Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Changing the system sometimes means looking through a different lens

This is an excerpt of a letter I sent to our local CBC CEO today regarding a phone conversation we had yesterday where he took me to task for advocating for a family:

I'm sorry our conversation was so short yesterday - but I had a graduation to attend. It actually turns out to be a good thing I had to cut our conversation short because it's given me some time to digest your concerns and formulate a response. I will admit I'm actually a little upset with our conversation yesterday - with several specific instances in the conversation especially (which I will go over shortly) but also with the more general idea that the issues that arose in this particular case and others like it "aren't really broad." I think having the time to cool down a little last night was probably good - because my immediate response was one of extreme frustration - and I respect our partnership too much to use a knee jerk reaction to a temporary situation. I would like to lay out the things that bothered me with this though so that we can both be working from common ground and understand very clearly where the other is coming from.

The first thing I'd like to address is that this "was another instance of Heather Rosenberg tearing down the system." I'd like to address this one in detail because I think this one statement speaks volumes. First, I would like to challenge you to find an example of me tearing down the system just for the sake of tearing down the system. That's not ever been my MO or my intent - and I think you know that even if you don't like the method I choose to use to effect change. I've been at this a long time - as a child in the system, as a sibling of kids in the system and now as a parent of kids adopted out of the system and a foster parent to a child currently in the system. I've seen over the course of thirty years how things have changed and how things have stayed the same. Every single time I've sent an email about something failing in the system, I've provided a possible solution to the problem or offered to help work to solve the problem or issue - I've volunteered on many committees, have worked really hard to help connect people to other people who had the power to listen to their issues and try to help, and have tried to work to effect change on a system of care that directly affects the quality and even the length of human lives. I don't wake up in the morning looking for ways to tear people or systems down. I do wake up every morning hoping that the people in positions like yours will use the power you have at your disposal to make miracles happen for the families whose lives you hold in your hands. And I do this all as a volunteer - this is not my full-time paid job - this is something I am passionate about.

Second, I have a vested interest in ensuring that this system does not fail - that instead it self repairs and has the ability to adjust to the needs of the families it serves. I lost three siblings to this system - that's something I will never get back no matter how many children I take in to my home or how many families I help. I've watched many of my friends go through the ups and downs of this system that on occasion chews through the families it serves and spits them out utterly devastated. It's emotionally draining. It's heartbreaking. It takes a physical toll on my body to witness this stuff. And I don't want to see another person have to go through those kinds of losses - especially if we can avoid it by fixing problem areas. So yes, I am demanding. I demand that we do the very best we can to advocate for the families we serve. When it goes right, I am the very first person cheering for the things that have worked well. I will sing the praises at the top of my lungs to show where partnerships work and how teamwork pays off. I will support the case managers and CPIs and attorneys and GALs and every other member of the team in helping them do what they need to do to help our families - but I will also be the very first person to point out the places where we could do better. And you should want me to be doing that up front - because it's going to be much better if I do it than if a Carol Marbin does it after something goes catastrophically wrong.

As for the particulars of this case - if you will notice as I pointed out yesterday, I use the word "appear" quite a bit through out this email. I did that pointedly to show that many of the issues in this case could have been due to perception problems. These perception problems were likely exacerbated by the break downs in the communication chain with the parties involved. They were probably also worsened by the agencies failing to recognize outside issues that could have been influencing perception as well. As I pointed out yesterday, the current political climate surrounding same sex couples is highly charged right now. With all of the DOMA stuff last year, the Supreme Court hearing the Obergfell v. Hodges case, the highly contentious fight surrounding HB 7111, the repeal of the language in the statute regarding the ban on gay families adopting, and just about every other issue dealing with same sex couples - many same sex couples feel attacked right now period. And while you and I may not feel that either of us are attacking them - and you may also feel that there are enough protections in policy to prevent that from occurring here - we're not living this on a daily basis. When you take all of the little things that happen in a case and add an extra dose of lack of communication to it and then fan the flames a little by adding in this highly charged environment - it's no wonder that the perception is that there may be a much larger problem. Had someone taken the time to substantively address the issues this family brought up along the way in a timely manner, this issue would likely have never landed on your desk. And if you would like me to provide the string of correspondence we attempted with all of the parties all along, you will see that since July of last year, there have been timing and communications issues with this case.

As I am beginning to get a tad long in the tooth here, I will cut this short and wrap up by saying that when I send something your way it is not to start a fight. I am not attempting to disparage people or the system. I am attempting to provide case work for the families in our association who are doing the daily work of trying to provide for our children and families in care. Many times when I am sending you something it is on behalf of the parent - and since I do not work in the system itself I do not have access to FSFN or a quality review process to see if the parties followed protocol or procedure. I am also not asking for you to respond directly back to me - but rather to the families who have requested additional help. This is one of the things a strong association should be able to provide for its members. And it's probably much better for it to come to you like this than for families to start abandoning the system because they feel unsupported. We're working with you to help retain families - to help recruit other families - to help maintain positive pressure on the system so that we can fix the barriers to doing right for our children. If it feels like I'm taking you to task for the conversation yesterday, I kind of am, because I would like for you to recognize that I am in a different role than you are and am living this experience colored by a different lens. That lens may focus on a different area of the picture than you do, but it is still an incredibly valuable part of the picture and should be honored - not just for me, but for the thousands of other families whose only view of the picture is the same part.

If you would like to discuss this in further detail, I'd be happy to set up a time to come chat.

I'm waiting to see how he responds...

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