Thursday, February 11, 2010

Conference Themes—the Foster System in Times of Crisis

The conference I attended in New Orleans was an annual gathering of law professors. For several days, an impressive array of speakers told audiences about a wide variety of intriguing legal and quasi-legal subjects.

I attended one session that focused on children in times of natural or man-made disaster. I was really struck by the insights shared by a lawyer who represents kids in foster care. The point of his talk was that the foster care system functions poorly under the best of times, even worse in times of crisis. He began by telling of his own personal experience living in Florida during a hurricane—not knowing where you will sleep next, not knowing where your belongings are, carrying what you can from place to place in a big garbage bag, not knowing where your relatives and friends are. He pointed out that that disorienting, scary experience after a major hurricane is essentially the on-going life of kids in foster care. It was a sobering, heart-breaking analogy.

The speaker also noted that at such times of crisis, what really becomes important to people is our families. To illustrate, he talked about his own experiences on 9/11. It was a terrifying day for the nation. Everyone wanted to be with their family, and make sure their loved ones were ok. That was our immediate reaction, our biggest concern. The schools in his town were closing early, and the speaker said he wanted to go pick up his kids and be with them. But he had a previously scheduled commitment to go with one of his clients (a teenager in foster care) to attend a routine meeting with a representative of CPS. It was one of a large number of meetings he attends with such clients. The CPS representative had a number of such meetings that day, but the other kids with meetings did not have a lawyer. The speaker mentioned to the CPS representative that he’d prefer it if his client’s meeting went first because he needed to go get his kids at school due to the 9/11 tragedy. The speaker’s client spoke up and said bluntly that she wasn’t in a hurry. It occurred to him that because this teenager had no family and no permanent circle of people who cared for her, 9/11 was really not that big a deal to her. There was no one other than the speaker (her lawyer) to be worried about her in the face of horrific national tragedy, and she had no one to worry about. It was a humbling reminder of the harsh plight of foster kids. An unparalleled national tragedy is relatively insignificant to a child who lives the on-going personal tragedy of not having a permanent, loving home.

Matthew 12:46-50 (New American Standard)

While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him.
Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You."
But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?"
And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers!
"For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother."

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