Does the foster care system teach irresponsibility? Oh how funny you should ask that right now. I know his school performance sounds pretty awful, and it is, but it is a major improvement over last year. (Of course last year he failed every single class.)
That really is an interesting question. Of course it would be difficult to sort out all the different influences. The kids spend their early childhood with such messed up people, it is not clear where they get what. David clearly gives up quickly. He can be very persistent about something he wants other people to do, but he is not persistent with himself. When he falls behind he gives up before he can fail.
He also has a tendency to hear what he wants to hear. I have learned this and now make him repeat what I have told him. I'm pretty sly and do not ask him to repeat what I have just said, but before I drop him off I will act a bit forgetful and ask him what exactly did we agree to? Where will he be when? Where did he leave the phone number?
Before I tell you the following story, let me remind you that it is about time for David to test us. He is really, really liking us. I can tell he is beginning to 'fall in love'. That is dangerous for him. He has been thrown away multiple times in his life so before he can go further in the relationship he has to know if we will still keep him if he is very, very bad. Cutting classes and failing may have been part of that...but last night's fun was too.
By the way, it is kind of a long story and so I have cut and pasted the meat of it out of the email I sent the social worker...hope you don't mind. The character is in the story are: Michael, David’s best friend since 3rd grade, Penny, David’s mother. David was to spend Saturday night at Michael's house. David does not, you may remember, have a driver's license.
As I understand it David asked Penny if he could borrow her car. She said no. Some time after that a friend of hers dropped by and asked what happened to her car. She realized that David and Michael were gone. She called me and then drove down to the Flying M and found them there. She said, loudly and in front of David's friends, that she wanted her keys back, that she was angry that he took the car and that the police were coming (she had not called them). She called me to say that she had found him and I went down to pick him up.
When I got there David, Michael and Michael's sister were waiting on the curb for me. Michael wanted me to know that he was certain that David thought he did have permission "When Mom is on the computer..." I interrupted and said that it did not matter as David did not have a license. I asked to speak with Penny. Penny said that David had asked for a hug when they got back and she had told him that she was too angry. She said that she was not going to press charges but was agreeable when I said that I wanted to scare David for a couple of days and would tell him that she was thinking about it.
After we talked Hubby and I went to talk to him. We asked him what happened. He thought it was all just a big misunderstanding. He had asked Penny if he could borrow the car and she had said yes. Michael was surprised and asked her "like seven times" (this is implausible since Michael told me not that they both thought he had permission but that he was sure that David thought he did). David thinks that since she knew where he went that demonstrated that she must have said yes (I can't make sense of that reasoning at all). I pointed out that if she had given permission that would just mean that she was in trouble too...he did not have a license. "I have been completely honest with people about the fact that I drive. I have been driving for some time." Deep breath....I began to get a little frustrated. I told him that I wanted to make it very, very clear that he did not have permission to drive our cars or any other cars. If he ever thought he heard us say that he did have permission that would mean that he misheard. "I know that. I know you would never give me permission...I mean I think I read people pretty well." (I did not point out that this evening’s fiasco was evidence to the contrary...but I was tempted.)
Anyway, I told him that he had no privileges: no phone, no friends, no gaming system (including watching while others played), and no TV control (he may watch what other people are watching). I asked him if he understood the difference between natural and artificial consequences and he said he did. I told him that he would not be able to have the same level of freedom with his friends and that was just a natural consequence of what he had done. I did not know when or if Penny would let him stay again and I did not think there was a chance in hell that his social worker would let him go out of state (with the church youth group) next weekend. It might take
a long time before he got back the same level of freedom.
He said, "I know, at least I will get it back next year when I turn 18."
Okay...I should have let that go. This was not the right time to be going over life in more than a year. I told him that that was not how it worked. "I know, I know, if I stay in the program I have to follow the agency's rules." "No, I mean if you live in this home you have to follow our rules. As children get older they get more and more freedom, and you may have a hell of a lot of freedom the day before you 18th birthday, but you will not have any more the day after than you did the day before."
I heard from Andrew today that David is worried about Penny pressing charges. I am glad about that. I want David to figure out that this is a big deal. "Borrowing" a car without permission and driving (in The City, not country roads) without a license is a big deal. I understand that they only went a couple of miles to a coffee shop, which as teenage trouble-making goes is fairly tame, but this is not just a misunderstanding.
Anyway, I hope this is David's "permanency crisis" by which I mean that I hope he does not need to do anything worse. According to his record this is about as bad as he has ever been.
Unfortunately in order to drive before you are 18 your legal guardian has to take legal responsibility for you. David's legal guardian is the state. No one else can give him permission to drive and the state only gives permission to a very few of its wards. Typically they would only give permission to kids who are exceptionally responsible (excellent grades, recommendations from foster parents, no disciplinary problems of any kind) AND who have a demonstrable need (important work or educational opportunities they can get to no other way). Only country kids are far enough away from H&W offices and their interns to qualify under the second criteria.
David is meeting with Ruby tonight. Ruby will have talked to Robin (Ruby's supervisor) to see if Robin has any better ideas, but it looks like David will have to sit down with Ruby to write a letter of apology to Penny and to take Ruby's class on "error free thinking"....for a total of 8 Friday nights.
For another point of view, I told my husband about David's escapade and he thought it was pretty amusing. He admitted that he once did exactly the same thing (sans license and all), except that he managed to put his father's truck into a ditch and had to be hauled out by a neighbor. Though he never told his father about it, he is pretty sure Earl knew and was getting a good laugh out of it.
I asked what the motivation was for this whole thing and he shrugged and grinned and said, "It's a guy thing."
Hubby and I have laughed about it, when David is not in the room. This is clearly the sort of story that people tell as adults under the heading of "My Wild and Reckless Youth." If "borrowing" a car to drive to the local coffee shop (a really cool one, by the way) is his most wild and reckless, I will be content. I am trying to think of my most reckless teenage moment, and I think I really was a nerd. It is not that I never screwed up, I just can't think of many intentional reckless acts.
Last night we told David what his consequences would be...he would get back basic privileges (phone, TV) on Friday but would not be allowed out of adult supervision for 3 weeks. And we told him that Ruby was working on getting him into her class on error-free thinking, but that we did not know the details.
Ruby gave him a lesson earlier that evening in "loser thinking." I mean that literally. She sat him down and drew circles and lines on her white board and explained how a series of mental states were connected...it starts with self-centered thinking, includes being willing to break the rules, getting punished, getting angry, acting out....(there were lots of loops and lines). Anyway, she ended up telling him that we wanted to help him move "off this page" to other-centered thinking. Then she asked him what he thought I said in my first voice mail message to her on Saturday. "That she was really angry at me?" "No, she was worried and scared. The first thing she said was, 'I don't know where David is.'"
Anyway, when she started the lesson I thought it was just going to make David defensive. I mean she started off calling it "loser thinking" and then started asking him questions which were clearly intended to make him identify his actions/thoughts with the ones that she was writing on the white board. She even asked him to consider whether this described his birth mother (he said yes). She told him that this could be learned behavior and that we wanted to help him learn another way of relating to people.
Maybe that was the right way to go. It is interesting, pulling back and talking about a whole cycle of thoughts and reactions.
Normally when David goes to bed he leans over my chair (the comfy recliner where I am almost always grading papers or reading) and gives me a quick hug. Last night he sat on the arm of the chair and put his head on my shoulder and wrapped his arms around me. After a bit I asked him if he was going to get up and he held on tighter and said "no" in a child voice. When he started slipping into my lap he laughed, got up, said "good-night" and went to bed.
The whole time all of this had been going on no one yelled at him, or called him names, or made him afraid of being hit. That should be normal, but it hasn't been for him. Hopefully he feels safer now.
Of course it is probably naive of me to hope that this is the worse thing he will do, but I will hope anyway.
David's Story Part 1: The Beginning
David's Story Part 15: The New Bird