Friday, April 23, 2010

Turning Point

This week marked a turning point for Jose. He made a conscious decision to steer himself away from conflict. The scenario that provoked him wasn’t unusual: he came to school and another student “started with him”. For many inner-city school children fighting is a means of boosting their self-confidence. They are often told at home or at school that they are not good, not smart, not hard working. By winning fights, they get respect. Parents also expect their children to win fights – and punish them verbally and physically if they lose.

In this social context, for Jose to avoid a fight was huge. He also sought out my staff for help. Together we came up with a plan to have Jose “shadow” his favorite teacher as a means to avoid any potential conflicts with his peers. He spent the day helping the teacher in between classes and ate lunch with him. It was amazing to witness Jose consciously avoid a fight, especially since he is struggling emotionally with the reality of his mother’s terminal illness.

Simultaneously to being happy about Jose’s growing self-control, I am deeply concerned about ensuring he is left in custody of a responsible adult when his mother passes away, which could happen any day. As of now, there is no written paperwork that I know of that would give guardianship of Jose to his aunt, who he lives with, or to any other responsible person. The worst case scenario is that Jose will end up in foster care. You may have read the recent New York Times article with its dismal statistics on foster care children

"Study Finds More Woes Following Foster Care":

Even though Partnership with Children places social workers in schools, our work extends far beyond the school building. My staff and I have not been able to get Jose’s mother to respond to us when doing home visits or calling – in fact, we have never spoken to her at all. The only information we get about her comes through Jose, which leaves a lot unknown. The next step will be to visit her in the hospital. Given her rapidly declining health and the fact that we have just over two months left in the school year, I am working as fast as I can to resolve Jose’s custody issue.

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