March is National Social Workers Month. This blog post is a tribute to child welfare professionals, many of whom are social workers.
I’m grateful every day for the social workers who go beyond the mere requirements of their jobs in order to give vulnerable children shelter, safety, and a promising future. You are among the first to walk into the lives of children when trouble escalates. You are witness to the bruises on their bodies and the fear and distrust in their eyes. Reaching out to parents, relatives, friends and colleagues, you garner necessary resources to meet their crises and give the children safety.
You protect the accuracy of the records and salvage photographs to ensure that the personal histories of the children are not lost as they move through the system. You gather data, prepare reports and present facts and progress to review committees and Courts.
It is you who are determined to give each of the thousands of children in foster care love and safety in their own permanent families. You work to eliminate the indignities of an inherently impersonal system. Your efforts improve policies, train others and inspire your successors.
It is probably a social worker who creates the space to talk with a child about her future, who sits with her while she grieves over her losses, and who advocates for the services she needs to heal and grow. Social workers help children give themselves permission to risk being loved.
You are that child’s voice when others mistake his rage or poor performance in the classroom as merely bad behavior. On special occasions you stand-in on behalf of missing or incarcerated parents and distanced relatives.
You are the one who opened a path through the bureaucracy for a foster family to sit beside the hospital bed of a lonely and very ill child whom they had come to love as their own. It was you who processed the paperwork, planned the untimely funeral and stood with that family next to their almost-adopted child’s freshly dug grave.
You, my colleagues, are the ones who sit in the bleachers at high school graduations. You cheer for each young person’s accomplishments, defying enormous odds.
You are the ones who create futures despite dispair, who sustain hope, who don’t give up.
I am grateful to each of you who awake every day with a determination to change the lives you touch. Thank you.
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A Powerful Metaphor
It’s January. Packaging up holiday decorations for storage, I found myself remembering hundreds from among the people I have known through my work, and of thousands like them whom I have not met:
About 35 years ago a lovely couple entered my life because of a heartbreaking decision to be made. They loved their newborn baby beyond words. But their circumstances were insurmountable. When the judge accepted their petition to relinquish all rights to their child in a plan to allow her adoption, not one of us in those chambers could hold back our tears.
To mark their journey and say goodbye to me, this couple gave me a lovely Nativity Scene. Each year after, I thought of them (and of their daughter, Wendy, and her adoptive family) as I put the pieces on display.
Regardless of one’s religious perspective, the nativity figures are symbolic – young parents welcome a much-loved infant, tenderly hold and nurture the baby, sing lullabies, and prepare to do the unthinkable….release their child to fulfill his/her purpose in the world.
Wendy’s adoptive mom has remained in touch from time to time. That made it possible last year for me to wrap the pieces of the Nativity Scene and send them to Wendy, where I think they ultimately belong.
I still remember that couple and hundreds of other birth parents who mark the holidays with hearts full of love and with an empty cradle. I remember their babies, now grown. And I think of thousands of others who have traveled that road. My wish for this year is that each of them live in a world that withholds judgment and that they find peace.
All the best to each of you in 2015.
Adoptions Across Borders
A sibling group of nine who began their journey through foster care in Utah didn’t complain when their permanent family was found hundreds of miles away in Minnesota. Relatives and friends and members of the church community helped the family with beds and bureaus. Someone donated a van large enough for the whole family, and organizations in multiple states were involved in the transaction. It was a if an entire section of the country rallied together to make certain these children would be safe and loved….and at home.
A thirteen year old boy didn’t say much. He just smiled when he boarded a plane for the flight from Denver to Amsterdam, where his adoptive fad and a gaggle of US Department of Defense friends met him and folded him into their arms and their hearts. He was home.
The award presented to me by Voice For Adoption during its annual reception in Washington DC doesn’t belong to me. I share it with all of the caseworkers and supervisors and judges, who know that sometimes we have to cross a great distance if a child is to go home.
I am grateful to have had the privilege of working beside the best child welfare professionals and to share a commitment to do whatever it takes to eliminate the fences that stand in the way of permanence for children who wait and long for families
Voice For Adoption supports policies that open doors for children and the families who claim them. We all know that it is not at all trite to say that home is indeed where the heart is.
Love knows no boundaries.
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For the Love of Children
Suzanne Dosh, MSW, will retire from full time work in a few weeks, even though we’d like to pretend she isn’t ever going to do it. The work of The Adoption Exchange has benefitted from her rock solid wisdom and her unwavering dedication to excellence in service to children and families. She is one of those people whose personal and professional lives actually meet and exceed the expectations we all would like to achieve.
There isn’t any one of us who hasn’t come to rely on her. So when we walk by her office and catch her going through papers and tossing things her successor probably won’t use, we don’t much like it. We sometimes hide our sadness by teasing her about tossing old lunch bags, or we draw her attention away to something else.
It reminds me that in the world of adoption there are many losses and transitions: Moving from one place to another. Saying goodbye to family members, friends and teachers. Getting settled in a new place, and then saying goodbye yet again. It takes courage to step away from life as you’ve known it to allow the possibilities of new friends, siblings, parents.
This week Suzanne shared a poem she’s been keeping in her files. It’s a beautiful expression of love and hope for children. All of us want to thank Suzanne for bringing the sentiments of this poem to life through the way she has chosen to use her talents and how she lives personally and professionally. She lives her life for the love of the children.
Grant our children life and happiness Send forth the good south winds. Send forth your breath over the waters That our world may be beautiful and Our people may thrive. . . May all complete life’s long road, May all grow old. May our little ones know The sweet smell of the Sacred breath of life. By Sia Medicine Song
Effective October 21, 2013, Suzanne Dosh, MSW will reduce her work hours. Her new, part time role will be Senior Project Administrator. Melody Roe, MSW, has re-joined the staff of The Adoption Exchange as Senior V.P. for Education and Programs. You may reach Melody at email@example.com or Suzanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Quotes That Motivate Us
Jim: I found my family because my social worker tried.
Chris: I wondered what I’d done that I wasn’t allowed to have a family.
Lucy: I can’t be left alone. I’m too little!
Megan: No one will want to adopt me. I’m too old.
Kathleen: I want lots of hugs and kisses…and to be tucked in at night.
Gregory: I don’t know where I will be going to school this fall. It depends on whether my foster mom quits.
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Two Young People Talk
Chris is so glad to have a family that he gladly talks to just about anyone who might like to know about it.
Like Sarah, who left foster care without a family, Chris says no one is too old. Sarah decided that she’d find her own family, since it didn’t happen to her while she was in foster care. “I was determined to do it, even if I was forty or fifty before it happened,” she said.
Sometimes people wonder whether featuring a child on the internet or television or radio is too stressful. They question whether we are setting children up for rejection if we aren’t successful.
Chris and Sarah aren’t worried about that. Chris said, “You can’t find a family without trying. We already feel rejected while we wait in foster care for families. Please talk to us about it. Please tell the public about us.”
Sarah was twenty-two when she found her own family by having the courage to speak in public and express her hope for love and belonging.
Chris was adopted when he was thirteen.
Sarah said, “Not one of the waiting children wants to graduate from high school or college, or pass away without knowing love.”
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What About A Sixteen Year Old Boy?
Jim is in his 30’s now. He knows what he is talking about when he encourages social workers to urge prospective families to consider teenagers. You see, he had a caseworker who did just that.
Jim was afraid of being hurt and disappointed, so he told his caseworker he didn’t want to be adopted. “But he talked to me and listened to me. He asked me what a permanent family would be like for me. He told me he would find me a family. And he kept his word.”
Jim was sixteen years old when his caseworker helped him move into his adoptive home, where he could slowly learn to trust people. He says he was a teenager before he learned to love and be loved.
“For sixteen years no on ever did what they said they would do. I’d been lied to over and over again.” So in the beginning Jim isolated himself from the family. He tried going for long periods without speaking. “But my parents refused to give up on me,” he said. “They told me I am was a member of the family, so any time I was ready to join in, that would be good.”
His parents refused to let him sit around with a television set and helped him find sports and work opportunities. Since they didn’t give up, he found himself graduating from high school and going on to a job he is proud to have.
He is thrilled to know that he always has a place to go home and parents who love him.
Jim isn’t the only one whose expectations changed when his dedicated caseworker came into the picture. “My parents were looking for a little girl. But they adopted a teenage boy.”
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It’s More Than A House. It’s A Home.
I imagine most of us would probably love to live in luxury. Why not? A house with a media room, a modern kitchen, the rest of the amenities. But at the end of the day there are those who act on what we all know to be true: It isn’t how big the house is, or how well appointed. It is the love within it that makes a house a home.
Last month Keller Williams DTC made something remarkable happen in the little town of Elizabeth, Colorado. They helped create the environment for one generous foster family to add their love to that of the real estate associates and their colleagues. Now that family has the perfect place to freely share the love of a caring community with some of the state’s most vulnerable children.
Watch what happened.
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A Role Model for Marcus
There are those who love without expectation, knowing that the acts of loving ARE the reward. Foster parents help traumatized children discover that it is possible to feel safe again – that some adults really can be trusted, and that there are those whose hands will comfort, not abuse.
Foster parents are called on to simply give the kind of love that each child needs. And it isn’t always the same. Sometimes hey hold the children through their grief and help them prepare for adoption. Sometimes they listen to their fears and help them get ready to return to birth families who aren’t perfect but have worked very hard to mend their ways so they can re-claim their children. Sometimes it means adopting a child or sibling group when the time for adoption comes.
Not knowing when they get the phone call just what challenges might be around the corner, every day foster moms and dads chose to be the kind of parents who will be there for children who are victims of trauma. They are committed to giving them what they need, when they need it for as long as they need it – to give them a place to begin to heal.
A television anchor asked 12 year old Marcus what he wanted to be when he grew up. You know what he said? He said, “I want to be a good dad, like my foster dad.” And somewhere behind the scenes there was a generous and courageous man who provided that first role model for Marcus.
And then that very special foster dad lovingly let Marcus go to be adopted by a family where he now has a forever dad to teach him how to be what he wants to be when he grows up.
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Thoughts of a Foster Dad
Foster parents have a really important role in the lives of the children they help to rear. It isn’t easy work. And it can be emotionally taxing. If I were to write a composite, I think the following might be a message from a foster dad to one of the children.
I know you didn’t want to come here. And I don’t blame you a bit. We got the call late one winter evening, and we said, “Absolutely, bring him right over.” It was cold out and dark. And it must have seemed like a bad dream to you.
We thought you might be hungry when you arrived, but you seemed too anxious to eat. I’m sure the house smelled different to you, and everything was strange. It was likely that you didn’t want us to watch you eat. So we rounded up our little toddler and the three of us sat down and had a snack with you.
Then we helped you bathe and climb into a fresh, clean pair of pajamas. No, they weren’t your very own pajamas. We didn’t know you yet when we bought them. But we had them in the dresser drawer waiting for a little boy just like you. And after your first night in our house, those pajamas belonged to you.
You didn’t sleep well for several weeks. When I’d come to soothe you during the night, you often looked at me with fear. And that broke my heart. I didn’t know how long you’d be with us, but I desperately wanted you to know that I intended to keep you safe.
You worried about your younger siblings. And when I watch you interact with our daughter, I see the protective role you’ve played with your own brother and sister. I’m sorry you aren’t all in the same foster home. Every time a visit is scheduled, we see to it that you get to spend time with them.
I heard that in the “old days” foster parents were told not to get attached to their foster children and were never allowed to adopt them if they didn’t return to their birth parents. I don’t know how those “old time” foster parents could do that. How can we possibly spend days and nights with you for months or years and not get attached? How can we give you what you need, if it doesn’t include love? So we just let our hearts be free, and we love you.
It seems as if you have allowed yourself to love us a little, too. You’ve surely wondered what was going to happen to you, just as we have. We aren’t the ones making those decisions. Our job is to love you and care for you while the processes in court and in therapy work through the rest. I imagine there have been times when you’ve wondered whether we would adopt you. That probably created anxiety within you about your birth parents and made you feel confused about who to be angry with and who to love. I hope you’ve learned that it’s possible to love lots of people.
And you probably wondered some times why we adopted our little girl and not you. Well, our little girl came to us unexpectedly, also. We went to the hospital to pick her up. And she was a newborn baby. It happens that her birth father is in prison for life because of a murder. And her birth mother just couldn’t handle the stresses that came with her disorganized life. We became the first parents this baby knew, and we couldn’t imagine letting her experience the losses that come with changing families. We use counseling to help teach us how to talk to her about her birth family, and we will find a way to help her if she wants to meet them one day when she is older. That is going to be very complicated, but we will do it.
We aren’t adopting you because you are going back to your first family. After they got over their anger at the system for taking you and your siblings away, they worked very hard to change their lives. They have been in therapy, just like you have. And just like we have.
They aren’t perfect. But they are good enough parents. They have always loved you. They made some really difficult changes in order to be certain they can protect you and give you what you need to grow. They want you, and they are really exited to know you’re coming back home to them. It’s where you belong.
Tonight is your last night in the bed that claimed you late one winter evening. Your bags are packed, and you’re exited too. Tomorrow I’ll make your favorite kind of scrambled eggs and pancakes. After breakfast we’ll load up the car, and we will take you home.
It would be wonderful if you were to decide to invite us to your high school graduation, or if you’d stop in and say hi some day. We’d love it if you’d drop a note, or think of us. But you don’t owe us that. We’d just love to continue watching you grow and want you to know that we’re here for you – no strings attached.
If we don’t see you again, we are satisfied to know that we did our part. All three of us are going to miss you. So will the dog and the neighbors. I’ll even miss some of the things you do that get you in trouble around here.
Yes, we’ll clean your bedroom and get it ready for the next child who needs a safe family while the system gets things sorted out. But your photograph will stay right on the dresser in that room, and your picture with us as a family will hang on the stairway wall where I’ll see it a dozen times a day. You will always be a part of us.
Tomorrow I’ll forget that we’re both big strapping fellows. Shucks, I’m going to ignore whoever is looking and I’m going to hug you tight when I say goodbye. And then I’m going to have to turn around quickly get in the car where I can cry.
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