Hosting a Colombian host

I wasn’t able to post at all during the month of July because we were lucky enough to have visitors almost the entire month. Early in the month, my surrogate family came as well as my best friend and her husband to celebrate my birthday! After they left, we spent 8 days hosting a gentleman from the Colombia government who had chaperoned children over to stay with their potential adoptive families. What an absolute treat that was!

It all started with a random question from my colleague and friend over lunch a few months ago who worked with an international adoption agency. “Hey, do any of you know someone who would be willing to host a Colombian host for awhile this summer?” Of course I wanted to jump at this opportunity! First I had to make sure my wife was on board as she is much more of an introvert than I am and was probably going to think this was a crazy idea. I on the other hand, thought it was going to be an experience of a lifetime! When would we ever get this chance again? We have been researching for months and now we have the opportunity to hear first-hand experience from somebody who not only lives in Colombia but also works for the Colombian government in the foster care system! The universe could not have been more perfectly aligned.

We were given a short bio on our guest, he worked as a psychologist for the central authority working with children in the foster care system. His interest included Mozart, theater, and heavy metal. From the moment we met him I felt that there is this instant connection, likely because our worlds already overlapped in so many areas. Miguel was kind, helpful and anything–but obtrusive. Socially we shared the same values and beliefs.

Miguel is at the end of the table standing next to me

Because our line of work and interests overlapped, I brought him with me to work and he was able to meet several of the judges and players in the county that I work in and observe our court system. Listening to his observation of our court system and how civil he believed we were to each other in court was really an eye-opener for me. Sometimes I become extremely frustrated in the line of work that I do, though I love my colleagues, and listening to Miguel’s experience opened my eyes to how good we do have it here.

Miguel told stories of corruption in the central authority in Colombia and how there is a real lack of care for the children at all and that they might as well be treated as random numbers. I heard of stories where social workers would just swap the names children on reports and submit them. Some social workers wouldnever even see the children they were making recommendations for. It was not uncommon for the only reason the were social workers had the job was because they had a friend that got them the job and they were paid decently but they really had no desire to do that line of work.

We learned so much from Miguel during his stay. We learned that Colombia it’s experiencing a regression under the new president and there is an increase in Narco activity along the Pacific side of the country. He spoke of poverty, homelessness and drug addiction being issues but it seemed like the biggest issue was poverty. He did say the US was the biggest “client” the Narcos had. He said the tourist areas and more affluent parts of the country are not necessarily impacted and he believes it would be completely safe for us to rent a car and travel the route that we have mapped out.

When it was time for Miguel to leave us, Lisa and I felt genuine sadness. He quickly became part of our family and will always have a place in our hearts and our home. Maybe we will be fortunate enough to host him again next year and we will definitely look for a reason to visit him and meet his family in Pasto.

Hasta luego, Miguel!

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Work…a four letter word

There is a bit of a phenomenon that happens when people decide to retire and I bet you can guess what it is…. Short timers syndrome! Ok, I am not really there but let me tell you that after spending the month of May attending a few different conferences and meetings only to have your worst suspicions confirmed, it is disheartening and makes me wish I could speed up the clock! Actually, it makes me wish I could wave a magic wand or say a spell and *POOF* every family would be healthy, loving, and functional. I work in child welfare and the last few years have been exceptionally hard. My role is to recruit,train, and supervise child advocates to represent children in court who are in the foster care system. Not exactly work for the faint of heart to start with.

I absolutely love my job. I love the kids I work with. I love most of my colleagues. I hate stifling and ill fitting policy and bureaucracy. I hate that our social workers are not paid or supported enough and this leads to significant turnover which leads to delayed permanency for our kids in care. I hate that parents are generally only given two, two hour visits per week if they need to be supervised because the Department lacks the resources to provide more and frequently, even those minimal visits aren’t happening.

Earlier this month I was interviewed on a local radio station about what it is we as CASA’s (Court Appointed Special Advocates) do and how we can make an impact on the life of a child in system. (You can listen to it here if you are interested) I stressed the importance of CASAs and GALs (Guardian ad Litems) in the current turmoil that our county is experiencing. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a CASA, visit www.wacasa.org for Washington State or www.casaforchildren.org in other states.

While I can neither speed up the clock nor wave a magic wand, I can focus on what I can do over the next 2 years, 10 months and 17 days to improve anything and everything in my control to help the system run better. Our kids deserve to have visits with their parents, they deserve to go home if it is safe enough, they deserve to be adopted when reunification isn’t an option, they deserve to be loved. They deserve to wonder what they will be when they grow up and they deserve to sit on this side of the keyboard, planning for their retirement.