Updated: Nov 14
Sorry I’ve been silent. I’ve been brooding, angry over the system, policies and government. I find it is best that I don’t write when I’m angry, but this last bout of anger doesn’t seem to be going away, so I hope that you don’t mind that I finally decided to try and vent on my blog.
It started rather simply: I was reading the latest report from the National Center of Law for Children. They do one every year. I could barely get through paragraph two before I was writing questions in the margins. Then that boiled over and I ended up with more questions that when I started.
Then I joined a Twitter Chat about foster care, and there I saw it again: People giving the answers they thought people wanted to hear — basically, reassuring themselves that everything there were doing was right. I have said it numerous times: I don’t believe anyone comes into advocacy work with children for the wrong reasons. I believe everyone comes with a huge heart and a hope to change the system.
I can’t help noticing that at some point everyone just wants to be told that what they are doing is right, even though outcomes show it’s not. We want to be told we are right so much, that we tend to blindfold ourselves to the reality happening around us. And to be frank, I’m not sure I can take it.
Here is just a status check: FOSTER CARE IS FAILING AT EVERY LEVEL! We cannot continue to settle for these pie in-the-sky ideals and fancy programs with names that make us feel good like THE FAMILY FIRST ACT. It sounds wonderful. Who doesn’t want to put families first? But every time I read the act, I find myself even more angry. Does anyone take the time to understand what the act actually means and what that will look like if implemented? How it affects other programs that are working, and how it can set unrealistic goals for already struggling families?
Long ago when I first started in advocacy I was given a great book about making systems changes on social issues. It was hammered into me that you need to understand that by introducing a new program that there are consequences both good and bad. You have to understand what implementation looks like, and how your perhaps positive idea might have negative impacts on other people. I don’t know why this is such a hard concept for most nonprofits to understand. You simply do not work in a small box, you have far-reaching impacts and need to be more careful!
I repeat again, we cannot continue to settle for things like “mandatory bio parent visitations.” Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of it, but take it another step —h how is it going to actually work? How do you get bio parents to a location? How about kids? What about parents that are incarcerated or hospitalized? (No mention of course for what to do in any of those very real situations.) What about parents who don’t show for visitations? Again … silence. Having an idea is only one part of the problem, you have to implement that idea, hopefully with as little negative consequence as possible.
I’ve always been big on trying something new, giving it a whirl and seeing what happens. It was that attitude that helped me survive my childhood and find a place in the adult world. That has consequences, most I wasn’t prepared for. With a brain that is beginning to heal itself from it’s past trauma, I want advocates of change to come together, and to work toward a common goal.
I want us to be willing to try things, but to understand that some of the ideals we envision, can’t play out in the practical world. That when we try to implement the change, the ideal that we thought would beneficial might not be — we have to be willing to accept defeat and to let go of that idea and move into new ones.
We have to be flexible. We have to be accepting of defeats and of success. We have to be willing to think that one solution alone is going to change anything. I’ve come to realize that it is multiple solutions and oftentimes, the ability to have multiple solutions that will more readily impact child welfare.
Shenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth, and advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of the grassroots movement #4600andcounting You can learn more about her and her work at www.garbagebagsuitcase.com or www.4600andcounting.org .