Season 1 / Episode 8

BONUS EPISODE: TAKING QUESTIONS

Listeners like you call in with questions

Reimaging child welfare starts with looking inward. On this bonus episode, get to know more about host Matt Anderson as he provides candid responses to listener questions about reimaging child welfare, the power of listening, and his source of hope.

Give us a call at (512) 815-3956 and leave a message with your questions or comments about the podcast.

00:01:45

Adrian McLemore, Program Officer, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Host, FosterStrong Podcast: 

What keeps you hopeful while doing this work, given how the premise of foster care is centered around traumatic experiences? 

00:03:56

Lyndsey Wilson, CEO, FirstStar: 

I’d love to hear you talk about why, as a service providing organization, is it important to prioritize hearing and telling stories?

00:07:04

Maureen Sorenson, Senior Director of Foster Care Operations at Coordinated Care of Washington and Part-time Lecturer in the School of Social Work at the University of Washington: 

How can we encourage more [prospective] adoptive parents to be focused on reunification? 

 

Maureen references Seen Out Loud S1, E1: WHAT IF WE DIDN’T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL BAD ENOUGH 

Matt references Seen Out Loud S1, E6: THE WALLS STARTED TO COME DOWN 

00:10:12

Kathleen Creamer, Managing Attorney of the Family Advocacy Unit, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia: 

What does it say about us that we’ve designed a system where expressions of care and compassion for parents are experienced and described by parents as miraculous exceptions?

Matt references Seen Out Loud S1, E2: LOOKING FOR THAT WARM HUG ALL MY LIFE

00:13:34

Gina, Kinship Parent and Family Partner: 

When you’re talking about amends, what does it mean [for child welfare] and how can we all work towards reestablishing trust with the [child welfare] systems.

Gina references Seen Out Loud S1, E1: WHAT IF WE DIDN’T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL BAD ENOUGH 

“Amends” are also discussed in Seen Out Loud S1, E7: THE MOMENTUM IS BUILDING 

00:16:31

Austin, Program Coordinator, Psychological Department of Social Services: 

How can we become better listeners? Can you offer any practical suggestions for how all of us can become better listeners?

00:19:17

Matt shares final thoughts on Season 1 of Seen Out Loud. Call in at (512) 815-3956 to leave a message with your questions.

Matt: Hey everybody, it’s Matt Anderson, and welcome to Seen Out loud. Yep. You heard me, right. We have changed the name. We’re no longer seen and heard. This is now the Seen Out loud podcast. So even though the name has changed, the mission of the show hasn’t changed at all on Scene Out Loud. We’re still here to bring you the stories and conversations that recognize child welfare transformation starts with seeing families for who they truly are.

In addition to the name change we’ve been working on season two, and I am super excited about the stories that we’re going to be bringing to you. But today, we have a little bit of a bonus episode for you. You know, we’re a listen first organization. And since launching the show, we’ve had a lot of feedback from you, our audience, and, you know, over the last few weeks, we’ve reached out to some people and asked if they’d want to call in with their questions, their thoughts.

And give me an opportunity to respond. We’re going to hear those questions in just a second, but before we do, I want to say right at the top, we want to continue this conversation. We want to hear from you. So we’ve set up a phone number you can call in anytime. Share your thoughts, share your questions.

Share with us how the podcast is impacting you. So the phone number that you can call is (512) 815-3956. Again, you can call that number any time, leave your thoughts, your questions. That number is going to be listed in the show notes as well. So you’ll have it there and really looking forward to hearing from you all.

And let’s go ahead and get right into the episode.

Adrian: Hey, Matt, this is Adrian McLemore calling in from Baltimore, Maryland. I’m actually a Program Officer for the Annie E Casey Foundation. I actually get to oversee a broad range of initiatives and resources related to youth and young adults across Baltimore city. So what led me to this work is I am actually a former foster youth actually aged out of the system.

And so part of the giving back to the system, that sort of raised me is I, now co-host an awesome podcast called the FosterDtrong podcast where we have authentic conversations of what our experiences was like growing up in the foster care system. And more importantly, where we are on our post foster care journey, so to speak.

I actually had a couple of questions. What keeps you hopeful in doing this work? Given that the very premise of foster care centers around some sort of traumatic experience. There is no foster care without a young person being removed from their biological home.

Matt: Thanks, Adrian. It’s a good question. How do I stay hopeful in the midst of difficult and oftentimes painful work?

You know, it’s hard. I think it’s, it’s hard every single day to stay hopeful in this work. And I’m just going to be really transparent and honest. Sometimes I just think about, you know, when I’m close to burnout. Well, maybe I’ll just be a landscaper. Maybe I’ll just go cut grass. Right. Grass is long, grass short, job has done it’s easy and it’s simple.

And it’s clear there’s something appealing about that and the complexities, but you know, in all seriousness, this is my life’s work. This is what I’m passionate about. And I get energy from people like you, Adrian. I get energy from the leaders that I work with, people that are fully committed to doing the best job that we can to doing what’s right for kids and families, to pushing ourselves, to get better, to disrupt the status quo, to build the future.

And I think the more that we come together and, and be in community with each other and work together, you know, that gives me a ton of energy and it keeps me super hopeful. I mean, I’m an optimist at the end of the day. And, you know, I see all the opportunity and I see what’s possible. And I know that we can get to where we’re trying to go. And it’s just a matter of showing up every day and working at it. So, great question. Thanks Adrian.

Lyndsey: I’m Lyndsey from Los Angeles, California. I’m the CEO of First Star. First Start the national organization that supports young people in the foster care system. We work with high school-age youth, and we partner with universities throughout the country to ensure their success in high school. So one of the questions that I have for you, Matt is the importance of story, right.

We don’t know, every moment of consternation, her trouble pain are young people experienced. And often we only know the issues occurring when we’re in their lives. So I’d love to hear you talk about why as a service-providing organization. Is it important to prioritize telling and hearing stories?

Matt: Yeah, thanks, Lyndsey. The importance of story, where to start even. I think story is one of the most important things for all. It’s ingrained in who we are as communities and as families understanding where people come from, what happened to them. It’s really, really important. So for me, in my work with young people in particular and aging out of foster care, right, that’s where my career in child welfare anyway started is working with kids aging out.

And I had already had this idea that I really needed to listen and engage and be really curious to learn from the young people that I was working with. But what really clicked for me is that it wasn’t just about being curious and listening. It was also about taking action with the people that I work with.

And so when I started to understand the stories. Of the kids who are aging out and the fundamental flaws in our system, I decided that I had to take action and what I ended up doing with a few of the young people that I worked with was actually producing a feature documentary film about America’s foster care system that was told through the eyes of three young people who had aged out and, you know, the process of making “From Place to Place”, open doors to us on Capitol Hill to work with the Senate Caucus on foster youth.

And this work was really actually the early origin story of what became the Family First Prevention Services Act. And, so I think what that experience taught me was that listening to people’s stories is actually a really powerful vehicle to create the change that we want to make, and that we need to find ways to actually embed that kind of practice into our organization.

Over the last couple years, I’ve spent much more time talking to parents. Who’ve experienced the child welfare system. What their stories have taught me is that it’s not about preventing aging out. It’s actually, how do we prevent foster care in the first place? And that is now the driving question for me as a social worker, for me as an organizational leader.

And as I think about myself as somebody that sits within an organization, I have to be listening. To the stories of the people that we serve. I have to know about where they come from, about what happened to them, and about the story of their lives. That is to me, the most important aspect of what we need to bring in, to teach us about who we are and what we do in this work.

Maureen: Hello. I’m Maureen Sorenson from Washington state. I’m the senior director of foster care operations at coordinated care of Washington and a part-time lecturer in the school of social work at the University of Washington. For me, when the moms speak in the podcast and the kids speak, I’m listening extra hard because I know what comes out of their mouths are the solutions.

Matt, my question for you is how can we encourage more, would-be adoptive parents to be focused on reunification?

Matt: Yeah. Thanks Maureen. It’s a great question. How do we prioritize reunification for prospective foster parents adoptive parents? So that immediately makes me think of the episode we did with Brett and Jessica Crisp who were prospective foster and adoptive parents who then became licensed and had a little girl placed with them and their goal, their hope, their dream was adoption. And through a process of engaging with London’s family, they had this transformation where they realized the goal for them was actually to support the reunification of this family. And there’s a backstory to that. There’s a lesson here for organizations about how we prioritize reunification as part of our practice, we have to make it very intentional and we have to design our work around that goal. And so what I don’t talk about in that episode is that Brett and Jessica are actually licensed with Children’s Home Society, where I work and the Crisps were actually part of a team that we assembled to design our foster care program practice.

They were part of a diverse group of people that helped us design what our principles, values, practices, and outcomes were going to be. That would guide everything that we do. And everything in that model was really focused on helping kids exit foster care safely, and ideally back to their own family.

When we wrote the manual, we wrote our value section and the very first word we used was reunification. And this was really intentional. We wanted it to make it clear to everyone that this is a priority. We knew that that would then impact how we recruit prospective foster parents, how we train them, how we support our staff, how we support foster parents.

And what we saw was that after we’ve implemented this practice model, we’ve seen a, an increase of 300% in terms of the number of kids who are exiting our program to reunification. I share this just as an example of how having a vision and setting clear priorities can lead to good outcomes, but also the importance of really listening to the people that we serve.

You know the last thing I would say is that if we get better at working with these complexities and nuances, then I think one result, one outcome will have to be that more foster and adoptive parents, really understand the priority that we need to place on keeping families together, the importance of connection and community and relationships and that our job and foster parents’ jobs are really to support these family connections and reunification.

So again, great question, Maureen, and thank you for giving me the chance to share  that.

Kathleen: Hey, matt, this is Kathleen Creamer calling from the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, where I am the managing attorney of the family advocacy unit. I run a small holistic family defense practice, where we represent parents in child welfare cases. There are so many people in the child welfare system who never are on the receiving end of grace or compassion.

Our system is designed to demonize and punish parents, even for things beyond their control. Uh, someone who represents parents and child welfare cases. I know moments of grace and compassion can be life-changing, but that’s not enough. My question for you, Matt, is this, what does it say about us that we’ve designed a system where expressions of care and compassion for parents are experienced and described by parents as “miraculous exception.”

Matt: So Kathleen, thank you for this question. And honestly, I think your question about these moments of grace, compassion, kindness, care, even love. These moments are really what the whole podcast is all about. The name Seen and Heard. Came organically out of the conversations that we had with guests like Sharounda and Alise in particular, and they were describing these moments, these life-changing moments, where they were seen for the wholeness of who they are, they were seen for the unshakeable goodness within them. Those are powerful, powerful moments. I mean, Sharounda talks about her therapist, seeing her for who she truly is seeing the pain.

And she said in that moment, her therapist nurtured her soul. And it’s a powerful moment. But to your point, it happened almost by happenstance. It was a moment of serendipity rather than a moment of design. What does that say about us? I think it says that our systems are organized to be transactional and not relational.

And that’s, I think problematic. We need to be far more relational. We need to show up with care and compassion. We’re talking about families’ lives and experiences. We’re talking about the importance of relationship between mother and daughter, father, and son. We’re talking about relationships that often are, and certainly should be grounded in love. Yet we never really hear the word love used in our work. I don’t know. I think it says something about the challenges, the difficulties we have expressing our true feelings. I’ll go a little, uh, personal here. Today’s my birthday. And I got a text message from a friend of mine, childhood friend. And he said, “happy birthday. I love you.” How often do we say to our friends, especially from a man to a man, how often do we say to our friends? I love you. I think it’s really challenging for us to go to these places and we inhibit ourselves oftentimes. I think that shows up in our work here. We have to go to this place of seeing somebody for their wholeness, for their unshakeable goodness, and coming from a place of care, love, compassion, and grace, let that be the jumping-off point.Let that be the starting point and see what happens from there. That’s the challenge in front of us. That’s the shift that I think these stories are calling us to make. And, I hope we do because I think a lot of good things.

Gina: Hey, Matt, my name is Gina. I live in North Carolina. Yeah. I’m a kinship parent and a family partner. And I’ve been listening to your podcast. And the first time I listened to episode one, I paused and backed up or rewound and I listened to it multiple times and it really just made me, plain sad in mad. My question to you when you’re talking about a men’s, you know, the story of Slam and Lillie is one of those where people were just so wrong by the system and a different episode, you raise the ideas of amends.

And I was wondering if you could say more about that, you know, what it means and how we can all work towards you’re re-establishing trust with the system.

Matt: Gina, thank you for your question. And so amends, how do we make a man’s it’s an important question, but before I get into that, let me respond to your reference of the episode with Slam and Lillie and, you know, there’s really one simple reason I wanted to do that episode and wanted to really start with it actually is that I wanted our audience to hear a story of a daughter who loves her mother and a mother who loves her daughter despite being separated for 14 years.

I wanted to challenge all of us to hear Lillie talk about how much she loves her daughter and hear Slam do the same. And at the end of that episode, what I take away from that is that in those 14 years we missed it. We missed the love that they have for each other that was there. And we could have dealt with all the other issues.

So amends. We can apologize. We can say, we’re sorry. Oftentimes that’s necessary, perhaps all times that’s necessary. We should do that. We should have the courage to do that, but I think more importantly than an apology is now, what do we do? What are the behaviors? What are the actions? What are the decisions that we make that are grounded in what we learn from our past mistakes?

I have a responsibility to make amends. I felt it from the very beginning of my work and it came from this place of watching kids age, out of foster care through my program. And I felt like the day that we let them age out was the day we had failed in the promise that we had made to them into their family.

And I feel like for the last 15 years I’ve been making amends for that, for that broken promise. And the way I’ve done that is this driving question. Like I referenced before this driving question of how do we prevent kids aging out? To me that’s how I make amends. Right. I try to prevent it from happening again.

And now I think I’ve taken it to the next step, I guess, which is, you know, we’ve got to prevent foster care in the first place. There are fundamental issues at play that are driving entries into our child welfare system. And there’s a lot that we can learn and do that are going to be investing in families and communities that keep kids at home with their family.

And I think the more that we do that, the more that we’re making amends for some of the past mistakes of our systems.

Austin: Hey, Matt, I’m Austin Cummings to and from South Carolina, I’m currently a Program Coordinator with the South Carolina Department of Social Services. Listening to this season really challenged me on a personal level. It inspired me to think deeply about the power of listening. As a child welfare professional I feel we are poised to seek quick solutions.

However, sometimes we need to exude patience and simply listen. My question for you is how can we become better listeners? Can you offer any practical suggestions for how all of us might become better?

Matt: So it’s a really good question. How do we become a better listener. At the open of this episode? I talked about Institute for Family as a listen first organization.

So it’s key to us. And to be quite honest, this podcast is an opportunity for all of us to listen, but also for me to become a better listener, this is a training ground. So to speak for me as a listener. I don’t think we’re ever going to arrive. I don’t think we’re ever going to be perfect. We’re always going to be trying to get better.

But I think what I’ve done personally is to set the intention, to listen first, to listen, to understand where somebody is coming from, what their experience is, and to acknowledge or recognize. That the other person is an expert in their own experience. And in that I think we can help other people to feel comfortable with us.

I think a good listener is somebody who makes the other person feel comfortable to share. And I think we all have to find our own way to do that. I’m still trying to figure it out for myself, but I think there are a few things that have helped me. And the first that comes to mind is asking this question, whose agenda am I listening for?

Is it my agenda? Or is it the other person? I think we have to stay open to what the other person has to teach us. It’s not only what I want to learn. And second, I simply have to just stay quiet a little bit longer, a little bit more often than what I think is needed or even what is comfortable. And, you know, I can’t listen while I’m talking.

And third, my point about making the other person comfortable, I think is really critical. To me It’s the only way to get to that deeper truth. And it requires leaving judgment out of the conversation and staying grounded and compassion. Father Greg Boyle, in his new book “The Whole Language”, talks about this as seeing people for the wholeness of who they are seeing their unshakeable goodness. Speaking the whole language is a path to kinship or a recognition that there is no us and them there’s actually just us. So we listened to see ourselves in the other person to break down the barriers that inhibit our progress. Austin, thanks for the question. Thanks for bringing it top of mind for all of us and really, I hope to hear from you about how you’re getting better as a listener.

Matt: So we’ve come to the end of this bonus episode. This is a little bit of a bridge from season one to season two. So we’re excited to bring more stories and conversations to you very soon, but this has been a lot of fun. It’s great to engage with our audience, to hear from you to hear your reactions, your questions you guys are asking difficult questions that are making me think even more deeply about the work that we do and why we’re doing it and what we’re really trying to accomplish and how we go about doing it. So thank you for those questions. Keep them coming. And don’t forget, you can call me at (512) 815-3956. And leave me a message about what you’re thinking about the show, how it’s impacting you and your work, what stories and lessons you’re taking away from it.

I’m going to sign up for now and pass the mic to Isaiah.

Isaiah: Thanks, Matt. If you guys have been listening to season one that you already know my voice, I’m Isaiah, and I’m a part of the Seen Out Loud podcast team. Thank you so much for listening to this bonus episode of our show. And while you’re waiting for season two of our show, be sure to check out Seen Out Loud.com for videos, articles, additional clips about our guests, and topics that we discussed on our show.

Continue to rate us and leave us a review because want to know how these stories are influencing your work. Season one was only possible because of our amazing team and to wrap up season one, I want to give them one more shout-out. Our Executive Producer, Michael Osborne, Editorial Assistants from Paige Williams, mixing mastering and sound design from Morgan Honaker. And our composer is Christian Haigis. Thank you guys so much for listening. And I can’t wait to see you in season two.