My New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

I met a friend for coffee today.  We picked a table in the corner and began brainstorming ways that we could help to make a bigger impact for foster children in our region.

We sat long enough that the table next to us turned over and I briefly noted a woman organizing herself beside us. No coffee cup in her hand. Older. Shabby. A dirty, red ski cap. A stack of worn notebooks. A dirty, frayed canvas bag. And, a phone charger that seemed out-of-place.

It was a cold day. A good day to seek refuge in a warm place.

Homeless. That’s what flickered through my mind as my friend and I continued our discussion which was punctuated with expressions of frustration with the ongoing suffering of children in foster care and self congratulations on the few small ideas we had come up with that we thought might make a difference in getting more members of the DC-metro community involved.

We joked as we were winding up that we had coffee’d until lunch and that maybe we should just go grab a bite. At that, the woman next to us laughed. “You two certainly do have a lot to talk about,” she said.

And then she asked us why we were involved with kids in foster care and she told us what she thinks is wrong with the way kids are being raised today: They are not loved and respected.

She mentioned that her husband had died shortly after her twins were born. She talked a little about her fears of a future raising three children alone.  She talked of her 2 – 3 jobs to make ends meet.

She told us about raising her children first in PG County in Maryland and then the move to South East DC. For those of you not familiar with DC, SE is one of the most challenging neighborhoods in the city.

She told us how teachers at the kids’ SE DC schools would ask her why her kids were different from other kids. And then told us about her kids expressing their surprise at how different the SE DC kids were from them. And their asking her why that was the case.

Her fierce love and support for her kids was palpable.

She bragged about her oldest daughter, who received a full-ride scholarship to Babson College in Boston, had graduated and was now looking at graduate programs in international business.  And she told us proudly about one of her twins, a daughter, who is currently in college, having received a grant from the Gates Foundation.

She topped off her proud mother speech by telling us about her son, the other twin. A boy born with speech and retardation issues, who she had been able to get extra support for through a DC after-school program and who is now attending a local community college.

And then she told us about earning her own college degree…then her advanced degree… and now the certification she is now working toward.

I do agree with this stranger at the next table over, I don’t think the answer to changing the horrible outcome statistics for kids in foster care is about focusing on budgets and bureaucracy.

What will change those stats is finding ways to make sure that the professionals, foster parents and other caregivers and members of the community are working together to help ensure that all foster children are loved and supported.

I know that that sounds so simplistic, how could that possibly be the answer? But then I think about my much-loved nieces and nephews and the incredible children, young people and adults they are and I know that while it’s not the whole answer, it would certainly get foster kids a great deal farther than what they are getting from the Foster Care System today.

In the meantime, my New Year’s Resolution — Don’t judge a book by its cover.

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