Monday, December 5, 2011

Palate Cleanser #161: Sami Style

"Reindeer think with the nose, not the eyes. They go with the wind." ~ Nils Peder Gaup

Reindeer, Scandinavia

Photograph by Erika Larsen
This Month in Photo of the Day: Nature and Weather Photos
Sami herders follow the migrations of the reindeer as they move across northern Scandinavia and Russia from their winter grazing grounds to cooler areas during the summer months.
See more pictures from the November 2011 feature story, "Sami: The People Who Walk With Reindeer."

The video is lovely!

I find it interesting that in the Sami languages,  where the work of reindeer walking is called boazovázzi, (my new favorite word-  "Don't bother me right now, I'm boazovázzi.")  the word for "herd" is eallu; the word for "life" is eallin. 

Erika Larsen, you make me feel cool and relaxed with these photos and video. May the Quantum Field be kind to you and your work.

You can see and read more of Erika Larsen's extraordinary photodocumentary experience of living among, and keeping house for, the Sami for three years here.

visual palate cleanser concept © Bright Nepenthe, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nobody's Children, Nobody's Adults

"This volcano blew up and made a rainbow but then it had to rain because whenever you have a rainbow, it rains. But sometimes, it just rains." ~ Serena K.

A long time ago, when I first became a Guardian ad Litem, in a bookstore in Sebastapol, CA,  I picked up a book titled "Nobody's Children" by Elizabeth Bartholet, a professor at Harvard Law School. Bartholet is a pretty fearless figure in my mind. She has championed the cause of adoption, over kinship care or hasty reunification in very troubled families, and has very frankly examined some of the factors leading to the greater representation of African-American children in the dependency system. Her chosen phrase, "nobody's children," for the many children languishing in foster care or with some vague hope of reunification with their parents (and therefore not really our problem) or in the gulag of kinship care with the same kin that may have spawned their present dependency plight, has stuck with me for almost a decade. It truly captures the lives lived by far too many children in foster care and those who will age out, and become "nobody's adults". Nobody's child has... nobody. Just paid professionals and let me tell you, sometimes, you question what you're paying for. I remember as I read the book thinking it was an irony that "Nobody's Children," written in 1999, followed Hillary Rodham Clinton's aspiring ideals set forth in "It Takes a Village" (1996) by only three years. What if you don't have a village? What if you don't have anyone? 

I'm sure you notice the edge to that tone in the last sentence, right? Yes, it is interesting how quickly one gets to the point of feeling frustrated with one's fellow humans when it comes to the issue of care for children and youth. Well, I say one, and really I mean me. It's interesting how quickly I get frustrated with the lack of interest so many people have, or their flat-out saying that they don't want to bother with stuff like "all that depressing stuff." Children in foster care? Children who age out of foster care and end up homeless? Disabled children (youths) who age out of foster care, and who have no one really looking after their interests? Why talk about stuff like that? It's such a drag. Don't be such a drag. Don't be so dark. (As an aside, at a holiday party I really didn't want to attend yesterday, I was surprised to meet a couple who really did care. It was... a breath of fresh air, actually.)

To be honest, lately, I feel angry a lot of the time. Angry and really judge-y. As Cynical Nymph would say, I feel like I ought to change my name to Judgey McJudgerson sometimes. That's me, right now. I'm a harsh and judgey critic of the way we treat children in our country who are poor (another aside: what kind of an a$$hole says we ought to relax child labor laws and make children work as janitors in their schools to reduce the number of poor children?) and those in foster care and who age out of foster care. I'm a harsh and judgey critic of people just turning a blind eye, saying it's somebody else's problem. I mean, it's one thing if you're really not at a point and place in your life where you could do anything to help, but don't ignore it. Don't pretend it isn't there and doesn't exist as a serious problem facing many children and youth. Don't tune out and say it's just too big and too bad and too sad for you. These are your effing fellow human beings we're talking about here. The children and young adults of your country, your future. They are still your moral responsibility, even if they make you feel bad and sad.

Yeah, I can officially say this week sucked. I'm recovering from the kidney infection/I-better-do-everything-in-my-power-not-to-build-a-stone. I still feel fatigued and to say I have a lot of stuff to do before December 19 would be like the understatement of 2011, which has so not been a cheery year. But anyway, my week? My week has been splendid compared to that of a few friends and that of one of my former GAL kids. She's former because on Friday afternoon I petitioned the Probate Court to become her emergency legal guardian.

"This girl had to break the glass to get away. Get away from what, sweetie? Bad things. She got away from bad things. But she had to break the glass to get away." ~ Serena K.

It's a really bad thing when an overburdened school, with obviously very overburdened staff, who are so fed up with someone who doesn't want to cooperate with their community-based outing schedule, gets so overburdened that they Baker Act the youth for "suicidal ideation." And that instead of successively calling the people on the youth's contact list, they called the first person and don't leave a message and then skip to number 6, the part-time group home staff person, on the contact list, and report they're in the process of Baker Acting the youth because she's been 'suicidal' for four hours. (*cough* yes, even at lunchtime while she ate she was suicidal)

In this particular instance, part of the really bad thing is not thinking about what it's like when you're an 18 year old girl who spent the first 14 years of her life being incestuously sexually abused by her biological father and two brothers, was then adopted and had the same thing occur all over again with her brother and adoptive father. Because after that, the big burly guys from EMS who come and strap you down to a gurney and take you to you-don't-know-where, where their ward turns out to be full after they start intake, have to sedate you because you're upset, and then call a new ambulance to take you to the new you-don't-know-where might be kinda retraumatizing to you. 

But hang on... it gets better. Because then there was the fact that this young woman aged out of the foster care system. I had applied to become her permanent guardian but we are dependent (ha ha, right?) on the wholly overburdened Legal Aid Society in Miami-Dade County to process the Probate application for me to be her permanent legal guardian and therefore... wait for it... There is no one to sign anything for this young woman because she was examined and found incompetent, yet she is legally an adult so we need someone to sign for her but there is no one, oh dear. 

To her admitting psychiatrist's credit, he was refusing to release her until he had seen her on her medication. That, as many of you know, and I know all too well, is really, really rare. But at the same time, they weren't giving her any medication, not even medication currently prescribed for her, because there was no one to sign anything and they "couldn't do that". I was informed that she was getting aggressive, and, I know this will stun you, really stressed out. It was Friday morning, when I showed up with (praise the Quantum Field for extended jurisdiction for aged-out dependent youth in Florida, which continues through age 19 if the youth accepts or the GAL recommends for youths who will be ruled incompetent upon age-out) my Guardian ad Litem appointment documentation and documentation showing that Serena (not her real name) was under the extended jurisdiction of the dependency court. That bought me the chance to talk to her doctor, and to see that really, I needed to be her guardian Now. Like RIGHT FRAKKING NOW.  Because they wouldn't release her if they didn't think she was stable on meds and since they couldn't (or wouldn't, since she wasn't meeting criteria) give her meds, they didn't know if she was stable. Catch-22 much? 

But if she isn't meeting criteria, why hasn't she been discharged, I asked innocently, in the voice with edge and teeth. 

"Because she was Baker Acted." 

But you just said she isn't meeting criteria. Usually, aren't patients not meeting criteria released? 

"But she is aggressive and talked of self-harm. I can't release her like that. I need to see what she's like on meds. I need to be sure."

And I, therefore, need to be this youth's legal guardian, like, yesterday!

Enter Angels. 

So there I was, totally and I do mean totally screwing up the day of two Dade Legal Aid Angels, who are in charge of all the freebie probate cases for all the aged out foster youth and  the in-general poor adults who have no other legal recourse cases, in all of Miami-Dade County, population 2.5 Million people. They currently have 600+ cases they are working on by the attorney's estimate. Files out the wazoo. Saw 'em. Saw 'em EVERYWHERE in that office. Yet they stopped everything and helped me, because they are just like that. They are just that amazing. 

After signing documents at 12:30 pm, I was Serena's Emergency Legal Guardian by 2:27 pm.

Yes, it was truly amazing, especially considering their case load and their working reality. I am sending them both flowers on Monday.

"This is a girl who is bleeding. What happened to her? She got hit. She got hurt. But she wants to fight. Are those fists? Yeah, that's how she fights back. What are those circles near her eyes? Those are her tears. She cried." ~ Serena K.

But, here's the thing. In the course of talking with this attorney, who was, all things considered, incredibly nice about the fact that I had totally screwed up her entire Friday, along with screwing up the entire Friday of her smashing legal secretary, she told me things. Horrifying things. Things that make me deeply question the entire system, top to bottom, everyone involved, from psychologists, to guardians ad litem, to who the frak says things like... the stuff in these reports they have to pore over!

So here's what the attorney told me. You should really be sitting down, especially if you're like a Comtesse or something. Because there will be outrage. Outrage aplenty.

On one case of an aged out foster youth who is intellectually and/or developmentally disabled, the youth will need a guardian because she is not competent as to her own care and needs. No one was stepping forward to meet this need. And so, an evaluating psychologist, a man  (I can honestly say) against whom I hold an unbelievably deep and irrevocable grudge* said in writing that maybe the Court should consider the father of her child as an option for guardianship. Mind you, this was, the attorney told me, the man who got this young woman pregnant at age 13 when he was 30ish. That's right. This is what we are coming up with as guardianship solutions in this County? Psychologists who recommend that a now 18 year old be placed under the care of the man who got her pregnant at 13? The man who took advantage of a disabled 13 year old foster child? Yeah. Thank the Quantum Field that this attorney and the head of Dade Legal Aid said that was a big NO. So I guess she went to the overburdened and exquisitely indifferent Guardianship Program of Dade County for all her needs.

We traded stories, this attorney and I. Our horror stories. I told her about Marina's bilobar pneumonia and the doctor that hadn't even bothered to listen to her lungs when group home staff said they thought she was sick and how they pressed on and took her to the ER. She told me that it is a nightmare trying to find anyone to look after these young adults and older disabled adults. And I voiced what I have thought since I became Marina's permanent legal guardian. That I simply do not understand how someone like a guardian ad litem can visit these kids at least once a month, every month, for years, and be indifferent about what happens to them when they turn 18. I just can't do that. I am not built of that same stuff. Personally, now I'm 2/2 of the under-IQ-of-55 clients that I am now legal guardian of. (You'll remember Marina from prior blog posts.) I still think of and occasionally talk to or see Keyonce. I still talk to Snow White and take her to doctor's appointments. I mean... I can't get them out of my head, my heart... I realize that I'm fortunate to be in a good position both age-wise and economically speaking to be able to do the stuff that I do. But I am totally stunned by the indifference of so many people as to the plight of these young women and men that our state took into care, who have aged out, are cut lose, and now... and now?

Nobody's children are now nobody's adults...

"That's a girl with a baby inside. And what happened there? They cut her and took it away. That's blood where the baby was. They cut her."

~ Serena K.

Serena makes incredibly powerful drawings. They take my breath away. Her thinking in them is poignant, often disturbing, but sometimes tangential and even occasionally psychotic. She suffers from PTSD and a Mood Disorder. It is amazing she is still able to express herself so powerfully, after all that has happened to her in 18 short years. Her art is the most vital part of her. They wouldn't let me take stuff to draw with her in the hospital tonight. It made me feel bad. She is so desperate to go home to her group home. She wanted to draw and to listen to music. She was tired and pretty blue when her group homeowners and I left at the end of visiting hours.

She is right that sometimes it rains. It's raining hard the past few days. But yesterday, thanks to Dade Legal Aid, there was also a rainbow.

*This guy wrote an evaluation that resulted in two little girls, who absolutely haunt me, being left in the care of a maternal uncle who had so bullied them and his adult, unmarried sisters with his creepy evangelical ways that I still shudder to think of what their life is like. A former teacher, who later recanted her comments to me when subpoenaed to repeat them in open Court, had told me that the older child had started failing classes she'd liked best in school and was frequently clingy and crying. The girls had been removed from that school and had been placed in a public school setting. The younger child was diffident. The older child was wide-eyed and afraid and just held my hand. I will never forget her and the lingering suspicions I had of incest or its potential there. But this same psychologist said they were fine and happy. Yeah. And 18 year old intellectually disabled girls should be under the guardianship of their statutory rapists.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2011