Monday, June 13, 2011

It's the little things..

Best part of my day today: I was supervising a visitation for a mother and her three children. I spent an hour and a half having a heart to heart conversation with the 58-year-old grandfather who is dying from throat cancer. He shared with me all of the things that made him who he was, and the regretful decisions he made over the years. He ultimately felt responsible for the fact that his grandchildren were in foster care because of decisions he made as a parent. He was appreciative of the time I have spent thus far making sure his daughter is working on her treatment, and for acting as part of a support system for her. I know this may all sound very depressing (its DSS, what do you expect?) but at the end of our conversation and the visitation, the best part of my day happened: he thanked me for simply listening.  

             ‘What was the best part of my day today?’ is a question I have to ask myself at the end of every day. It’s reassuring to know that no matter how stressful or awful you think your day has been, to always know there had to of been at least one high point. It may take a second or two, but think about it. The best parts of my days can vary greatly. From just seeing my dog shake her butt a million miles a minute when I get home, or having just 15 minutes alone with complete silence, there is always a high point. For example, the best part of my day yesterday was the fact that because I spent about 5 hours in the car driving back and forth from one end of the county to the other, I heard Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” about 4 times on the radio. I love that song, and it made my traveling that much more pleasant.

            Some of the most rewarding days are the ones where I’ve been a part of a parent’s success. There is nothing I love more than a parent walking into my office with a smile on their face and a certificate of completion in their hand. Usually these course completions are for drug and alcohol treatment, parenting classes, domestic violence counseling, or anger management classes. Having a parent, who hates my guts for “snatching their child”, tell me “Thank you, Miss Sally” gives me such joy, no matter how many previously awful things they’ve said or yelled at me. I love having a parent call me to tell me they have found a job, or a new and suitable place to live. So really think about, what was the best part of your day? You will find yourself being thankful for even the tiniest things every single day.  

            Of course I wish that every day I were able to have joyous moments like those of a parent’s success. But in the real world, it’s not. Unfortunately at DSS, moments like these are usually quite rare to be honest. Having a baby can be such a wonderful celebration for family and friends. It’s a great feeling to congratulate someone who is excited to welcome a new member into the world. But imagine having to sit down with someone you’ve become close to, who tells you that they are pregnant, and not being able to congratulate them. I had to look a twenty-year-old mother in the face today, and tell her I was disappointed by her news. This particular mother has no place to live, no income of any kind, no supportive family or friends, oh and not to mention, a child that is already in foster care. While this mother just says “oops” and that she is just as disappointed in herself, I know deep down that she does not feel the way she says she does. Come on, do I have stupid written across my face? I have had to tell (and remind) many of my clients that studying human behavior is my life. If it has been a not-so-great day, sometimes I’ll cut a joke and tell them not to ever pursue acting, or to come back to me when they’ve made up a better story. I’ve even gone as far as telling them that I don’t work off commission, so “thank you, but having another baby isn’t going to raise my salary at all.” Some laugh, and some get pissed. I don’t care. Bottom line, majority of my client’s who have no support system, and move from one abusive man to another, think that another baby is the answer to all their problems. NEWS FLASH PEOPLE: Have fun going through 9 months of hell with probably zero prenatal care, and then just hand your next one right over to us (calmly, please). Appreciate it.

            It may sound cynical for me to be so nonchalant, but this is reality. I will admit that at one point in my life when I was young, I thought that every pregnancy was a blessing. The reality is that in the DSS world, there really isn’t much worse news than knowing a parent - who cannot parent - is going to have another child that will just end up living their life in and out of the foster care system. These children will never have a normal childhood, or life for that matter. These children will never understand stability or experience permanency in their lives.   

            Think back to your own childhood. What was the best part of your summers? Was it swimming all day long at the country club? Tubing on the lake? Spending a week’s vacation with your family and friends in a beachfront home? Or a month away at summer camp? When I was a child, all of the above were the best parts about my summers. It’s pretty sad to think that the children in foster care will not ever experience getting to go away for summer camp, or spend their summers riding their bikes around the neighborhood with friends, or playing spotlight tag until all hours of the night. For a child in foster care, they don’t get to experience these carefree summers – like every child should.  They spend their summers worrying about when they will get to see their mom or dad next. They are the ones that worry about whether or not their mom or dad has gotten a job yet. They are the ones that worry about how much longer they have to stay in foster care, and if will they have to switch schools again next year. They worry about when their caseworker will just pop in and tell them that they are moving to a totally new home, with new foster parents, new siblings to try and get along with, new daily routines, new rules, new EVERYTHING. Can YOU imagine?

            So as you are spending free time this summer with family and friends relaxing on the beach or beside the pool, take time to think about those children spending their time cooped up in a foster home, group home, or emergency shelter, and constantly worrying about what’s going to happen for them next. Think back and be appreciative for the carefree summers you were so lucky to have as a child. Pick up the phone and call your parents to thank them for sending you away to your favorite camp every summer.  Start taking notice to the best part of your day, everyday. You will find yourself being more appreciative of the little things in life. After all, in the end, it is the little things that matter most. That is where true happiness is found.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Rough Start.

"I can’t imagine how you must feel” is something I quite possibly repeat at least three times within a single day of work. I cannot imagine. I cannot imagine waking up every day and wondering how I was going to get somewhere because I have absolutely no means of any transportation. I cannot imagine not knowing where I am going to sleep that night. I cannot imagine not knowing when I am going to get my next meal. And I cannot even begin to imagine having a child or family to care for, and still having these same concerns every day. But in the world that now consumes my life, I can.

People have been telling me for the past two years, “Oh! You have GOT to write a book”, and “You should keep a journal about all the crazy people that you see!” Truth is, my job and the life that a lot of our American society lives in, should not be written for amusement. My job is something that I take pride in. It’s something that I feel blessed to be exposed to, and beyond blessed to be a part of the possibility of change to.

I’ve lived a very plush life. I was fortunate enough to attend a private elementary, middle, and high school. And even more fortunate to then attend a private college, all of which my parents willingly paid for – no questions asked. As a child, I remember my parents exposing me to “feeding the homeless” every Christmas morning, and also spending many summers hosting an educational camp for underprivileged children. Those were my first memorable times working with families from lower socioeconomic classes. During college, I spent time working as a therapeutic counselor for teenage girls living in a moderate management group home. These girls were often physically and emotionally abused by their families, and living in this particular group home because of behavioral issues. This was one of the true first looks into another world for me. And I loved every minute of it.

After my college graduation, I was hired as a foster care social worker for the Dept of Social Services. When I was hired, one of the first things I was told by my supervisor and the county director (other than the fact that I would need to learn to tolerate foul language) was “I hope you have a great sense of humor”. This was the last thing I ever thought I needed to have for this job. I thought just having compassion, a lot of patience, and a big heart would be key for my job. But that was only the base of what was needed. After only two days of working for DSS did I realize why. I immediately understood that you had to be able to laugh. Every. Single. Day. It does not matter what it is, but laughter is key to survival. For the next 6 months, every morning when I walked back into the DSS office, I had someone comment something like, “Oh my God, you’re back!” or “I cannot believe you came back today!” as if my presence were some kind of a miracle. It didn’t take long for me to realize that in a job like this, our presence there is a miracle in itself.

I never really imagined writing about the details of my job because, if you know me, then you know I don’t feel the need to blog if it doesn’t serve a true purpose to better help the next person. I don’t feel the need to blog about a new haircut, a new restaurant to dine in, or some fabulous new boutique to go and spend hundreds of dollars in for one new dress. I’m here to attempt to open the eyes to those who have not experienced the world I see and live in every day. I hope to make you stop and take a second to think about what you could do to help another person today. If you dare, try to imagine the world that I thought I would never become a part of. A baby’s whose face has been burned off with an iron; a three year old forced to engage in lines of cocaine by their mother; a 15 year old raped by her own father for four years; or an infant abandoned by her prostitute mother simply because she chose drugs over her own child. This is the daily life I live.

For so long, I felt like a very cynical person. I felt like I was being negative about the life I had always known – the extravagant parties, the fine dining, and in general, the lifestyle. I felt guilty. I felt guilty for the jewelry I had, for my education, my family's vacations, and just the life I had period. I struggled for several months about this. And it quickly led to depressive feelings of, “Why did I deserve such a wonderful life, but this innocent infant deserved to be born as a vegetable - simply because its mother chose methamphetamines over his/her health?” I honestly struggled with wondering whether or not there was even a God. With what I saw on a daily basis, I wondered where God was? It felt like every day I saw 5% good, and 95% evil. Not only did I feel like I was stuck in a world that belonged to evil, my clients were even telling me that I was evil. I am living in a world where I am the bad guy. I am the one who “stole their children”. I am the one who is “tearing their family apart”. And I am the one who “should go fuck myself and rot in hell”.

I have an amazing supervisor. One of the most important things she has always continued to tell me was how vital it was for me to have an outlet – someone to vent to. This has not come easy for me. I tried my family, my friends, and even therapists. All I heard from them – therapists included – was, “It takes a very strong person to do what you do” and “I cannot imagine”. It's close to impossible trying to relate the life I live with DSS to the lives of my close family and friends. So I began to write. I will be the first to admit, I am horrible at writing. But the purpose of my writing isn't to impress you with my awful grammar, it's my way to vent and hopefully allow you to gain something positive from my experiences. I have spent the past two years striving to help families reunite; otherwise, those not able to be reunited, helping those children in foster care find some sort of permanency in their lives. I have had to have the conversation with both a mother and father, on several different occasions, about signing over their parental rights to the state so that their child may be adopted, because they have either given up or decided that they feel it is what is best for their child. I have fought in court for a child who has lived their entire life in foster care to be adopted by their foster family (the only family they know), and be defeated by a biological parent and their attorney for another 6 months of extended time to try and get their shit together. Ultimately it just becomes more time for the child to sit in limbo in foster care while their mom and/or dad plays around with more drugs, bounces from job to job, trailer to trailer, paramour to paramour, and hope they won't get themselves caught and thrown in jail for something stupid. This is the life that makes me want to scream.

I have learned a great deal about myself while working with the Department of Social Services. I have been exposed to a world that you cannot even begin to make up. I’m learning things that can never be taught in a classroom, but only through experience. I never imagined that I could become the person that I am now. Every day that I wake up, I find myself saying ‘thank you’ for something new. Those of you who know me closely, know I have always been more appreciative of the little things in life such as, an afternoon thunderstorm, another day’s sunset, and the brightest star I can spot each night. I have always been appreciative for my loving and supportive family and friends, but never to the extent that it is now. I’m appreciative in hundreds of more ways that I hope to share with you all.

Like I said, the point of my writing is not to advertise a new restaurant or boutique, or how to turn your bedroom into something beautiful on a budget. I hope to share a little bit of the life that most of our society lives in. I hope you too can think about the blessings you have been given in a new light. Think about what is truly important in your life, what is worth getting upset over, and what is worth fighting over. You may quickly realize just as I did, that majority of what we thought was worth gossiping about or worrying over, simply is not. Even if you are not living it every day like I am, my hope is just reading and thinking about it will help you make changes along the way to become a better person for yourself, or to at least contemplate it. We all know there is always room for improvement, no matter how great you may think you are.