Friday, June 24, 2011

Queen of Nerdingham

In case the Ph.D. in computer science was not enough of a giveaway on this, let me just say that I am a huge nerd.  I take pride in this fact, actually, but I have not always felt this way.

Growing up, I was made fun of a lot because I was a nerd.  I felt really bad about being a nerd, but there was nothing I could do about it -- I just love to think, learn new things, and exercise my brain.

I didn't have the perspective then that I have now.  I didn't see that knowledge, and the ability to analyze and sort through it, is power; that freedom lies between the ears; or that the strength of my mind and the determination of my will could save me from despair.

Today, I am grateful for my nerd traits.  My love of thinking and learning enables me to solve problems of all kinds.  It allows me to function well in the world.  And it helps me make a really good living and support my family.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I'm a Winner!

Yesterday I found out that the project I worked on as a postdoc won a major honor.  It wasn't until someone emailed me a congratulatory note that I realized that my name had been included in the nomination as well!

I spent about an hour laughing about the unexpected honor.  A friend at work told me that I should be proud and I deserved the recognition.

I don't feel like I do, but that is mostly because I have not worked on that project for several years.  But when I think about it, I actually did make a substantial contribution: although they don't use the algorithms I developed, they do still use the framework I developed for them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fostering: Continuing Education

EcoGeoFemme asks:
Do you feel like the training/continuing ed is useful, or just red tape? Have you learned anything from it?

Good question!  In principle, the training and continuing education is a great idea.  I can tell you from my brief experience so far, we can use all the help we can get!  But I actually have not yet taken a class so I don't know yet whether it is useful.  But there is one scheduled for sometime next month so I will update you on what I think.

Have any questions about foster parenting?  Feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as best I can!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Fostering: The Home Study

Ginger asked about the questions they ask during the home study.

The home study has two parts: first, examining your home to make sure that it is safe and has enough room for a child or children; and second, interviews with the family members. 

After she first arrived, I gave the social worker a tour of our house.  I took her to every room, told her how we used each room, and pointed out the room where the child would stay.  She made sure that we had sufficient smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, that all our medications were locked away, and the house and yard were safe in general.  There was a whole checklist of requirements, including things that did not apply to us (e.g., swimming pools must be fenced in).  We also had to have a bedroom that the child could sleep in -- they don't necessarily need a room to themselves, but it needs to be a bedroom and not a hallway or a shed(!).

Then, she interviewed me.  I was asked about my childhood and my general biographical history, my parents and siblings, how my parents disciplined me, the current status of my relationships with family members, my educational and employment history, my current job and how I feel about it, my religious beliefs and my openness to those with differing beliefs, how I handle anger, how I discipline Vinny, my relationship with Jeff.  I was also asked about any drug addicts or alcoholics in my immediate and extended families, and about Jeff's history with substances.  And at the end, I was asked what my goals were and what sort of foster care I would be interested in doing, and what types of children I would want to have.

On a second visit, Jeff was interviewed, and the questions were about the same.  The social worker interviewed Vinny, too, asking him what kinds of kids he would like to have stay with us.

After the interviews, the social worker wrote up a document about our house and about us, and sent it to us to revise and correct.  When we were satisfied that it was accurate, we signed a form to certify our approval and the home study process was complete!

In order to retain our license, we must have a home inspection annually, as well as stay current in CPR and First Aid certifications and receive 15 hours of continuing education each year.  Luckily the profiles of us will remain valid and we won't have to answer all those questions again unless we let the license expire!

Have any questions about foster parenting?  Feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as best I can!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Fostering: Q&A

GMP asked: From what you wrote it seems that prospective foster parents are quite thoroughly checked. In contrast, there are all these horror stories about foster care abuse cases in the news and TV shows -- do you feel they are grossly exaggerated?

I think there are varying degrees of abuse and mistreatment that occur in the foster care system, and the worst ones get sensationalized by the media.  The reasons for abuse and mistreatment in the foster care system are many.

First, foster parents are human beings, just like everyone else.  We all make mistakes with our biological children, and it is even harder to do the right thing every time with a child you don't know very well.  Foster children, who are justifiably hurting and scared, can react in very unexpected ways and really try your patience.  So if you are not well prepared or having a particularly bad day, you might reach the end of your rope before you know what happened.

Second, a lot of the people who are attracted to becoming foster parents had bad childhoods themselves.  They want to make up for their own bad childhoods by providing an abused or neglected child with the care they themselves could have used as a child.  While this is certainly a noble motivation, the foster parent's own childhood issues can result in them having a limited skillset when it comes to rearing children.  Couple this limited skillset with children who test your mettle and you can really have an explosive environment.

Third, there are evil people who want to become foster parents for the purpose of exploiting children.  The successful ones do not have criminal records and they have sufficient social skills that they can pass the home study process without tipping anyone off to their psychopathology.  In our classes, our teacher told us about a case where a man who did not (yet) have a criminal record became a foster parent for the sole purpose of grooming teenage girls so he could sexually abuse them.  Luckily they caught him before he could do much damage.

On my flight out of Alaska, I was seated next to an Alaskan foster mom.  We talked quite a bit, and compared notes about the foster care systems in our states.  The Tennessee system seems quite a bit more generous than the Alaska system, despite Tennessee's relative poverty as a state.  We receive more money to take care of the kids (sad, considering the extremely high cost of living in Alaska), and they do not receive respite care.  Our kids receive an allowance of $1/day, money that belongs to them, whereas Alaska's kids do not receive an allowance.  Also, Tennessee will pay for college or vocational training for youngsters who age out of the foster system, but Alaska does not.

I think this illustrates pretty clearly how different each state's system is.  That's why it seems to me that in some states the rules are more lax than in others, and there is more abuse within the system.  Florida is a state that seems to have a notoriously bad foster care system.  I'm sure this is due to the fact that the social workers are overworked and lack the resources to give all the children in the system the care that they need, and some end up falling through the cracks.

But even in the best systems, there will be mistakes and people get licensed who should not be.  And being a foster parent is hard!  I can understand how the frustration of it can lead people to make bad parenting choices out of desperation.  It's not an excuse but it is an explanation.

Have any questions about foster parenting?  Feel free to leave them in the comments, and I'll answer as best I can!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Making History

This morning we left for Illinois, to join my sister and should-be sister-in-law in making history.  You see, today marks the beginning of civil unions in Illinois, and my sister and her better half are among the first to be joined in civil unity.

There's a big ceremony tomorrow morning in a Chicago park, in which couples from across the state will participate.  The governor and the mayor will both speak.  I am really excited to be a part of the festivities and I am also looking forward to the time we will spend together after the ceremony!