Thursday, January 31, 2008

Committee Part 1: Amazing People

The conference, long committee meeting, whatever it wasa, was interesting and good and just a tiny bit upsetting.

First all the good stuff: the professionals at the organizations are really wonderful people. They are genuinely dedicated to kids, have a vision of how the world could be and are working hard to make a real difference. They are in the marvelous position of being able to fund their own research. The get to figure out what they want to know and then research that thing. They want to know what helps families: what keeps families together; what allows them to reunify safely and securely; what is best for kids when that isn't possible. Of course it did require some humility on my part as they said, "Parents first, family second" more than once. This has apparently become a slogan meaning that if they kids can't get be with their parents, the next best thing is kinship care. I will still have my roll to play, but in their vision of the world what I do has become almost a worst-case scenario, but more of that later.

There were four of us who had served on the committee last year. We started out with more than that, but the others just didn't participate. We four though were enthusiastic about the work. The other three women, we did have men, but they were among the ones who didn't make it, are all foster care alumni.* These three women are amazing. They all emancipated from care; they all struggled to find themselves places in this world. They are advocates, organizers, communitee leaders.

And they still struggle with deep insecurities. Not having parents in adulthood to ask for information has been a struggle for them. And they don't seem to know that the rest of us are asking for that sort of information -- that we didn't get launched into adulthood knowing how to handle every difficult parenting situation, how to cook a meal for a party, or what escrow was. It hit me when the four of us had a break-out session with the facilitator to talk about the year, what went well and what we would like to change. The other three women spoke over and over about being worried that what they had to say about the research was not interesting, or relevant, or helpful and how much the appreciated the conference calls because they felt validated when they realized that others had had the same thoughts.

It isn't that I never had that experience, but for me it was rare. I was surprised that it was such a dominant theme for them. When we got back to the big group and we were sharing with the newbies it came up again. They asked the researchers to tell us what things we had said made a difference in the final report. I thought it was a good idea because I wanted to be sure we were having an effect. One of the alumni though said, "And if anything we are saying is just totally off base, I would like to know that too."

I was startled. How could ANYthing these women wanted to say be off-base? This research was about them, about people like them. If something was important to them, it was important. That was so obvious to me. And all three of these so impressive women, were worried that it wasn't. I spoke up, "I want you all to know that in our calls I am often telling myself to be quiet because I think what YOU have to say is usually more important than what I have to say. You are the alumni. Your perspective is the most important one." They interrupt me with murmurs of protest. "No, I mean it. You see things that I don't even think of, important things. In every single phone call I am humbled by you insights." And there was this "aww" moment and we all fought back tears, because I meant it and they knew I did.

Sometimes I forget that being a college professor can intimidate others. I am so amazed by these women that I was startled that validation from me could be important to them.

The moment was good for the new people though. There were supposed to be four. Sadly one of them was ill and one had a conflict, so there were only two. One was a kinship provider and one a parent whose children who had been in care and now runs a "Parents Anonymous" group and works hard to help other parents understand and work their way through the system.

Like I said, AMAZING women all.

I mentioned last year that those of us in the college biz have started using "alum" as a gender neutral singular form and then "alumni" or even "alums" as the plural. I haven't heard anyone worry about "alumnus" or "alumna" in years. They however insist on the proper versions. Even though each of these women had "Foster Care Alumna" on their name tags, they struggled remembering it. At one point I just wanted to yell, "No one uses 'alumna' any more! Just call yourself a 'foster care alum'!" I know, pet peeve, get over it. I wouldn't have bothered me if it weren't so awkward for the alumni there.

1 comment:

  1. I have a hard time not being devastated that these women do not have a community. For me, as a Native American, the loss of community is unthinkable. Like the loss of self, belonging is ultimate.


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