Our case has been officially moved to an adoption prep worker and we are now in the 6 month stretch. Our adoption case worker came to the house for our first visit, met Nana for the first time and detailed some next steps for us. As part of her visit she was supposed to do a walk-through of our house.
I want to talk a little about the role of privilege in foster care.
I realize that I have a lot of class privilege within the foster care system and this has helped us so far during our journey. The privilege that comes not necessarily from the college degrees that we both have, but from using this education to understand how systems work, how to navigate those systems successfully even while frustrated, how to fill out paperwork appropriately, how to use technology to advance our progress and how to code-switch when speaking with case workers.
We know when to be gracious and when to apply firm pressure to get the answers we need. We are cool with folks, just as a matter of course, but also knowing that niceness and networks opens doors. Our caseworkers sit around with me and chitchat (which works on Wood’s nerve ’cause he says I talk too much), but works to our advantage because I also get information that I may not have been privy too if I rushed them through a visit. And they may not even be willing to engage me in chitchat if our circumstances were different.
My job is flexible (another form of class privilege) so I can work with caseworkers and their schedules, which means that both of us are more likely to be pleasant when they arrive. It also means they are more likely to work around my schedule with no attitude.
We are married, which is a privilege in itself, financially and emotionally, but it also means that workers don’t have to be suspicious when they see a man’s shoes lying around. They don’t ask me about frequent visitors in veiled undertones and look for evidence that someone else comes around.
Together we make a good income and live in a very nice house in a gated community with artwork and nice furniture. When caseworkers walk through our house, they already have an assumption that we have everything together. And if they note something that is not correct, such as a standing flowerpot outside that has filled with rainwater or too many cords entangled on the floor from our many devices, we aren’t cited, they just mention it as something that we can fix for next time. One case worker didn’t even go up to our third floor – we could have had anything up there!
There is also an intersection of race and class that works to our advantage. The image that I believe most people have of black foster parents are single women, older, high-school educated, middle to lower-income, that take in children for either fierce love or more likely, for money. And even though caseworkers have the opportunity to see a wide range of families that should dispel some of those myths, I feel like this image is so ingrained (or maybe it’s rooted in truth), that we look like a dancing elephant.
The fact that we are black and looking for black children meant that we were more likely to be placed with a child within our requested parameters without being told to consider broadening our scope. That we are black, educated and middle class possibly edged us ahead of the other families that were being considered.
Since both us and our child are black, we can walk through the world unnoticed. She looks nothing like me but people assume that she is our child or at minimum that she belongs under our care. We aren’t looked at strangely or asked annoying questions in public.
There are so many instances that I can list where I see that privilege affects our foster care life.
What privileges do you have and how has it helped you navigate your life in foster care?