Category Archives: Social Problems

The Guardian ad Litem

The other day I was on the radio (94.5) talking to Deb Sofield on The Morning Answer about foster care (Thanks, Deb!). One caller (or texter) commented about how sometimes DSS is wrong–they remove children from homes and put them into places where they’re worse off. In my time as a Guardian ad Litem, I never had a case where removal wasn’t warranted, where the standard for probable cause wasn’t met and upheld by a judge. However, I have had a case where the DSS social worker and the state’s attorney and I disagreed. In that case, they were fully prepared to argue to the judge that both parents should be denied visitation (even supervised visitation) while they worked towards termination of parental rights. I had spent a lot of time with the kids, their parents, school teachers, extended family, etc. Based on all that time and investigation, I felt that the mother should be offered a treatment plan that included separation from the father. He was the abusive one. If she were willing (unlike Ann’s mother, who I told you about the other day) to leave the abuser and take parenting classes, enter therapy, etc., I thought she could get to a place where reunification was possible. The DSS worker and attorney disagreed. They did not believe the mother would separate from the abuser (a position I totally understand; see: Ann). They thought mom would lie and let the abuser have access to the children despite the court order. They thought she wasn’t strong enough. I thought mom was willing to do whatever it took to bring her kids home. I thought that, with the right resources and support, she’d leave him behind and forge a better, brighter future for herself and her children. And as I mentioned on the radio, I come from an unstable background myself. I’m no idealist. I know first-hand parents will choose something (husbands, boyfriend’s, booze, drugs, whatever) over their own children. Been there. But I think that made me an even better advocate in this case. I digress…

If you’ve never been to family court, it’s much like any other court…or politics…in that much of the work and negotiations take place outside the courtroom (or voting chambers). And so we met together in a small huddle in a room outside family court to hash that out. Me, Dad, Mom, Social Worker, DSS attorney. There was yelling and finger pointing and all kinds of tears. Listen, I don’t care what the circumstances are, the tears and pleas of a mother faced with losing her children will break your heart. Every time.

The job of the Guardian ad Litem is important for this reason. The GAL, as I explained on the radio, is the voice of the child. Not another voice for DSS or the state. In training, that’s made clear again and again. The other thing that’s clear, not just from training, but from my interactions with family court judges: they give great weight to the report and testimony of the GAL. I will never forget this particular case because after that little meeting in the room, we were called into the courtroom, and the judge (with whom I’d had cases before) said, I read the reports and see that you disagreed as to the viability of a treatment plan. Did you have a chance to reconcile those differences? I honestly wasn’t sure. But the DSS attorney begrudgingly agreed to a treatment plan for mom that included no contact with dad. Dad was denied visitation of any kind. I accepted that. So did the judge. The attorney looked at me as we left, and said “This is on you. I hope you plan on checking up on them.” I did plan on it. And I did. In fact, I scheduled random, unplanned visits on a regular basis to see if I could catch mom letting dad visit despite the court order. I talked to neighbors to see if they saw any sign of him there. The kids and I regularly got together to talk about what was going on. I checked to see that a physician regularly checked them for any signs of abuse. I followed up to ensure mom and kids were in therapy and attended regularly. I made sure extended family were involved in the kids’ day-to-day lives. I was clear: if she lets him have contact with the kids, all bets are off. Why? Because those children and their health and well-being mattered. But part of what was best for them and their health and well-being was being with their mother…as long as she could provide the safe and stable home they needed.

So, yes, sometimes DSS gets it wrong. And that’s why the Guardian ad Litem is so important. The state gets DSS. Parents get themselves and sometimes an attorney if they choose and can afford it. Children get a Guardian ad Litem. Well, some do anyway. See, the thing is, GAL is a volunteer position. And there are almost never enough volunteers. Every child should have a GAL. Period. But that means more people need to step up. As I mentioned on the radio, the time commitment is up to you. Some people take one case at a time. Some cases are very short term. Some are long term. Some people take 2-3 cases at a time. Some more. The thing is that it’s volunteer work. It’s some of the most rewarding volunteer work there is. You can make a big difference in the lives of children who really need it. So think about it: maybe you can’t foster, but maybe you could be a Guardian ad Litem. And if not that, I know there’s something you could give. Foster children are OuR children. Ask yourself: how can you use your time, talent, and resources to support our most vulnerable children and make their lives and our community better and stronger?

FosterCareMonth

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Dirt is My Favorite Christmas Gift

Me: This is one of my favorite gifts from this year.
Trent: Is that dirt?
Me: Yes, yes it is dirt.

As sick as I’ve been, I’ve missed out on a lot. And one of the things I especially hated to miss was the groundbreaking on the Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County Woodside Mills neighborhood here in Ward 3, Simpsonville. I had been so looking forward to this day after the years of work we put into getting here. Arguing in favor of this development and in favor of providing the land for it was one of the first arguments I made on Council…and perhaps one of the most impactful. I am so #grateful to have played a part in bringing this new affordable housing neighborhood to our City. And I am beyond grateful that Habitat decided to “bring the groundbreaking to me” when I couldn’t attend. I didn’t get to hear the speakers, tour the grounds, or smile with a shovel, but this Rubbermaid container of dirt and plastic spoon with the thoughtful note means more than I can say. So yeah, dirt is one of my favorite gifts I’ve received this year. 💜

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Is this wrong? Yes.

So today on my ride into work, there was a discussion on the radio about this letter a teacher in NY sent home with her pre-K students.  The question offered to listeners/callers was this: “Is this wrong?”  The answer is yes.

The letter in question attempted to address the personal hygiene (or lack thereof) of children in the class. Here is a photo of the letter:smelly letter

If I were a parent who received this letter, I would write a letter back, and it would look something like this:

Dear Teacher,

I am writing this letter to inform you that you have failed–both as a teacher and a human being.  Allow me to explain why using a traditional scale: U = Unacceptable; NI = Needs Improvement; A = Acceptable; E = Exceeds. I have organized this from least important to most important for your benefit.

Professionalism: U

Did you hand write this with a marker and mimeograph it down the hall? How am I supposed to take you seriously? My (hypothetical) 4-year-old can use an iPad. You can’t use a computer? It’s 2013; if you’d like me to read something, type it up, print it out, and then send it me. I refuse to read scribble from anyone other than my child who just learned to spell his name.

Grammar: U

Unkept? You’re talking about my child, not my lawn. The word you’re looking for is unkempt. Also, you use a comma before a coordinating conjunction when it’s used to combine two independent clauses. You missed two of those. And one more–please proofread and edit before you send me or my child anything else. I really don’t want him picking up bad writing habits. (FYI: If you’d typed your document in Microsoft Word, spell and grammar checker would have helped you with your struggles to appropriately use Standard American English.) Also, periods. Enough said.

Communication: U

Did you really need to send this out to everyone (Consider reading my post on Bcc and Reply All and apply to this situation if you have the critical thinking skills to do so, which based on this evidence, I doubt.)? Don’t you think it might have been more effective to have targeted your message to a specific audience?  And is a generic handwritten letter really your best device for getting your message across? A more appropriate method of communicating to parents of children you think stink would have been a personal phone call. Furthermore, watch your language! “Enough said?” Really? Your tone is…self righteous and arrogant and…all around negative. It’s like you were hoping to start a fight, not resolve an actual problem. Also, for the record, despite the all-caps title, this is not actually an urgent notice. An urgent notice (!!!) would be something like, “There’s black mold and asbestos in our classroom, please only send your child to school tomorrow if he has a Hazmat suit!” An offense to your olfactory perception is not urgent.

Empathy: U

Empathy, since you seem to have none, is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s (like a 3-year-old’s) shoes and understand how they likely feel and then behave accordingly. Did you even stop for a second to consider how these supposedly dirty and stinky kids might feel upon discovering that their teacher doesn’t even want to be near them? Or how their parents might feel upon receiving your letter? You should know this, but I’ll go ahead and make sure it’s clear: sometimes people do the best they can with limited resources. I read that 30% of the population in your area lives below the poverty line. Maybe they’re doing the best they can. You should at least consider the possibility.

Social Responsibility: U

Look, if some of the children in class are really a health and safety concern, you might consider that the appropriate action to take is reporting a case of possible neglect. Sending a letter like this home to an abusive and neglectful parent could actually make things worse for the child in question.  If you are that concerned, call DSS and let them know.  Had someone done that for my foster kids, they would have been removed from their abusive home years before they were. Speak up–you may be the only voice those children have, so instead of marginalizing (and dare I suggest bullying) them, be an advocate for them. Be a friend to them. Be a role model. It’s your responsibility as a teacher and a human being.

Enough has not been said here, but I feel like this might be a good starting point. I encourage you to reflect on your behavior, consider the ways in which you may have better addressed this issue, and make a commitment to do better in the future. Accept that this was a BIG mistake and make a plan to better yourself. In short, take this as a a teachable moment. Learn. Grow. And then maybe you’ll be able to rise from Unacceptable to Exceeds (or at least Acceptable).  Let me know if I can help.

Sincerely,

Parent of (a hypothetical) child in your class.

PS: Finally, please sign below indicating you have read this report in its entirety and understand its contents.

___________________________

(Bad Teacher)

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Filed under My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines, Social Problems, Teaching & Learning

Why I Want to Cry for the Millenials

Don’t get me wrong–sometimes I want to wring their necks.

We talk a lot about millenials in my profession because they’re a big chunk of our constituency. Now, I’m aware and sensitive to the fact that not everyone born between 1982 and 2004 (SN: What’s the generation after 2004 called?) embodies ALL of the characteristics ascribed to the millenial generation. We are, after all, all unique individuals. And, of course, there’s some wiggle room on the start and end years. As a Gen-Xer, I share some characteristics of the millenial generation (i.e. obsessed with social media). And my husband is technically a millenial by birth year, but he probably resembles those kids less than I do (of course, he may or may not also believe he was meant to born 10 years earlier). You need only spend some time in our classrooms, though, to realize that many of them do share some of the traits associated with their generation by the experts. And many of them are not complimentary…and are the kinds of things that make me want to wring their necks. However, sometimes I just want to cry for them. Here’s 5 reasons why:

1. They are so stressed out! And I say this as a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder. Even when we think they’re exhibiting a “devil-may-care” attitude about their studies, a lot of these kids are straight freaking out on the inside. Because of the nature of the courses I teach and my particular teaching style, students often open up to me about more personal things–like their anxiety. This is an example of what I heard or read from students this week:

  • What if I choose the wrong career? What if I’m not good enough?
  • I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail this class just because I can’t get organized! I’m trying not to let anyone down. But I’m letting everyone down!
  • I’m not going to early advising because I won’t be back in the Spring. I already failed at college. And life. [note: it’s only MIDTERM of the first semester]

Wow. Breathe, kids, breathe. It’s college. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out, yet. You’re supposed to have time to mess up a little. It’s how you learn! This is the period in which you find yourself, figure out who you are as an adult. I can’t imagine what this stress is doing to them or how it will affect them long-term. But I do not envy them this level of constant anxiety, this constant fear of failure.

2. The American Dream is (maybe) dead. I’m not talking about the in-debt-up-to-my-eyeballs with a fancy car and McMansion dream (because some of them still seem to be “achieving that,” temporary though it may be). I’m talking about the real American Dream: to be able to move up in social class, to work hard and earn money and own a home and save for retirement. I’m talking about striving and succeeding at achieving a life better than that of your parents. I don’t think that these kids will achieve upward social mobility through hard work. I think they will work hard and scrape by. They will be no better off than their parents. They, in fact, may be worse off than their parents (with whom so many of them are back to living). Maybe there’s still hope. I don’t know. But I do know that they don’t feel that hope today…not in the way we did. Maybe that’s why they’re so stressed–they keep being told to work hard, that if they do, it’ll pay off. And all around them, they see evidence to the contrary. Maybe that makes them feel like they aren’t good enough. I don’t know, but I do know it’s sad.

3. They do not know a world in which they’re not constantly “plugged in.” They’re constantly connected. And again, I say this as a person with a social media management system on her phone, Android tablet, and iPad (auto schedule is the best thing ever). But think about this: they live in a world in which work is never just 8 hours a day. It’s 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. And it always has been. It always will be. It’s expected of them at this point. That makes me want to cry because it stresses me out for them.

4. They have never lived in a world in which a war was not on TV–in real-time. Seriously. Think back. And then think about our 24/7 news cycle. It’s just sad. And I have to wonder how that desensitizes them to violence.

5. Speaking of which, school shootings (and other mass murders by automatic weaponry)! Have always been a thing. Remember when school was a safe place? Where getting mowed down by an AR-15 after math class was not something that would EVER cross your mind? Yeah, my students don’t. And that? Makes me want to cry.

They get a lot of flak. And they seriously drive me bananas sometimes (and by “drive me bananas,” I mean “make me want to shake them until common sense settles in”). But I also feel for them in a lot of ways. I try to imagine what it would be like to have grown up like they did. To be in college now. To be job-hunting for the first time now. It’s easy to judge them for their sense of entitlement, for thinking they’re special & the rules don’t apply to them, for having been so sheltered they now seem incapable of functioning in the real world.

We want them to be like us. We want them to do it our way. But doing it our way isn’t going to get them anywhere. They’re going to have to find a way to do it their way.

 

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We Are South Carolina; These Are Our Children

When an 11-year-old boy attempts to slit his wrists with a razor blade plucked from a pencil sharpener, it is a cry for help–a very loud, very important cry for help. And for one such boy, it was a cry no one really responded to–his cry was silenced, his pain ignored.

And it happened right here in the great state of South Carolina–at the Boys Home of the South in Belton. The state failed him. The Department of Social Services failed him. The adults at the group home charged with his care failed him, leaving him vulnerable to abuse by putting him what they knew was a potentially dangerous situation.

But finally something is being done about it–because, of course, of a lawsuit and not because someone accepted responsibility for this epic failure and decided to make changes to protect the children of SC because it’s the right thing to do (The Boys Home of the South maintains their internal investigations show no wrong on their part).

That little boy is not alone. There are reports of children in state care who were starved to death, were not getting proper medical care or, in at least one case, were placed back into a home where the child suffered more sexual abuse.

SC leads the country in institutionalizing children. About 24 percent of children in state care remain in group homes or institutions–and the regulations by which they operate are outdated and ineffective (which is how 11-year-old boys get raped in state care). We do not have nearly enough foster parents in this state.

There are children who did not celebrate Father’s Day today because they have no father to honor. South Carolina is their legal guardian. And we, who live here, are South Carolina.

These are our children. And they deserve better than we’ve been giving. These are our children. They are our responsibility. And we need to do better.

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Hey, Walmart, I’m Not Buying It

This morning I read this article that lists the 14 major North American countries that refused to sign the Bangladesh Factory Safety Accord (Here’s a good visual depiction of the plan if you’d rather.)

Color me disappointed. I’m not really surprised. Certainly not by Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart’s broken moral compass has been pointed at “evil” for as long as I can remember. It’s one of a few major reasons I refuse to shop there. 

Sure, many of these companies claim they’ve elected not to sign because they’re working on their own plans. Forgive me if I think that’s a load of you-know-what. (Notably, Gap, at least, has been honest in pointing out they’re not signing because of the possible legal ramifications)

Let’s look at Big Bad Walmart’s plan, for example. Walmart’s plan may seem like it puts forth a good faith effort. I mean who can argue with a plan to “conduct in-depth safety inspections at 100 percent” of the 279 factories it uses in Bangladesh and publicize the results on its Web site? Sounds good to me.

But really–if Walmart were serious about putting an end to the types of sub-par working conditions that cost the lives of over 1100 people last month, it would put its money where its big corporate mouth is. But it won’t. I get it–the King of “Every Day Low Prices” doesn’t want to spend any extra money; that is, after all, why today they buy from suppliers whose goods are produced in Bangladeshi, not American, factories.  But come on, the plan requires retailers to underwrite safety improvements at a cost that would be proportional to its volume of orders. But the maximum cost per year for the next 5 years is $500,000. In 2011, Walmart’s revenues were some $447 billion, and bottom line profit came in at $15.7 billion. $15.7 billion. $500,000 doesn’t even come close to being a drop from the bucket of Walmart’s vast earnings.

But signing on to the Bangladesh Factory Safety plan is about more than the moral obligation to create and maintain safe working conditions–and it’s about more than a financial commitment. It’s also about accountability.  The plan is legally binding and includes sanctions for factories that fail to live up to its standards. Everyone at every level–from garment worker to retailer–has a role and a binding obligation.  It’s a great plan that would change the way the garment industry works–for the better.  Europe gets it–that’s why their major retailers have signed the pact (40 major retailers have signed).  Only 2 major American companies did–PVH (Calvin Klein & Tommy Hillfiger) and (shockingly given its CEO’s morally questionable statements of late) Abercrombie & Fitch.

Those companies are willing to accept responsibility for their role in factory safety–and they’re saying that they’re willing to be held accountable for their actions (or inactions).  Meanwhile, Walmart wants us to believe that its voluntary, self-regulatory, and non-binding plan will “meet or exceed” the goals of the  Bangladesh Factory Safety plan. Because Walmart has a great track record for holding itself accountable ethically and morally behaving unethically and trying (often successfully) to pass the buck when caught (see: Mexico bribery scandal, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit & settlement, the Walmart & Social Capitol studies, Walmart’s use of public subsidies, and on and on and on).

Sorry–I’m  not buying it–no matter the price.

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You Didn’t Get Raped…

TRIGGER WARNING: The following includes discussions that may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence. Please be advised. 

“You’re a whore–you didn’t get raped. You just didn’t get paid.”

This burns me up–so much that if I don’t say something about it now, I might explode. But I’m just going to address this one idea–the rest I’m reserving for my book.

I know that there are plenty of people who will read that quote and nod, and think “Yup. That’s true.”  And that burns me up.

In case you’re one of those people (or you’re sitting on the fence or debating legitimate versus not legitimate rape), let me be really clear: Rape is rape is rape is rape is rape. Period. End of story. Roll credits. That’s all, folks.

Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that many women in the sex trade have been forced into prostitution and focus on the women who choose, voluntarily, of their own free will, to sell sex. Those women who choose to work in the sex trade do not deserve to be raped. They haven’t “asked” for it simply because they choose to have sex for money.

Because make no mistake: rape is NOT about sex. Rape is about control, domination, power, anger.

The fact that anyone would put rape in the same category as a “dine-and-dash” is disgusting–a condemnation of our very humanity and just further evidence of rape culture.

As  the good folks at Cogent Comment explain, rape culture is “a set of socially accepted beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes which contribute to the trivialization of a survivor’s experience, make light of or rationalize sexually violent behavior, and perpetuate the negative effects suffered by both individuals and communities as a result.”

And the words with which I started this post clearly trivialize the experience of the woman to whom they were said and are also obviously an attempt to rationalize a brutal rape:

A woman stood, naked and devastated–physically, emotionally, and psychologically–beside a dumpster having just been brutally raped by a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, who having completed the act of rape, said (and forgive the language as I’m quoting), “That’s what you get for  fucking niggers.” He left her there.

In case that doesn’t make it clear to you, let me just say it: that’s not about sex. It was about anger. It doesn’t matter that she was a prostitute and exchanged sex for money on occasions that were not this one. That doesn’t make her experience any less horrific or brutal or violent than if it happened to me, you, or anyone else. It doesn’t make it any less wrong.

Because what happened was not sex. It was an act of violence. As is all rape.  And women in the sex trade do not ask to be brutalized.

Just for the record:

  • Men do not rape because they can’t control their sex drives. And women do not incite men to rape.
  • No still means no–no matter who you are, what you do, where you were, or what you were doing or wearing.
  • And rape is still wrong. Rape is always wrong.

Let me be clear on one last thing: there’s a disclaimer on this blog, and if you haven’t read it, you should.

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The Children of Addicts

Over the last few weeks I have been reminded again and again of this truth: when your parent(s) is (are) addict(s), it affects your whole life. Forever. In all kinds of ways. In ways you may not even realize. It affects how you see yourself and how you view the world and other people.

In her ground-breaking (1983) work, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Dr. Jan Woititz outlined the characteristics typical of ACOAs. And 30 years later, her assessment still holds up. If you grew up with an addict and haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.

Children of addicts grow up in the midst of confusion, chaos, and complete dysfunction. Their childhood is marked by instability, insecurity, and uncertainty. And the consequences of that kind of childhood are far-reaching: even when they grow into adulthood, children of addicts struggle on a day-to-day basis to overcome the obstacles set up by their own parents–to live lives of normalcy…even when they’re just guessing at what normal is.

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Denise Richards Makes It Her Problem

I heard on the radio yesterday morning a discussion about Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen–previously but no longer married.  Apparently, custody of Charlie Sheen’s two kids by his current wife, Brooke Mueller, has been temporairly granted to Denise Richards.  She’s not blood-related to them, so the radio discussion focused on that: would you offer to take care of your ex-husband’s kids by another woman indefinitely because she and he couldn’t care for them?

As I’ve said before, biology doesn’t make family. When children are removed from the care of the parents, the first option is always to find a familial placement.  Denise Richards is that option in this case.  Rather than sending those kids to foster care or to live with a distant relative with whom they are unfamiliar, Denise Richards is allowing them the opportunity to live with their two half-siblings and in the same gated community as their father, who can regularly visit them. While Brooke Mueller gets her ducks ina row, Denise Richards has volunteered to take up the mantel of motherhood for these two young children. She has put their best interests first.

Good for her. We need more of that in the world. And less “It’s not my problem; they’re your kids.”

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Let Common Sense Have Fair Play

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I can never fear that things will go far wrong where common sense has fair play.”

Sadly, in the case of Kiera Wilmot, common sense has yet been given fair play; and as a result, things are going very, very wrong.

Look, I get that we’re all freaked out by the increasing violence in our society at large and particularly within our schools. We want to protect our children. And so we’ve stepped-up security at schools, tightened the rules, and increased the consequences. We are resolute in our quest for safety.

But clearly, we’ve also become inflexible. And maybe, just maybe, our reactions have grown a little teeny, tiny bit exaggerated. After all, here is a young woman, a budding scientist, an exemplary student by all reports, who was cuffed, arrested, and expelled from school for what, by all accounts, appears to be an experiment gone wrong. She’s been charged with two felonies. Felonies. Her life will forever be changed unless we give common sense fair play here.

It’s as if down in Polk County, critical thinking has evaporated. And common sense has been shoved in a corner.

Still it’s not too late. And that’s why I’ve just signed this petition. I invite you to join me and the 66,000+ (at time of this writing) people who are asking Florida State Attorney General Jerry Hill to let common sense have fair play before things go too far wrong.

Remember: This is just my opinion as pointed out in the disclaimer for this site.

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