Yesterday we had the opportunity to have breakfast with the Commissioner of Administration of Child Services, John Mattingly. It was very inspiring having the chance to hear him talk about the things he has learned in his career and the challenges he has found along the way. He also shared with us what his hopes are for the future in terms of child welfare and the quality and passion of the people running the show, and like often times, the best advice is the simplest, Commissioner Mattingly encouraged us to always be direct and honest with our clients or as he phrased it to “straight talk” to them while always being respectful and sensitive to the issues; and although this words were simple the message was very profound.
Following our breakfast we met two birth parents that had been in the foster care system. Both visiting parents could not have had two more different stories as for why they entered the system, however they both coincided in one single goal; to improve their situation so that they could get their children back. The opportunity to listen and engage with these incredible women was priceless, for me it was shocking to put a face to our so-called clients: the man and women who can easily be sitting next to you in the subway, or standing in line at the supermarket or at a bank. It felt like another wake up call of just how much we file and label things without any proof, it made me open up mind a little more and reminded me of the importance of being humble. I was inspired and above all hopeful to see that I can be a part of the process of helping people glue their lives back and become even stronger human beings.
Finally today’s visiting speaker was a foster parent, Stephen; with him we got to experience the other side of the coin, that of the people that open their homes to the children and youth that are separated from their birth parents. At often times it seams that this might be the hardest job; foster parents are labeled in so many negative ways that one forgets that they too are a resource for struggling families and that they are only trying to helps kids ride the storm. Understanding that family is family whether related or non-related is a key piece in becoming a better case worker and helping build stronger foster families. We felt we learned so much from his experience that it would be impossible to sum up everything; at the end of the day we walked away with a very important quote that I’m sure will be our motto when things get complicated: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at, will change”.