone,” explained Vinge. “We as a whole will rise above.” Gray lettering on the shirt says “Foster Care Alumni.”

He grinned. “We want to beat the crap out of the stereotype.”

Many believe that foster youth are high school dropouts with dim futures. Sadly, it is estimated that less than 3 percent of all foster youth complete college. Most don’t even finish high school and many end up homeless.

Tammy Messing, program support supervisor at SFCC, said, “Currently, we have 20 to 30 foster care alumni – the fact that we have three students graduating is incredibly successful.”

But Vinge said in Washington, the number of foster kids who graduate from high school and do well in college is surprisingly high. Davis, 22, agreed. “Our region does particularly well. I think it’s because of the support system we have here in Spokane.”

Housing, transportation and money management can be difficult for kids who’ve aged out of the foster care system. But Messing said a network of support in the area, including Volunteers of America education advocate Alene Alexander, is making a difference.

That difference is best illustrated in the success of these students who share their stories to encourage other foster youth.

“Lots of kids feel hopeless, but we can beat the system,” Hottell said.

For her “the system” felt like a normal part of life. Child Protective Services was frequently involved with her family. By age 10, Hottell was drinking and smoking pot. “When I was a sophomore we were taken from my mom. I’m the oldest of six. It was really hard at first,” she said.

Eventually she moved in with her grandmother, where she stayed until she graduated from high school. She also found nurturing and solace at a church youth group. “The reason I am where I am is because people have told me, by their actions, that I am worth their time and money, that I am valuable, and that I am worth investing in,” Hottell said. “My church family has been very supportive.”

She finds additional motivation in being a good role model for her 9-year-old sister, Kayla. “I get to have her over on the weekends.”

Hottell recently received her associate degree and plans to continue her education at Gonzaga University or Whitworth University. She attributes her achievement largely in part to the foundation. “They have taken so much of the financial pressure and stress of how I’ll pay for college off of me which allows me to focus on my education.”

Vinge said a lot of his story is hazy, but he counts his obliviousness as a blessing. “When I turned 6 my family life started jumping around a bit.”

At 10 he was placed with his aunt and uncle. “The worst part was not being with my mom or my sister,” Vinge said. But though he had to grow up quickly, he persevered and will graduate from SFCC this quarter and plans to attend Eastern Washington University.

Vinge stays focused on the positive. He points to his shirt. “Despite the hard times we’ve had, we’re going to rise above.”

For Davis, staying positive proved difficult. She was placed in foster care at 6 and stayed in her original placement home until 18. Sadly, the message she received from her foster mother haunted her. In her story for the Issaquah workshop she wrote that she was constantly told, “There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The grass is not greener on the other side. You are not normal and you’ll never succeed – you are a foster child, so you have no future.”

Nothing softened the blow of the words that fell like stones from her foster mother’s lips. With Vinge and Hottell sitting nearby, she recalled those years. “I’m not going to lie – it was hard.” Her dark eyes filled with emotion.

Like many who age out of the system, Davis endured homelessness and felt abandoned by her foster mother. But she said during that time she learned some important life lessons. “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in it. I danced in the emotional and physical abuse. I danced in the abandonment. I danced in the college courses that you think you’d never pass. One thing I love about storms is they pass.”

After finding work and a place to live, Davis said she initially struggled with fears of college inadequacy. “When I first came to SFCC I thought, ‘Can I really do this?’  ”

Yet, now she’s only three classes away from graduation and plans to attend EWU in the fall.

Like Vinge and Hottell she’s determined to use her story to help kids in foster care. “We’re stepping up to the plate,” Davis said.

Her eyes lit up. “Everyone is beautiful and capable of pursuing their passion and what they were made for!”

Then she smiled. “I think I am beautiful,” she said. “And I’m proud to be foster alumni.”

A Suggested Gift for a Found Birthparent

Might I make a suggestion? If you find one of your birth parents and a reunion is planned I have an idea for a gift.

When I met my birthmother for the first time at Newark Airport in 1986, I gave her thirty-six red roses; one for each of the thirty-six years of the life she had given me. This is not the gift idea.

During the time of my search I began putting together a scrapbook. The book included pictures of years she had missed, news articles of some of the  accomplishments in my life and a letter about me, why I searched and that I was happy I located her. Photos I was able to share came from age 11 until present as at that time I had no photos of me prior to age 11; I received some only after she passed away. The photos I used was from old Boys Town Times and Boys Town Yearbooks. The news articles also were from the Times, Omaha World Herald, my college newspaper and New York City newspapers. She would be able to see and read of my life from age 11 until 36 when I met her for the first time.

I also made the same book during this time in the event I searched for and found my birthfather.

As I left her suite at the end of our first day together, I gave her “my book” so that she could view/read it privately after I left.

When I met her the next morning she greeted me with tears, a hug and a thank you. Despite how our relationship ended twelve years later, I believe that book is something she treasured for the rest of her life.

She passed away in October 2001.

A Few Pointers When Searching for Birth Family

If you are considering a search for your birth family you may have fears as you search, but don’t let them stop you…even if you end up with a rejection or a negative reunion…you will end up a far stronger person…I know I did.

Hopefully, during your search, you will find that as you grow as an individual, you will also become stronger and develop realistic expectations for what you may discover during your journey.

If you have made the decision to search, please remember these few items of advise:

1. Think about the reasons you want to reunite with your parent, child or sibling.

Remember, they have a family and so do you. You can’t turn the clock back or expect to fill the role that you have not played all these years. You are adults, strangers with genetic ties, coming together to build a relationship. Be realistic about the role that you feel you can play in their life and vice versa.

2. You must go into the reunion with realistic expectancies, not fanciful hopes.

If you make someone out to be perfect, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. People get hurt when they have unrealistic expectations, and those expectancies are dashed. These unrealistic expectancies can set you up for failure. It is not what happens in people’s lives that upsets them, it’s whether or not what happens in their lives is what they expected that upsets them. Don’t allow yourself to think that everything in your life will suddenly be resolved overnight once you reunite, or you will be let down.

3. A reunion is an event, but the relationship is a process that needs time to unfold.

You have to really work to build a relationship and you have to be patient. Start out with the goal of finding something that is comfortable for everybody, and don’t put any pressure on yourself.

Allow a natural evolution of things to take place.

Like all relationships, expect your relationship with the person you have reunited to go up and down. Your best chance for having a good relationship long term is to take it slow and move at a measured pace. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Be patient and let it unfold naturally, so that it will be lasting. You don’t want to do anything that would cause this coming together to separate you again.

Here is a link to the blog I wrote almost four years ago which provides numerous tips for those who may chose to search for birth family members:

https://prairieguy.wordpress.com/2007/07/28/a-search-guide-for-birth-parentsadopteesfoster-youth/

25 Years Have Passed Since Finding Birthmother

I was sitting around doing nothing a few days ago and suddenly the thought came into my mind; today, March 25th would be the 25th anniversary since I found my birthmother. First I could not believe that 25 years had already passed. Secondly it caused me to reflect back on my 4 year search, 12 year relationship, the bitter end of our relationship and finally the almost 10 years since she passed away.

Today as I commemorate what was a momentous day in my life it is bitter sweet as I reflect all that passed in the 25 years that have gone by.

I began my search in early 1982 when there was no Internet to make searches somewhat easier for folks. It was a long, costly 4 years to reach this day in 1986. The cost was physical, mental as well as financial.

Shortly after beginning my search I sat down and wrote a letter to my birthmother which I would send if I found her; whether she ever agreed to a relationship or not. I gave her a copy of the letter when we first met but kept the original which later was published in my book:

1st Letter to Birthmother:

http://www.larrya.us/mother1.html

I also shared the story of my search/discovery which led to this day 25 years ago:

 

Search/Discovery:

http://www.larrya.us/discovery.html

Not quite two months after this date we were to meet for the very first time though I was already 36 years old. I was to find out the story I had longed to hear for many years…WHY? I would also learn much more, some I was did care to find out but never the less was part of the reunion experience. Her story, our relationship and the bitter end is shared below:

 Birthmother’s Story:

 

Below was to be the final letter ever written to my birthmother. There would be numerous attempts at a reconciliation on my part but it never was to be; as you read in the previous link. She would never read the letter but eventually I was able to read it to her whether she wanted to hear it or not.

 

Last Letter to Birthmother:

 

On October 23, 2001, my birthmother passed away.

In 1982 I began my search in the valley, never knowing if in the end it would result in my finding her. Today, 25 years ago I reached the mountaintop as I found her. This resulted in a stormy, strained 12 year relationship which ended with me back in the deep valley.

Though I stated my answer many times in the past several years I am still asked, Was the search worth it & do you regret having done it?

Yes, absolutely the search was worth it and I DO NOT regret having pursued it nor any of the things that passed in the years since.

I found out who I was, my heritage, answers to so many questions I had while growing up and most of all I was able to have a 12 year relationship with my birthmother. We were able to experience things we never would have if I had not taken the risk of searching for her. The search and all that followed made me a stronger person. I was in many ways able to put my childhood and most of its heartaches behind me, though at times the wounds do reopen for a period.

I thank God that my birthmother did not chose to have a back alley abortion, which is all that was available back in 1950. I am also thankful that she made the wise decision to give me up for adoption though that never came to be. I am thankful the she was a part of my life, even for a brief period and for the pain she caused.

Today as I commemorate this 25th anniversary I continue to pray that in death she found the peace she never was able to find in life and I raise a glass to her thankful that she gave me life!

American Airlines Trip from Hell

This blog is very off topic for me. However, due to what this trip was like due to American Airlines I have to share it wide and far.

I received somewhat of an early Christmas present from one of my bosses. The trip was originally to be a business trip to New York City. However, after booking the flight the meetings were cancelled.

My boss decided to allow me to go to NYC anyway as well as pick up the cost of a hotel which would have been part of the original business trip.

This became an early Christmas present as it meant a trip at no cost to me except for what I decided to spend while in NYC. Thank you boss -J

Sunday morning December 12th, 2010 I arrived at the airport at 5:00 A.M. to be able to clear security, etc prior to a 6:10 A.M. departure. This is all well and quickly.

The flight entailed going to NYC from Fargo, ND via Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The airline is American Airlines!

So far, so good!

A little over an hour into the flight one begins to notice we are circling; usually this means we are about to begin making a decent to the ground but air traffic control has not given clearance as yet. Awhile later the pilot comes over the intercom to confirm what has been suspected and he expected to hear more from the ground by the top of the hour.

The top of the hour comes and goes without any word. At the bottom of the hour he says we have been cleared for landing and will begin our decent and should be on the ground within fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes comes and goes and we are still in the air!

A short time later however we notice the plane is beginning to descend and we even begin seeing very clearly houses and other buildings on the ground.  Yeah, I might just still make my connecting flight to NYC.

Suddenly without warning rather than landing the plane makes a quick upward turn to ascend. This happens for almost fifteen minutes before the pilot communicates with us.

He indicates that air traffic control said crosswinds were 50-70 knots and they gave him two choices:

A. Continue circling for an hour in hopes the crosswinds would lower and they could get us on the ground.

The plane only had enough fuel for another half hour so this option was not chosen unless we were to fall out of the sky.

B. Divert to Louisville, Kentucky.

This was the obvious choice! Eighty percent of the passengers were to make connecting flights at O’Hare and of course now none of us would be doing so and new arrangements would have to be made in Louisville. Arrangements would also have to be made to somehow get the other twenty percent back to Chicago since that was their final destination.

We are on the ground in Louisville and it appears the airline has prepared for the event by having extra agents at the inbound gate to try and make arrangements for all concerned.

We are talking 120 folks having to be taken care of…how long would this take.

First part of airline trip from hell is over and part two is about to begin!

I waited in line about an hour before it was my turn to find out my fate. Others had already been told they would be spending the rest of the day/night in Louisville and I didn’t want that to be my fate as well.

The agent working with me attempted several different options and none of them were working out. Finally she had had option to present to me. They could get me yet today to NYC but it would be sitting in Louisville for six hours and backtracking to the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Tx airport. This flight would get me into NYC at eleven P.M. I would lose almost half the time that had been allotted for NYC but it was better than nothing.

It also would mean cancelling my hotel reservation since by the time I actually got into the city from the airport it would be almost one A.M. and the room would not be of much use. I called and got the cancellation and got a full refund for what had already been paid for the night.

Six hours later and high dollars later as airport food is not cheap would end part two of the airline trip from hell or would it?

The plane has loaded, even with a few others who had flown with me from Fargo. We are ready to fly!

We sit at the gate with no word as to why. Finally the pilot announces they just finished the last of the loading of luggage and should be on our way shortly. We continue to sit!

Again the pilot talks to us. To push out of the gate airlines use what is called a tugger which pushes and the pilot is then able to start the engines. Apparently the airline’s tugger is not working and they are attempting to borrow one from another carrier. I cannot believe they do not have their own back up!

Finally they get a tugger and we are pushed from the gate. Due to cold weather and the fact it has been snowing the plane needs to be de iced before it can go anywhere, pilot says it should be long!

By this time I have already missed my connecting flight in Dallas for NYC…I am NOT a happy camper!

We continue to sit in place. Where is the truck with the de icer spray???

About twenty more minutes pass before the pilot announces the truck has no de icer spray and has to go and refill the truck….I fringing cannot believe it!

Two and a half hours sitting on the plane it has finally been pushed from the gate, it has been sprayed and we are ready for takeoff.

Part three of the airline trip from hell is over.

We have arrived in Dallas; I have missed my connecting flight which I knew was the case even before taking off from Louisville. I am at this point thinking if it is it to continue on to NYC as I don’t see a way of getting there before morning and I would only have to turn around in a few hours to go back to Fargo.

It’s time to talk with an agent. The agent says there is still one flight for the night to go to NYC but doesn’t know if any seats are still available and would arrive in NYC at three A.M. I stop the agent right there. I tell her there is only one way at this point I would fly into NYC and tell her of the day’s travails. I have been flying or sitting in airports since five A.M. and I should have arrived in NYC twelve hours earlier. I tell her I can understand the weather situation which caused us to be diverted to Louisville but I cannot excuse the unprofessionalism by airline works, not including agents who were very professional, and caused us to get in the air to Dallas two and a half hours late. I could not see going to NYC at this point for only a few hours and then have to return to Fargo.

I would do it only on one condition that is if a seat was available on this last flight of the night. The airline had to approve without cost to me a change on my return flight so I could still spend a night in NYC. They would have to approve me returning home on Tuesday evening rather than Monday. She said she herself could not approve it but would get her supervise.

I repeated the same sad, sorry story in detail the supervisor. She said to first let’s see if there is a seat available on this last flight of the day. There is…it is the LAST available seat. She pauses for a few minutes then says, “I wouldn’t normally due this but considering all you have been through today I am going to approve your request and issue you a new ticket for your return flight on Tuesday instead of Monday.”

Yahoo….something is going right finally; unfortunately this meant arriving in NYC without a hotel and not being able to make one for Monday night until some hours after arriving in NYC. I didn’t care at this point. I would worry about that later.

Part four of the airline trip from hell is over!

I arrive at LaGuardia at three A.M. as told. I go out to take transportation into the city .itself. Lol and behold transportation stops at eleven P.M. and doesn’t resume until 5:30 A.M. There are two other options; take a taxi and having lived in NYC before I know taxi drivers and things they do so that option is immediately off the table; second option is to take a public bus via Harlem and catch a subway down to Grand Central Station. I want OUT of any airport so I choose option two!

Just after five A.M. I arrive at Grand Central only to find out that due to 9/11 it now closes at night from two A.M. until six A.M.

I find a police officer who I have enjoyable conversation with until the station opens.

After a few hours I am able to get a new hotel reservation at a different hotel than planned, even nicer, and my time in NYC turns out to be everything I knew it could be.

You will see that by the photo album, which I will provide the link for it just a bit; unfortunately there is one more part of the airline trip from hell!

My airline trip from hell which I thought was now behind me returns to haunt me.

Tuesday afternoon I arrive back at LaGuardia early due to the stepped up security process there due to 9/11. I go to the self check in desk, put in my credit card and it comes back it cannot find my itinerary try the flight number. I try the flight number and it again says it cannot find my itinerary and proceed to an agent.  

I proceed to the check in line to see an agent. I tell her what happened and give you the new ticket given to me in Dallas changing my return flight to today rather than yesterday.

She checks the system and says there is not flight info for me as the supervisor in Dallas did NOT cancel my original flight and when I didn’t show up for it the airline cancelled it as a no show.

It would take almost a half hour of her speaking with her supervisor and then waiting on the telephone for another supervisor to approve the reissue of the ticket as it was suppose to be and get me on my return flights home.

The return flight home went from this point without a hitch; arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare early, arrived if Fargo on time.

I have taken flight before that may have had an issue along the way but never ever had I been involved in such a nightmare.

I give the ticket agents a lot of credit as they did their job courteously and professional, except the error by the supervisor in Dallas, which I understand she will hear about it.

The delays which they have no control over were not caused by the agents rather so by the ground crews and air traffic control. Air traffic should NOT have has us circling the airport so long before making a decision about us landing in Chicago as they waited too long to divert us. The ground crew in Louisville was not prepared to push back the plane, de ice the plane which caused further problems.

If anyone asks me if I would recommend American Airlines for travel I would answer without hesitation NO!

Here is the link to all the photos taken while in NYC….to me, despite the airline, it was worth going!! You do not need to be a member of Facebook to view them:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=343737&id=721232585&l=bb0706a8d6

Making Adoption Work

I found this article the other day and found it to be quite interesting. Though it deals with international adoption I feel some of the solutions at the end of the article could also assist in getting youth adopted from foster care in a more timely manner. Though I post this article it does not mean I endorse it in its’ entirety.

Making Adoption Work
by Danielle Friedman, The Daily Beast

When it comes to adoption, the struggles of those on both sides of the equation are too often shrouded in secrecy.

And so, with the hope of pulling back the curtain, The Daily Beast brought together more than a hundred world-class experts—professionals and parents alike—Wednesday morning for our second Women in the World salon series event, Forgotten Children: International Adoption and the Global Orphan Crisis.

Giving voice to outspoken parent advocates such as actor Hugh Jackman and dignitaries including Ambassador Susan Jacobs, Secretary Clinton’s special adviser on children’s issues, the event aimed to jump-start an international effort to help the world’s most vulnerable victims.
The crisis is a staggering one: Thanks to the combined impact of war, poverty, and AIDS, the world is now home to 163 million orphans—children who’ve lost at least one parent. Add to that an additional 20 million “displaced children,” and the number in need is larger than the population of Russia. Some live in institutions, some on the streets—in manholes or garbage dumpsters, as The Daily Beast’s editor in chief, Tina Brown, noted in her opening remarks. The question posed to each attendee was: How can we help?

In honor of National Adoption Awareness Month, and gathered at Urban Zen in Manhattan’s West Village—a loft-like event space and foundation founded by Donna Karan, geared toward empowering children—the eclectic group of attendees attempted to tackle this complex issue.

For many Americans, our first impulse in confronting what Brown described as a “heartbreaking challenge” is to bring these children into our own homes, as glamorously advertised by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Madonna. And in a one-on-one interview, renowned adoption specialist Dr. Jane Aronson—a pediatrician who’s been nicknamed “the orphan doctor,” and CEO and founder of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation—spoke frankly about the realities of this choice. (Personal Note: I met Dr. Aronson at a World Conference of World Initiative for Orphans in Boston in 2007…she is an amazing woman.)

Given the lack of prenatal care in many developing countries, many orphans start life “blighted,” Aronson told Brown, malnourished before they’re even born. They’re then exposed to trauma after birth, leading to physical and developmental delays. The key for prospective parents is to approach adoption with eyes wide open. “Children have these problems, and we have to be honest about those problems,” Aronson said. “People need to know what they’re getting into. And they need to then either step up to it, or not sign on for it.”

“There are many families who’ve stepped up and adopted special-needs kids, and done an amazingly brilliant job,” she continued. But “if this is not for you, be honest with yourself. Don’t do something that’s beyond what you can do, and don’t feel badly about it, don’t feel guilty.”
The crisis is a staggering one: Thanks to the combined impact of war, poverty, and AIDS, the world is now home to 163 million orphans—children who’ve lost at least one parent.

Yet even when parents step up, the challenges can seem overwhelming—as in the controversial case of Torry Ann Hansen, who sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Russia last spring. To help parents cope, Aronson encourages reaching out to “post-adoptive resources,” from social workers to neuropsychologists. “We are so lucky in the U.S.,” she said. “We have the resources here to help families. Not all countries do.”

And indeed, other speakers echoed Aronson throughout the morning, calling for better post-adoptive services worldwide. (For additional information on these resources, visit: Worldwide Orphans Foundation; Better Care Network; Adoption Institute.)

But many agree that adoption is just one of many options. In a panel led by Nightline’s Cynthia McFadden (who herself was adopted), several speakers suggested that a more sustainable—and compassionate—solution is to invest in struggling communities around the world, as opposed to airlifting children away from the problem.

“Adoption should probably be the third-best option,” said Deborra-Lee Furness. A co-host of the event, Furness, who is married to Jackman, is an actress, adoptive mother, and adoption advocate. First, children should be placed with other biological family members, she said, then with a family in their community. “And then, when you have exhausted all those options, then international adoption should be the best option.”

While a child’s health and safety are most important, esteemed filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem —who was adopted from South Korea when she was 8 years old—underscored a child’s connection to his or her birth home. “I gained tremendously by coming to this country,” she said. “But on the other hand, I lost everything I loved by coming to this country”—her family, identity, language, and even memories. “One does not replace the other.”

Bridging the two so-called camps on the issue, Dr. Sophie Mengitsu, who runs the Worldwide Orphans Foundation in Ethiopia, proposed that the agencies that help with international adoption also vow to help the struggling communities from which these orphans come.

While working to combat the root causes of the orphan crisis may be noble, many point out that—in the meantime—parents who hope to adopt internationally often face frustrating delays. In part due to the regulations of the Hague Adoption Convention, which aims to protect against an often-corrupt global system, rife with trafficking and abuse, the process can be grueling—while children fall further behind. In one of the event’s more alarming moments, Mengitsu spoke passionately about the damage that living in an orphanage can have: For every three months in an institution, a child’s developmental is delayed by approximately one month. Kids are “better off in the streets” than in an institution, she said.

While UNICEF often takes the blame for slowing the process down, panelist Susan Bissell, the organization’s chief of child protection, explained: They’re just one of many agencies working to tackle the issue.

“People have the impression that UNICEF is way more powerful than we are,” she said. “Child protection is only one small piece of what we do.” To solve the crisis requires a global effort.

In the final portion of the breakfast, each of the 13 tables—led by co-hosts including fashion designer Vera Wang, actress and model Isabella Rossellini, and actress Alfre Woodard—discussed concrete steps. Solutions included training siblings to care for one another and building orphanages in close proximity to communities and neighbors; pressuring government leaders to get involved, and approaching the orphan crisis as a future security risk.

And indeed, looking to the future may help to explain the sense of urgency permeating the discussion. Borshay Liem perhaps put it best, when reflecting on her own journey: “Children who are adopted also grow up.”

Here are the final nine solution ideas coming out of this conference:

1. THINK LOCAL
Support the communities in nations where orphanhood and adoption are major issues—Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Serbia, and Vietnam, to name a very few. Paying attention to local issues and trying to solve problems locally is one of the first ways to begin implementing change.

2. EXAMINE THE ROOTS
Extreme poverty, which affects 1.4 billion people, is the leading cause of orphanhood. Maternal and neonatal health are negatively impacted in places where there is neither money nor education to eradicate poverty and the problems that stem from it. Family planning, said many attendees, will help bring about change.

3. ENCOURAGE CONSCIENTIOUS ADOPTION
Parents who decide to adopt children from other countries have a plethora of issues to keep in mind. As attendee Pat Williams, a Columbia law professor, stated, “We must not shy away from the degree to which adoption has, in many if not most places, become a form of trafficking in and of itself.  The exchange of money that occurs in so much of the private adoption context—the literal purchase of children—is one reason that countries like Guatemala and Nepal have restricted international adoption.

This kind of commodification allows many to think it is appropriate or healthy to “return” adopted children when problems arise—like so much ‘damaged goods’—as though any child comes with a warranty of perfection.”

4. BETTER TRAIN ORPHANAGE WORKERS
Improving the overall quality of orphanages, training employees, and involving the community in those issues will help. Ensure orphanages are located near the communities where the children are from, and encourage visitation with biological families whenever possible. Actress Alfre Woodard, an adoptive mother herself, stood to offer the suggestion that South African YMCAs have already begun to implement: head-of-household assistance, in which the oldest child is nurtured by the community and educated, so he or she can take care of any younger siblings.

5. REGISTER CHILDREN WITH BIRTH CERTIFICATES
250 million children do not have birth certificates, according to statistics. With the training mentioned above, and governmental involvement, these children can emerge from the shadows of the system.

6. VET ADOPTION AND AID ORGANIZATIONS
Editor Tina Brown and her table suggested building a clearing house for individual and media perusal, which would enable individual, corporate, and other interested donors or volunteers to see which organizations are the best at what they do. GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), noted one participant, is a great model for a sovereign arbiter. Foreign aid should be evaluated as well. “Everything we do has to have a metric, and a standard,” said Dr. Jane Aronson, the CEO and founder of the Worldwide Orphans Foundation.

7. SPREAD AWARENESS
The room called for a social media strategy connected to all organizations and the continuing dialogue. Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, suggested creating a media component to broaden understanding of the problem and build public/policy-maker support. Talk directly with the communities, grassroots-style, offered others. And of course, reach out to the media. “There are two journalists at my table,” said actor Hugh Jackman, whose wife, Deborah Lee Furness co-hosted the breakfast. “Their job is to shine a little light on these issues.”

8. DEMAND GOVERNMENTAL ADVOCACY
Pressure governments to prioritize child welfare, which is “like the Wild West,” noted Woodard. Ask government agencies speed up the adoption process; public-private partnerships to buy into. “Change the issue from a moral issue into a security issue” to garner broader attention and support, offered Jackman.

9. FOSTER RESEARCH, EDUCATION & OUTREACH
Develop a research base to answer questions, build support, and move forward in a methodical way. Identify causal factors for the problems, then develop methods to prevent and deal with them. Designate celebrity ambassadors and organize group volunteer visits. Encourage fundraising at every turn. And, as editor Tina Brown said, “We will do this every year.”

AFCARS Latest Number on Foster Care/Adoption from Care FY2009

As long as there is still one youth still waiting for a loving, nurturing caring, permanent home it is one too many!

AFCARS Releases its Latest Numbers

Released this summer, the 17th official AFCARS report reveals that, in federal fiscal year 2009 the number of U.S. children in foster care and waiting for adoption declined markedly—by 8 and 9 percent respectively. Both figures—424,000 children in care and 115,000 waiting—are the lowest figures recorded since AFCARS released its first report in 2002. In addition, the number of children adopted from care (57,000) rose to its highest level.
 

View the complete report at www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/tar/report17.htm.

Photographers Capture Spirit of Children in Need of Permanent Homes

Wish a project such as this were available in cities/states across the country rather than just major cities…there is a need in smaller cities and rural areas across the country…this is at least a start!

By Eden Pontz, CNN
November 11, 2010 2:05 a.m. EST
New York (CNN) — A picture may be worth a thousand words, but for foster children in New York City and across the country, a picture is worth improved self-esteem, and potentially, a new home and family. As part of National Adoption Month, Heart Gallery NYC along with more than 100 other Heart Gallery locations in the United States and Canada have teamed up renowned celebrity portrait and fashion photographers.

The photographers will take pictures of children in the foster care system in need of permanent adoptive families — in hopes the kids will be seen in a different light.

On Wednesday evening at New York’s Times Square Information Center, some foster kids found themselves staring back at their larger-than-life-sized pictures among the lights of Broadway at a grand opening exhibit held in their honor.

For celebrity photographers such as Robert Ascroft, whose clients include Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz, and Mariah Carey; Howard Schatz, whose shutters have exposed the likes of Michael Douglas, Whoopi Goldberg and Brooke Shields; and Barbara Bordnick, whose works are in the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography as well as innumerable magazines, volunteering their time and studios made for a change and reward, but came with challenges.

“I was hoping I could make them feel comfortable and make them feel special — I wondered if I’d be able to do that,” Bordnick said, voicing concern that she “… wanted to get ‘them’ on film, not make them into anything.”

Paul Lange, a celebrity photographer who counts Halle Berry, Tyra Banks and Oprah among his clients said, “My whole career was fashion and beauty. The nice thing about it is, instead of selling a product, we’re campaigning for a person’s future. It spoke to me to give these kids an opportunity to get a foot up on the ladder.”

Lange said his biggest surprise was the “genuineness” in the children’s expression.

“It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m a good person inside. Give me a chance.’ They’re dying for an opportunity for someone to step forward and take a chance on them,” he said.

Jasmine, 14, who posed next to her portrait at the exhibit, said she loved it.

“I was shocked at first to see it, but I like it. … I feel like a star.”
Laurie Sherman Graff, founder of Heart Gallery NYC, says one picture can make all the difference.

“Some of the pictures prospective families typically see of these children — it’s like looking at a driver’s license photo compared to these photos.”

An average shoot for the project takes several hours. For some of the kids, the shoot provides a mini-family reunion.

Lange said he’s photographed siblings who are living in the system, but not necessarily together.

“I’ve had grandparents, aunts, uncles, show up at my studio so they can have an afternoon together,” he said.

Once the final photographs have been chosen for each kid, giant posters are created to be exhibited for four to six weeks at high-trafficked spots including Times Square, Grand Central Station, malls and airports — places where their curators hope to get many eyes on them.

Along with the exhibit, recruitment and information tables are set up for when people stop and ask, “What are these pictures about?” Graff said.

Jean, 18, is close to being too old for the foster-care system, but says his poster inspires him.

“Spontaneous, handsome, intelligent,” were words he used to describe his chosen shot.

“I’d like to be a star for eternity. But for now, I hope to get a family and live my life,” Jean said.

More information can be found at www.heartgallerynyc.org