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February doldrums

So we have been experiencing quite the winter weather this year, what with the polar vortex and all, making a day like today (19ºF, what?) feel like springtime. In my personal life, things have been pretty normal (that means great) and academically I’ve been making substantial important progress on my dissertation and am where I need to be for right now. Work wise, I continue to enjoy the work I do. So why the doldrums? Is it more than an endless winter?

Lately it seems that a fair number of people I know have been more than a little frustrated by life on a systemic, more than personal, level; in the academy (for academics and/or graduate students) or in the profession (for social workers) and in the adoption community. I am definitely no Pollyanna to begin with, so all the news I read easily makes me feel a little more pessimistic about the state of our world and my fellow humans. I inherently believe in the strengths and empathic capacities of people, but wow, do our institutions often just wear us down until it feels we are all playing a more polite, yet just as ruthless version, of the office-place hunger games. I admit I sometimes need to skip through my facebook and twitter feeds because of all the dismal and wretched news about the academic landscape. Since this is what I hope(d) to be someday when I grew up, it’s disheartening. In addition to the dismal academic stuff, there is all the frustrating news I read, hear about or witness regarding the way the system chews up and spits out social workers and clients alike – and particularly in child welfare and adoption, my areas of professional and academic interest.

Yesterday at a department meeting, a colleague I respect a lot talked about changing the paradigm of “preventing burnout” to “sustainability” and that clicked something in me. Several of my women of color friends in academia and I have discussed Audre Lorde’s “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of warfare” and read bell hook’s “Sisters of the Yam” as preventative measures against burnout.

In every social work class I teach, I bring up the concepts of burnout, secondary trauma, and vicarious trauma, all related but slightly different concepts (at least in the way I have conceptualized them). Because social workers are often working with clients that are or have experienced trauma (both crisis and sustained), they are susceptible over time of experiencing burnout, secondary trauma and/or vicarious trauma themselves.  It seems to me that once upon a time we talked in hushed whispers about “burn out” typically when referring to someone we knew who was crabby, mean,  sometimes overtly hostile to clients, or maybe generally unprofessional. When the shift toward viewing burnout as a symptom of vicarious and secondary trauma came, it felt more strengths based in that at least we could recognize the behaviors as being symptomatic of a larger issues and could see our colleagues as more than their symptoms (novel idea – we often forget this).

I like thinking about this in terms of sustainability. Sustainability is even more strengths focused. Social work in general, despite it’s value in strengths based perspectives, still tends to focus on symptoms to be managed instead of people and communities to grow and thrive.

sus·tain·able  (according to Merriam Webster) is:
– able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed
– involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources
– able to last or continue for a long time

How do we support each other in our personal and collective self-care, in a profession that often not just expects, but requires, us to go over and above on a regular basis? How can we look at each other’s self-care activities and think of them as being integral to long-term sustainability in the profession, rather than being selfish or disengaged?

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Interview on MPR now available

The interview with MPR about the contested adoption case and the MN Supreme Court’s ruling is now available on the MPR site. It was a real honor to be asked to provide some context to the case and although I was very nervous, I hope that I was able to add some additional context and understanding to this very sad case. In the end, two sets of parents had oodles of love and ability to raise these girls;and both of them would be able to meet these girls’ needs.  My biggest concern is that family connections will no longer be considered as important as material goods, even though the research has shown that children adopted by relatives fare the best. I am unaware if any research has been done on contested adoptions by foster parents and relatives – what I would want to know is how often race factors in to where children end up. If the grandparents were white and of the same socioeconomic status would the same decision have been made?

For a very thorough and in-depth examination of the case and the response by the grandmother, I recommend reading the articles by City Pages journalist Olivia LaVecchia.

Children’s Bureau conference

I am currently in Washington, DC to attend the 18th Annual National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.  While there are many things I’m am sure I will be impressed with here at this event, one of the things that surprised me was the technology available for participants. I was able to go to the conference website and download an app for my iPhone listing the conference programs, sessions and events information, and even giving me the chance to “add” it to my calendar!

Summer updates

I have been traveling for a lot of work-related duties this summer, and have a lot to process. Unfortunately, much of my thoughts are too personal to share on a public blog and although I’ve not been too shy in the past to voice my thoughts on a wide range of topics, I am somewhat torn between sharing some of my thoughts on this blog and protecting people’s privacy. If I can figure out a way to write some of my thoughts without being too publicly invasive, I’ll do so. It would be good to figure out a more consistent groove on the blog either way.

Just some highlights:

  • I spent a week in California at an adoption family camp, where I was privileged to be one of the keynote speakers, facilitated three workshops for parents, two workshops for the teens, and one workshop for the teens and their parents. By far the best part of going to Pact Camp is the opportunity to be with other adult transracial adoptees who are creating, sharing, advising, counseling, educating and mentoring adopted children and youth and their adoptive parents. One of the things that has been difficult is the in-between state we adult transracial and international adoptees who work with adopted individuals and families find ourselves. We are often considered less expert than the Professionals and Adoptive Parents who do the same work. We are also routinely criticized by other adult adoptees for working at camps such as Pact because we are seen as perpetuating the adoption industry. It is such a thin tightrope that we walk. I’m eternally grateful that I have found a cohort of adult transracial and international adoptee professionals that just get it, and with whom I can share both the joys and the frustrations of doing this work.
  • I attended the Summer Institute for Indian Child Welfare in my home state of Minnesota. For several days I learned about best practices in tribal child welfare services by those who are the experts – the tribes. I have to say I was very, very impressed by the speakers and the special opportunities for learning that I was privileged to be invited to participate. One of the biggest takeaways from this conference was that not only are some of the tribes that took over their child welfare services from the state governments doing exemplary work in their communities, that the outside world should be implementing their practices. Shouldn’t every child have active efforts conducted on their behalf? Shouldn’t every placement be determined on a hierarchy of the best interest for a child’s continuation with their family and community (placement first with family, extended family, community, and with new resources outside the community as a last resort)? My greatest frustration in leaving this conference was the huge disservice our child welfare service practices have done to children and families. What arrogance do we as a system of care have that we think children thrive better when completely severed from their families and communities, not to mention cultures? I challenge any adult to think about what it would be like to be forced to move away to a strange new place and start over without anything from your former life and prohibited from talking to anyone from your former life – family, friends, colleagues, everyone – and told to be grateful for it. Imagine being in a witness protection program only you had no choice over whether you wanted to be in the witness protection program because someone else decided it was in your best interest. I would guess it would be your last choice, chosen only if there were no other options available. Now imagine that you have to do this as a child. And that, sadly, is what we are doing to thousands of children each and every day.
  • I presented at a shelter that provides crisis counseling, services and beds for youth that are experiencing homelessness. I was asked to present because in the past few years, this agency has seen a big rise in the number of teens who were transracially or internationally adopted. These teens have either run from their adoptive homes or were kicked out by their adoptive parents. While reunification is the goal, the counselors have been challenged by the difficulty with working with the adopted youth and his or her parent(s). One staff person told me that nearly all the youth they saw at the center during one recent month were adopted.
  • I am continuing to work on my dissertation proposal as well and hope to be finished in early September, so I can begin to collect data for my research and thesis. I am also continuing with my “day job” which is to coordinate the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate through my university, that will begin this fall.
So in a nutshell, that’s what I’ve been up to this summer. Hope summer has been good for you as well.