My little brain is churning, churning. Being poor and being on welfare are two very different things to me.
I’ve always thought of welfare as
1. given to those who can’t take care of themselves (for whatever reason)
2. a temporary solution to prevent destitution
3. a state of instability
Technically, I’m poorer than most people on welfare once my net worth is subtracted from my student loan amount. If I’m poor but self-sustaining, I’m comfortable fostering. If/when I’m on welfare, I won’t be fostering. Looking/training for work is a full-time job. Fostering is harder than any job I’ve ever had.
From the disability-type of welfare angle, I’ve never heard of a person with a disability who had the capacity to parent but not work. But I have known individuals who could work but not parent.
So, why are so many NYC foster parents on welfare? Many, many of you can answer this better than me. But here’s a shot - It came about from the push to keep foster kids in their communities- geographical communities, religious communities, cultural communities (which is where the skin color/race issues get blurry), school communities, etc. Now, with gentrification (For the love of God someone please suggest a less politically charged word for me), the classes are mixing and integrating into all of the other communities (e.g. I live on the BedStuy border…and before someone goes there, I t
echnically I didn’t gentrify because my new was at least careful to check my building history- it was an empty lot for years)…so maybe the pendulum can settle somewhere in the middle?
I saw my birth mother yesterday and she used the N-word over a dozen times. Even worse, I stayed silent. In the Social Psychology course that I teach I actually give a lecture (and group activity) on responding to racist statements- but all of that went out the window in the moment.
What if I had Jacket with me? I don’t know if I ever want to expose Jacket to my birth mom now. My birth mother even made several derogatory comments about “those Mexican kids” in my half-brother’s (her only other child) middle school. And here’s the irony, my half-brother’s father is Mexican. He’s even the “illegal” kind and she continues to live with him. My half-brother is so dark skinned he doesn’t even “pass” as white if you ask me, but that’s the only part of himself that he identifies as.
The similarities between Jacket’s mom and my birth mom started freaking me out.
So much of my fosterhood experience has been about race and class. This New York Times article, that has been listed in my links, unpacks a lot of the issues New York City struggles with regarding color. Here are some of my current and still evolving thoughts:
1. In general, I agree with the idea of matching foster kids’ color and culture to foster parents’ color and culture. The less adjustments and changes a child has to experience when they’re removed from their home the better.
2. I think the best foster parent for a black child would be a college-educated, black parent. I remember when Jacket and I first moved to our neighborhood in Brooklyn, I was struck by the number of black people around who were professionals (a stark contrast to the East Village- not sure why). I remember being caught off guard thinking “these are the black Americans I want Jacket to know and be proud of”.
3. Until there are enough of #1 and #2, white, college-educated foster parents are also a pretty good option. The pendulum regarding race decisions in foster care has swung in the opposite direction from all-white to all-black (and Latinos). All with good reason, but white people shouldn’t be put off.
4. Probably my biggest argument for #3 is that white people still have most of the resources in this city. By resources I mean financial, educational and social connections which lends to more resources (e.g. a few phone calls and I can get a top-notch pediatrician pro-bono). Monetarily I’m pretty poor, but I’m “resource rich”. Foster kids, no matter what color, are a great place to share the wealth.
5. On a much bigger picture, I think it’s good for white people to get involved in the black community as opposed to “Hey, black people, we’re not racist, you can come to our all-white ___coffee shop, church, bar, fill-in-the-blank___ whenever you want”. Really? Instead, I think it’s the privileged people’s job to step outside their comfort zone. This doesn’t mean white people have to get their hair braided in corn-rows or watch BET everyday, but it could mean being the only white foster parent in an (seemingly) all black foster agency.
It’s been my experience (not just foster care) that organizations which are predominantly black and minority actually place particular value in white people participation. Who hasn’t heard a white person talk about their amazing experience of going to a black church? The more I verbalized my awareness of being a white girl in a black foster care community the more at ease we all got. It also made the experience a lot of fun— in my MAPP class I had to raise my hand a lot and ask for a “translation for the white girl in the room please” (Do YOU know what a “play-play cousin” is?).
In typing this, I realize that for two years as a foster parent, I, for all intent and purposes, gave complete control of my life over to a black community. It was lost on me at the time, but now I think there’s something pretty meaningful there.
Oh my god, get me off my soap box now. I must have been smoking something last night.
If you go to the Gladney Center for Adoption website and click “Which Program is Right for You?” my perception is that babies who are black or half-black, are…well, priced half-off.
Is anyone else creeped out by the “ABC” program verses “Agency Assisted”? Should kids of any color all cost the same or should the rate be based on supply and demand? I didn’t expect this in 2010.
Hey Rebecca, How’s your baby? I got me an Italian one. Six years-old!
Erika put her contact information in the comment section of the Ithaca post (here) and I know she means it. Feel free to inundate her, she is much more savvy about the system than I am.
Also, it’s worth mentioning (with her permission) that Erika identifies as “brown” (white mom, black dad) and while she expected to receive non-white foster kids she instead got a tribe with blond hair and blue eyes. I find her internal and external struggles with the kids’ race fascinating and worthy of consideration.
In addition to Erika, several of you have contacted me to share that you’re black and were surprised to have white foster kids placed with you (given the demongraphics of kids in care). Maybe you all want to connect? Erika has faced some discrimination that I found surprising (although I probably shouldn’t). Anyway, just want to throw that out there…along with this awesome family: