Saturday, July 11, 2009

Begin Again

Today we braved summer Saturday traffic to Laguna Beach for a treasure hunt with a crew of Colombian orphans. (Our agency runs two programs, one for LA foster kids and one for Colombian orphans who come over for the summer. Our primary commitment is to the foster kid program, but, like most of the potential parents in our program, we’ve been attending the summer program events as well.)

For the last couple weeks, we (mostly I) have been feeling a little bit lost. The overall process of getting matched with a kid is longer, more confusing and less predictable than we expected. What’s more, the Colombian kids are so different than the LA foster kids that spending time with them caused us to reconsider all our motivations. (The Colombian kids are younger and remarkably better adjusted than the LA foster kids – I can’t explain why, except to guess that the nuns who run Colombian orphanages must have a better grip than the cumbersome California child welfare bureaucracy.)

After the event today (hours in the hot sun interacting with rambunctious 10 year old boys without the benefit of a common language), we were tired, and instead of trying to reach immediate conclusions, we went to the beach. We waded in the water and lay on the sand. After awhile, we were ready to talk again, and it took just a few minutes to figure out we both felt recommitted to our original goal of taking in a local foster kid. We got there for the same reasons: 1) there are thousands of older foster kids in Los Angeles who have little chance of getting out of the institutional foster system 2) our motivation isn’t really to become a traditional nuclear family, so we have flexible expectations that make us well-suited to the foster kid program.

Beyond helping us sort that out, the event today was time well spent because we got to have a long conversation with the head of our agency. She’s a huge personality, always “on” and dedicated to promoting the needs of the kids. At times that can feel like a hard sell. “How about this girl?” she’ll say. “Let me tell you , she NEEDS a family right away and I think she’d be GREAT for you two.” In the beginning, I found this off-putting. But after getting more familiar with the system, I see that it’s probably what’s required. She’s got a lot of well-intentioned potential parents who are somewhat tentative, and she’s got a lot of teenage foster kids with few prospects for adoption, living moment by moment in shaky foster home situations. So if she throws herself into matchmaking with a certain aggressive fervor, that’s probably warranted. She’s kind of like an EMT, in that she doesn’t have time to pursue perfection - she just needs to staunch the bleeding, and that’s a noble enough ambition.

Anyway, she had her picture book of foster kid bios, which she seems to take with her everywhere, and we flipped through it together. We’ve already met more than half the kids in the book, so we had some first hand knowledge to contribute to the discussion. At one point, she paused, looked at me, and apropos of nothing, said “You know what Roseanne Barr says about the foster care system? She says we need to blow the whole damned thing up and start over.” Then we went back to flipping through the bios, kind of like trading baseball cards but with very high stakes. By the end, we’d agreed on three or four kids who seem like a good match for us (this is the third or fourth time we've had such a conversation with her, but the kids circumstances change so often you have to revisit all the time), and she left in a flurry of text messaging and hand gestures, assuring us that she’d be in touch to set up opportunities to meet them.

Big week this week, as we have two upcoming events. We’re picking up some kids and driving them to a private movie premier, and we’re heading to a private home in Malibu for a beach party on the weekend. (Some other time I’ll write about the surreally large territory considered “Los Angeles” by the DCFS and our agency – it seems to extend nearly to Las Vegas on the east, nearly to San Diego to the south, and halfway to Fresno on the north – which translates to a LOT of driving kids to and from events.) I’m going to try to make a point of setting aside my native instinct to observe and analyze and instead do my best to throw myself into it, taking a cue from the head of our agency – part of my dawning awareness that we’re navigating an inexact process best met head on with willpower and energy.

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