Author Archives: colleenwh

About colleenwh

recent grad relocated to bk from farm town and the north shore

Laughter; Arguably the Best Medicine

Lets be real; not a lot of genuinely funny things happen in the foster care system. Going on a home visit, you’re in someone else’s territory, invading their space and taking time away from their busy schedule. It doesn’t  really seem the ideal space to let your goofy freak flag fly. So here are some things I’ve learned about reigning in your own weirdo personality in the company of others; don’t.

I tried to tone down my personality, knowing it’s a bit much for certain people and situations, but I have to be honest; it’s not working. Being professional does not mean being a stiff. And in this field, being a stiff could even be considered being unprofessional. Do you follow? The fact that my seven year old client is doing imitations of my different voices and making fun of my knit-hat is a good sign. My sixteen year old laughing until she cried when I ran out of her kitchen due to a moth’s presence is a good sign. Trust me on that one.

Not only is it important to be yourself and own it, it’s important to allow others the same space and privilege. When I walked up to one of my teenager’s homes the other day and knocked on the door, I heard her yell to her mother, “The f’n stalker is here!”. First and foremost- I am totally a stalker. Not the scary kind, but I’m chasing these families down! I have to! So yeah, I’m calling you, your foster mother, your Case Worker, your teachers, and now I’m showing up at your house. I am a glorified, salaried, stalker. As a worker in a field that oftentimes lets people, families, and children down, I will in no way take offense to  someone calling me a stalker. At least she knows I care.

Working with families in situations that could not be more different from my own has not only taught me a lot about owning my…stuff, it has taught me to own myself. The Coco. I own it! I am what I am, and at the very least, I have learned that being genuine and strange goes a lot further than being “professional” and fake. Sure, my kids think I’m a weirdo, and sure, my five year old called me “creepy” for watching him do homework, but what can I say. If taking your job seriously and caring for your families as if they are your own make you a creepy stalker, well hey, nice to meet you; I’m a creepy stalker.

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Reality Check

After months of waiting, I got what I was waiting for; a reality check. As Barry said all through training, when faced with a situation, always assume you don’t know everything. Oh, whoops. Guess I forgot that lesson. Had I remembered, perhaps I would be feeling differently right now, but it has happened- I have finally had a bad day.

By now, I have three cases of adorable kids. About 15% of the time I spend with my kids is basically high five-ing and playing air guitar (I clearly have no shame). 40% is focused on fending off questions regarding my gender (“You’re not a girl!”) which I find mostly hilarious and endearing. Who would have thought that four year old children already have the gender binary programmed in their brains so deeply? The remaining 45% is used to really get down to the nitty-gritty. We work on homework problems, talk about their foster families and try to find tangible solutions to their heartbreaking problems.

For some reason, it has come as a genuine shock to me that kids like me. Then I realized that painful and obvious truth; I am a child. They laugh at my jokes, listen when I give a little advice, and sometimes call me Coco. Even though I leave my home visits (which average about 90 minutes) physically exhausted to begin a two hour commute home (who wants to start a MTA book club?), I always feel like I really did well. I helped foster a tiny change in a kids life, I made a foster parents night run a little smoother, I assisted in altering a family’s perspective regarding their childs “problem” behavior. But not tonight.

I failed! I totally, absolutely failed. It was brutal. I didn’t do anything that I planned on doing. I bought one of my kids a coloring book and crayons as a treat for good behavior, but there was none. I tried to talk to him about school, and listening to grandma, and working on a behavior chart I made with him. No luck. He ran around, cried, crawled under the table, fought his brother, screamed, and ignored me. His family looked to me to help them, but I couldn’t. I had absolutely nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing. Blank. And when I gathered my things to leave and he hugged me and cried and begged me to come back tomorrow, I said, “See you Wednesday”. I went to say good-bye to foster mom, but she just looked at me and I knew I absolutely failed. I walked into their home this evening feeling like I was going to change the world and I did nothing. Yikes. Heavy. Maybe it doesn’t sound like a failure, but it feels like one.

So here I am. Watching “The Wonder Years” (Kevin + Winnie Forever!) and drinking a Coca-Cola with my cat plopped on my lap. One bad night won’t ruin a case, but it sure does shake a gals confidence. I know I have the tools and the capacity to really do this work, but there was a moment tonight where I questioned myself and my ability. I guess what I’m trying to say is that being able to recognize what a failure looks like means you care enough and are capable enough of doing this work. Making mistakes, owning those mistakes, and going to work the next day ready to make another mistake is all a part of the field. Right? Anyways…  as Kevin Arnold said, “Every kid deserves to be a hero. Every kid already is.”

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Week One Done!

Today marks my official one week anniversary as a Crisis Intervention Worker on Staten Island, and 6 weeks of non-stop job training. Last week was exciting as it was my first time going to the Island. In order to get to work by 10am, I have to catch the 8:02am M train, make two transfers, hop on the Staten Island Ferry, and then rush to get on a bus. Needless to say, it is a long commute but well worth it. For one, I feel like an adult! Dressing all fancy-like, rushing along the current of suits from train to train, waking up before noon, perfecting my New Yorker “I’m important” face; a real life adult! Second of all, I have been lucky enough to land in a Rapid Intervention Team of  six brilliant, funny, passionate individuals. As a new program, we are all really antsy and ready for some referrals to start pouring in. As ready as we are to get going, the trainings are certainly important in team building and becoming as educated on our purpose as possible.

This week we’re doing training’s in the West Village on Solution Based methods. To completely self-disclose… I am a little upset we’re not going to Staten Island because I’ve been able to read two books in one week and have started my third over the course of that commute! But alas. Also- hello to fellow Corps graduates! I’ve been lucky enough to catch up with a couple of my pals from CC but am hoping to see everyone as soon as possible. It’s so nice to have 24 other people feeling this same push of motivation and excitement in starting brand new careers in Child Welfare at the same time. A big ol’ thank you to Barry and Viv for making that happen! Oh I hadn’t realized it was 9pm… a perfectly appropriate and not grandma-ish bedtime for a 22 year old living in New York City. To wrap up; Children’s Corps was great, my new team is great, and things are really coming together.

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End of Week One

Its almost been exactly a week since I moved from a sleepy Massachusetts town to Brooklyn to begin training as a Children’s Corps member. The apartment floors are littered with boxes and random objects yet to find a home, but slowly and surely, it is all coming together. I share this two-bedroom space with five housemates,  two of which belong to the feline and canine species, paying rent which in Amherst, MA would procure a full house with a yard. Even still, there is nowhere I would rather be.

Corps training thus far has been amazing. On day one, I walked into a highly air-conditioned room full of the people I would be spending the next five weeks training with. Women and men who have graduated from prestigious universities across the country, some of whom already have MSWs under their belts. All things considered, I was probably more intimidated at that moment than I can remember. We dove in to the material, with Fostering Change for Children’s CEO Barry as our main trainer, making sure we truly understood each concept covered.

To explain every day of training thus far would take… probably a full week. We have learned so much already, from acknowledging privilege to creating relationships built on trust and mutual self-disclosure. The next four weeks are going to be intense, hard, and rewarding, but I think we as Corps members know this already. I am excited for the weeks to come, to explore this new city, and to get to know my fellow Corps members better. Tonight I am going into Manhattan for a queer/feminist performance at Bluestockings Activist Space where native-Bostonian Michelle Tea and her fellow Sister Spit cohorts will be delivering some high quality knowledge. In my opinion, a perfect end to the week.

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