Monday, April 02, 2007

The flip side

In previous posts and in conversations I've talked about the flip side of foster care that I experience at work. Given that my clientele are all poor people with big problems, I get birthparents of foster kids as clients all the time. I like to think I'm a decent advocate for them- it's very broadening to see an abusive or more often, neglectful, parent as a real person with strengths as well as weaknesses and a story of their own to tell. And it's a very fine line, advocating for them without contributing to a reunification when the parents aren't ready, while I'm trying to help them get ready. For most of these clients, having their kids removed from their care was both the worst and the best thing that could possibly have happened to them. They break down over it, as any loving parent would. But they also get a chance they probably never would have gotten, to put things in perspective (e.g. how is this addiction really serving you? or what is this abusive boyfriend really doing for your life?) and change their circumstances for the better. Getting their kids back is the ultimate motivator for improving things that may have plagued their lives (and their kids' lives) forever.
Of course, this can go both ways. My favorite case ever was a mom who overcame drug addiction, other mental health problems, and 5 years of homelessness, to get herself into real recovery, into a 3-bedroom apartment, and very good long-term residential programming for single moms in recovery, and hearing from her after all that when she had been reunited with her 2 young children was probably my favorite moment in my job. She worked hard.
But others seem simply unable to find the internal wherewithal- they can be the nicest person in the world and the saddest case at the same time because I can see how much they want to succeed but can't get them to do what needs to be done, sometimes even the simplest of things. I'm thinking about this now because I just had a miserable meeting at public assistance with such a client this morning- there was just so little I could do that was anything more than talk, and in the face of all the bad things he's done as a result of drug abuse, it just wasn't enough. This time, I can't say I disagree- I found out this morning he showed up high for a visit with his daughter last month- after a long recovery, it's really sad, but there's not much I can say on his behalf this time around, and it's already been way too long for this little girl to be without a family of her own- much longer than is usually allowed, because DSS was trying to give him a second chance. I've stuck myself out on a limb for clients with a past before, even lied through my teeth because I knew it would give a family their one chance at a good life, but this one's not going to cut it and so I feel sad. That's all.

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