“My parents instilled self-sufficiency and strength in me and my sisters. Resilience was part of our upbringing. They made us care about people and help. I said I was going to be a psychologist in 6th grade. I had a deep connection with being purpose-driven and compassionate. I didn’t know it would lead to social work. I have been doing this with Alabama Mentor or four years, but I spent nine years before that in prevention for childhood abuse and neglect and strengthening families. I was also a behavioral specialist at a children’s inpatient hospital.
I have to keep normalcy for these kids during the Coronaviarus but the way they have adapted is astounding. We have been working on implementing structure and helping those who are immunocompromised. We forget these kids came from disruption and chaos is comfortable for them. It is structure and rules that throw them off, so we teach them to self regulate. They grew up neglected and depended on their self-sufficiency. I am left alone at this house, let me go down the street and steal something because I am hungry. When they are told they can’t go outside until your homework is done, they don’t understand and react in anger and aggression. You have to be reassuring and say I am doing this because I love you. We focus on connection and compassion first. If they don’t trust us, they don’t trust the structure. This time of social distancing and hone-schooling is harder on the foster parents.
There is a stigma with foster kids that these kids are bad or a negative influence on families. With Alabama Mentor, we work with specific kids who have been through more trauma than your average foster kids. They have behavior and emotional challenges that foster parents have to work with day in and day out. Anger is manifestation of a deeper problem. People are naive about it and they think, ‘suck it up and get over it.’ We aren’t here to fix foster kid’s problems or their past. We help them form and develop healthy connections and relationships because it is hard to get them to turn around and redirect if they don’t know what it is. Spanking is not what they got these kids into foster care. Our kids have been through the ringer. When you think you have heard everything, you hear another story that your breath away. The hardest part of this job is compartmentalizing and not taking it home. You can become desensitized to trauma. I have three people I can reach out to on my drive from work so I can vent or cry. By the time I get home, I have let it go. I have a bad habit of following up with foster parents in my off-hours. I care almost to a fault. I can’t help it.
We need purpose-driven and heart-lead people to be foster parents. We have an insane number of referrals and nowhere to put these kids. Come to an orientation and ask questions and see how much support you have. We do therapeutic foster care. Transitional living where they are transiting to being on their own and training for kids have kids and teaching them how to be parents and teenagers. Become educated about what foster care means in Mobile and Alabama. We have 6200 kids in foster care and only 1200 homes. in the state of Alabama. Some of our foster families are going above and beyond and it makes me do heartwheels. The kids are challenging, but they are worth it. One of our foster families just adopted one of their kids.
I involve foster kids in charities and giving back so they have a purpose that is bigger than them. That has helped some of the adolescent kids who are struggling. We need organizations to give us placed to get involved. I practice what I preach or I couldn’t do this. Sometimes I get jaded and cynical and doing something good for someone else is the thing that takes me out of my funk every time. I want to start a non-profit and take older adults who have been through their own trauma or who don’t feel fulfilled and pair them with a child who feels the same way. I think it would do good things for two populations of people. I also want to do something about the concept of anger and how it us misunderstood. There are healthier ways of dealing with anger.
I have a love-hate relationship with running but it keeps me going and clears my head. I also keep a bag of props in my car in case someone else is having a bag day. We pull out things from the prop bag and do carpool karaoke. The world needs silly right now.”
(I am now doing Soul-cial distancing interviews by phone. If know someone I should interview, send me an message or email. firstname.lastname@example.org)