How do some kids survive a life of poverty, homelessness, abuse, and foster and eventually thrive? We talk with David Ambroz is a national poverty and child welfare expert and advocate and the author of the memoir, A Place Called Home. He was recognized by President Obama as an American Champion of Change. Currently serving as the Head of Community Engagement (West) for Amazon, Ambroz previously led Corporate Social Responsibility for Walt Disney Television, and has served as president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission as well as a California Child Welfare Council member. After growing up homeless and then in foster care, he graduated from Vassar College and later earned his J.D. from UCLA School of Law. He is a foster dad and lives in Los Angeles, CA.
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Welcome to Creating a Family talk about adoption in foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I am the host of this show as well as the director of a nonprofit creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about we're going to be talking with David Ambrose. He is the author of a book called a place called home. He was a well he former homeless person, former homeless child, a former foster youth. And as I said, He is the author of a new book, a place called home. Welcome David Ambroz, to Creating a Family. Well,
thank you very much, right. I don't have either those characteristics in my Tinder profile. But both you both okay.
You are also a national poverty and child welfare expert and an advocate. You were recognized by President Obama. Wow. As an American Champion of Change, which I am giving you have an applause right here. You are currently serving as the head of community engagement West for Amazon, and you previously lead corporate social responsibility for Walt Disney Television. And you've served as president of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, as well as the California Child Welfare Council or you're a member of the California Child. Council.
You know, wow, do you swipe left and you made a choice?
There you go. I appreciate that. Okay, you need to be adding all of this to your Tinder profile, and then throw it away just a minute throw in a graduate of Vassar and then ri just to top it all off, put in a JD from law degree from UCLA law. So I mean, really, everybody's gonna be swiping right on you on this one.
Thank you, Counselor. Yeah.
I love the book, a place called home. It is a memoir. I loved it. It was a hard read. But it also was, bizarrely inspirational. I mean, because it was hard. You're, and we're going to be talking about the book, but also about your life, but also about, quite frankly, your courage and your resilience. And our audience is predominantly foster parents and adoptive parents and professionals. So I think we have a lot to learn from you. I thought it would help to start kind of separate it because you had time with extreme poverty and homelessness when you were living with your mom. And then you had time and foster care. So I thought, I think that the issues are some of them the same, some of them quite different. So I thought we would separate those those times of your life. First of all, start off telling us your story, how you became homeless, how you entered into foster care, and just that give us the background?
Yeah, well, thank you for the intro and sharing, kind of the things I've done. And the journey to get there is as interesting as many of your listeners have encountered in their own important work. I was born into homelessness, there was no before time, there was no fall from grace. It was just, you're homeless, and from my earliest memories, it was moving from place to place, you know, bus stations and subway stations and parks and shelters and churches, and outdoors all over New York City and surrounding areas. And we just were consistently constantly mobile. And by the way, it's me, my brother, my sister, all of us within a year of each other. Yes, my mom were the youngest.
And you had an all three with your brother, their sister they knew and all three within three years of each other.
Yeah, and my mom, and that was it. And my mom has an had and still has a progressive mental illness. So kind of a laundry list. And we just live in a society that does not respect treat or elevate or help families like mine, or women like my mom. So we went from one crisis situation to another I start the book, sharing the story, was one of the motivating factors for writing the book in Los Angeles, in many places, there's a homelessness crisis. And I don't know that it's more I think it's just more visible. But I share the first story because so much of the dialogue has been about cleaning it up. And I have been very offended by the of it all. We dehumanize a whole people, my people. And I recall very distinctly one of my first memories was being swept out of Grand Central where we were sleeping, I was about four. And we were put on the street. And we almost died from exposure and it's very much the first time I thought we might die, although I didn't have the words at the time. And so I wanted to share my story because I think we can solve it. I think we've made progress. But I think the way that we do that is inspiring each other by nourishing each other with love and support. And I also wanted people to stop this con stint chasing of Frankenstein. And by that I mean all the people involved in the system, poverty, foster care, what have you are just consistently denigrated by the larger public. And I wanted to humanize all of us, that are part of this work. And that's what I hope I did, especially in the first part of the 12 years I spent homeless.
You're Yeah. And you did humanize the existence of what the reality is, like, one question. Did you? Did your mom have extended family? Was there anybody who could? In your extended family, her parents, her siblings, the father, anybody who could have stepped in? And did or did not?
Yeah, so my mom was like a hurricane, slow moving, but destructive. And so you usually hit, you know, hit and lock things down or relocated to avoid death, and destruction. So there were members of that family. And I do not hold a grudge against them. Obviously, I wish they had intervened. But it was simply the case that my mom was just a very destructive force, I tell the story in the book where we were homeless. And we made our way to what turned out to be my uncle's home. And my uncle had to prioritize his family. He has two children when I believe both had disabilities wife, and my mom, apparently had been there before, unbeknownst to me, and she was not welcome. And neither were we. So he turned his back out onto the street in the middle of winter, which was not a typical family systems, I always think about poverty, especially in the early part of the book as as if you're like, the person in poverty is like a drowning victim on the side of a lifeboat. And lifeboat has a few different people in it, and then one of them reaches down and pulls the person out of the water, and the person goes, and takes a breath. And then they drop him back in the water. And he's grateful for the breath, but boy would have been nice to get into the boat. But don't worry, there's another program, he's gonna pull you out of the water for a second. So it's just a constant feeling like this for my mom, who just, there was no end to the processes by which she had to pursue to access benefits. And some of it was just Kafka esque, like you needed an address to apply for rental assistance. We were homeless. You know, food stamps, and they would warn you about not over eating when we would always run out of food in the middle of the month, because there were never enough. So this is bizarre moments in the system. But then again, I am a child of welfare, I would not be here without our imperfect child welfare, foster care, and poverty reduction systems. So I remind people of that, because if we constantly scream fire in the face of the public, do you know we have to pay if you pay firefighters, the public does not want to run into a burning building. And the reality is, in my lifetime, we've had, it's the number of kids living in poverty, we could do more, we should do more. But we should also nourish each other, like I said, with the belief in each other that we're doing the work. And we need more of that messaging.
Yeah, we absolutely do. I hope you were finding this conversation as fascinating as I am. As you can tell, I loved both the book and I am enjoying talking with the author immensely. I want you to know that we have other free resources that are available to you. We have 12 free courses that are available through the support of the Jackie being Family Foundation. Thank you talking being family. And the 12 courses are parenting type courses. They're really intended for people who are in the act of actively parenting, go to Bitly slash JB F support, that's bi T dot L y slash all one word jPf support. And check out the variety that is there. I think you will find it inspirational and enjoyable. All right. So you lived mostly homeless for the first 12 years of your life. But part of your mom's mental illness was also extreme abuse. And you never knew how to predict it. Because she wasn't always that way.
Yeah, yeah. You know, I talked about it a lot is part of what we had to do was predict the unpredictable and to the extent we could mitigate it. My mom's violence was unexpected in terms of the exact moment but always what was coming. And it was not just the physical violence, it was the expectation of such that created I think lifelong trauma. You know, it's going to come you don't know when it's gonna come. And sometimes you can you can see certain things that would trigger her. And then around us it was just a community of violence, you know, be it the folks in the shelters or what we said On the streets, and even violence in a different way, when I was growing up in New York City, it was the AIDS epidemic and all around us. Were men dying in the shelters. There's so many different types of deprivation and violence it was, it was almost white noise, even though it was painful. It was just what our day to day was.
It was also traumatic. I mean, being exposed to it, you might not have recognized it as a child because it was your day to day. But it had to be I mean, as an adult, looking back and knowing that, that there was that much violence and death and everything in your do you perceive that as a trauma
is interesting. You know, I'm not trained like some folks that I'm listening or my sister is. I'll say it this way. It was normal. You know, a lot of folks, there was no deviation, there was no like, this is a typical. So it was a very intense furnace that made me the steel man that I am. And I reacted to it in a certain way, which I talked about, particularly when I entered foster care, which is I shut down part of my emotional capacity. And so in that, sure, it was absolutely traumatic. And then the violence related to my sexual orientation immeasurably damaging. So yes, absolutely. But also today, I am my mom's caregiver. I am one of her caregivers. I'm one of her guardians. I live to have two siblings that are, you know, we're jumping ahead a little bit, but they're wildly successful, healthy with families and marriages. So absolutely, yes. And success doesn't negate that people still operate with trauma. But I think we all take it in and do different things. What I often would do and how I describe it, in my mind, is I would take all these experiences from as early as I can remember that really when I entered foster care, and I would put them in a clear plastic box, and I'd put them on a shelf. And I could see them, I could see what it was because it's clear, I would write down a description, I'd file it away. I knew where it was intellectually, but I didn't have to feel it. And that's how I got through every single day of just yet another mountain to climb. But in my late 30s, the shelf broke. And I realized that my coping mechanism was profoundly unhealthy, and a uni called trauma. It was just a it was not the right way to interpret and interact with the world. And yet it survived. It's a we survive
so often that our coping mechanisms were life saving. They are not necessarily life affirming as we as we move on. But without a doubt that well might have saved your life. Absolutely. Before we leave some of the poverty, that part of your life, the first 12 years the poverty and abuse and homelessness. What was school like for you during that? You know, homeless youth in school, homeless children in school are a real issue. But I think so often, they're the tip of the iceberg because they're the ones who are attending school. The vast majority of homeless children don't. But anyway, so what was what was your ability to go to school?
I really don't remember much school. Until I was in my early teens. There are periods where we were in school. And those periods are super important, but they were infrequent. But they were places where we were warm or cold or dry, where we were not hit. There were moments of just beautiful kindness expressed in weird and beautiful ways that I had a teacher who would slip granola bars in my bag. Knowing that we would not eat I had a school nurse I remember very distinctly the first time I was treated for lice at school. She, I it to my recollection was one of the first adults to touch me not in violence or otherwise, just to complete compassion. And, and I enjoyed her touch. It was so loving. And that was in the context of her if anyone's ever had lice, that shampoo is not fun. And then I remember it so warmly where this adult
and the lice pick, you know, either and yet, you were probably loving the
tut i and it was just a beautiful moment where an adult was tenderly caring for me. And then, you know, my real education was sometimes at the hands of my mom's fist, sometimes at the indifference of the public. Often, the lessons were never taught in school books. I learned to read not in school, but because of my mother and then in public libraries, where I also learned to, you know, wash our clothes and bathe myself and the Wendy's restroom, or how to make tampons for my mom out of toilet paper and paper towel when she Did those that was one of my jobs. So, education is an interesting word, I think it is the transmission of values, ideas and norms. As much as it is information, and I learned a lot on the street, and I, it has made me successful, it has also been a limiting factor at times, because you, you can immediately apply the same characteristics and skills, you have to sometimes weaponize them differently. And I've done that through wisdom and age.
So my last question in the in the the section on poverty, homelessness and abuse? What should adults who encounter or work with homeless children, our youth know, what would you want them to know? If they were to encounter you, when you were a 10 year old, eight year old, 11 year old 12 year old,
I want him to do two things. One, we have to talk about this topic, you know, outside of our immediate circle, maybe our therapists and our loved one. I don't think enough people involved in the system talk about it to their communities other than the crazy moments, and I think we need to do a lot more dialogue to make it central to our conversation. A point 4 million kids live in abject poverty in this country. And yet, not since 1999. In a presidential debate, has anyone said the word child poverty, there are 1000s of co workers who are coal miners who get talked about all the time. But the 8.4 million children don't have a constituency, they don't vote, they don't have political power. The only people we have are the folks like you just asked about is the people doing the work. And we need these frontline workers to take on yet another task, which is to central this in our conversation, one on one. First and foremost, I think you need to take care of yourself, before you can take care of others. I always love that, you know, when when the plane is gonna go down, and you have to drop your mask now put yours first. I think what I see and experience firsthand and through my my own advocacy, folks burnout, really the people burnout. And we need people to stay as the game experience, not leave. So take care of yourself be not every single moment is a crisis. And I often only interacted with my workers or people that were involved with me when the proverbial shit was hitting the fan. And I didn't have relationships with these people outside of that context. And because I was a relatively, quote, good kid, I was often just ignored or overlooked or spoken to just before court. So I would say try and work with your folks outside the context of a court date or a crisis to the extent you can
to the extent you can I mean, I talked with a worker not long ago, and I think that she was said like 18 to 20 kids. And I'm like, what do we honestly, what do we expect? Now let's move into the foster care part. Because you're Yeah, you're getting there. So eventually, around the age, I think it was the age of 12. It's up to this point, you had been protecting your mom or you had been fearful of child welfare and your mother had started foster care and your mother had certainly instill that fear in you, your brother had you and your sister helped him plot and escape. So he had gotten out at you made a decision after one horrible event, that whatever whatever foster care was, it had to be better than what you were you are currently living through. And you also I think, realize that you would be killed if you stay, you know, that terminal illness was such that, that you were not going to survive it. So you reported her, which had to be terrifying. And you weren't sure that they were going to take you away, which made it all the more terrifying. But they did. And so your thought, of course was okay. Finally, I am not going to be abused. I am not going to be homeless, I'm not going to be hungry. But that is not that is not your story. So as much as those of us who train and support foster parents want to believe that there are all that there are happy endings. And there are of course, but they're not all. So tell us your foster care story. I think you were 12 when you finally reported and they finally started believing you.
I entered foster care and my social worker told me years later that I was the first kid she saw to be excited about being detained. And I was my mom had had nearly killed me again. And which precipitated the last interaction that sent us into the system. And I was initially placed in delinquency facilities due to my sexual orientation. Yeah, which is no longer the case. But it was the case for me where as many of your listeners will know, but if the public is listening as well, you know, basically kids are ranked and different placements are able to take different rankings. So if you think of one through 10, someone at the skill 10 might have, you know, physical disabilities that require around the clock care. For instance, well, I was a queer kid, that was a 10 as well. And so there was very few placements that were qualified. So I ended up in a delinquency facility that was violent. It was an inappropriate placement, I was assaulted quickly and repeatedly, there was very little care for there was there was zero care for the affirmation of my sexual orientation or understanding it. The system diagnosed me through a battery of tests that kids go through as gender identification disorder, which was used at the time to talk about we were kids. And my social worker even said to me, dropping me off, I'll get you out of here, you don't belong here, which said everything. After a period of time there eventually made my way to a foster placement where my brother and sister work. So
before you do that, let me let me share this, I did not get this from your book. But I did want to share that. I think this is something that we have got to the we as a community must realize that youth who identify our children who identify as LGBTQ plus are grossly over represented in foster care system. I mean, we there depending on how you what what statistics are going for, I mean, what statistics you're reading, approximately 5% of the general population identifies as LGBTQ plus, that's not a firm number. But approximately 30% of the youth in camp identify as LGBTQ plus, and, and not only that, but their placement disruptions are up to one and a half to two times greater. So that I throw that out there because your experience is not unusual. Now, I didn't mean to interrupt because after you stayed your caseworker left you at the Juvenile Detention Facility, which was just violent for a number of months, and then take up the story there.
Yeah, and those tests are super important. And my treatment did not end. That's why the punctuation mark is really what you said. But the the foster mom was put into my brother and sister, you know, blue collar folks in a rural location that had way too many kids and were poorly suited to be foster parents. The home was abusive in many ways. I was kept from school at times to be rented out for labor. They were petty and violent, multiple kids at a basement,
they withheld food as a form of
punishment. More for me, it was the foster mom particular thought I was quote unquote mouthy. And so I think one of her tactics to make me less mouthy. And she also said I was obese and girly, which may have been true, the feminine characteristics, I don't know, but that I was not. And the food thing was really about control when you're starving. You don't have much energy to do much else, including think. So it was from hunger and starvation as a homeless person because of absence to being home of plenty and petty cruelty. Just I'll tell more about this home and these others, but I when I left, I was so emaciated that it was, you know, part of my recovery to reacquaint myself with food. I stayed there for a bit, my brother and sister again ran away and left me. I have all the love in the world for them. They were children, we were in a violent situation. And they had the ability because of unique circumstances of a separate school where they went to sneak away one day, and they did. And I'm glad they did. But I was left in the home after that, even though it was investigated and found to be all the things accused by my brother and sister were true. I've still left there. The emotional in particular manipulation of violence just escalated as did the physical. And the horrible treatment for my sexual orientation was brutal. And I eventually made my way into the custody of a woman who had been for a brief moment my boss at the YMCA as a volunteer. And she was not a foster mom, and she had fought for I learned later more than a year with lawyers to try and get me having seen when I was going through in this home, but was unsuccessful. Well, when I reached my limit, and this other home and they had hit me for the last time, I made very clear I was not going to go back there and I was ultimately allowed to move in with his family who had gone from one child to three in the span of a month. She had just had a child she had a previous one and they took me in and they got a an ACA did emotionally, you know, damage say the least. And to my social workers credit, you know, she gave them the space. I don't think these folks wanted a high touch Social Worker, I think, Holly, my foster mom was a trained, you know, youth person who worked the YMCA, in a capacity as such, and my social worker who I actually love my son, but one of them gave me really good advice about at every step of my way with this family, Holly rebuilt me from rubble. And I did relatively well there. In the book, I only talk about three or four placements. I had many, many, many others. And the reason I only talked about three or four is because this is a book for the general public. I wanted to give examples, but Holly and Steve ultimately weren't able to care for me for the entire time I move out of their custody into a series of other homes. But during that time, I was excelling at school. For the first time in my life, I got braces, which were physically very necessary. I had all sorts of long term issues that were addressed with regards to my health. And I realized during this time that I wanted to do something about foster care. And it was during this early time when I was in Hawley in Steve's home that I began to get involved in child advocacy, which included being part of the group that advocated for and successfully so got the first state tuition waivers for community college colleges, in Massachusetts, which then went on to the federal level. And I got more and more involved in this work. I think it's something that foster kids do, which is it looks for we look for love and approbation, from external actors. And in doing this work, I found myself getting getting that recognition. So I did more of that. And I loved it,
too. This is when you were a teen
still in foster care. Ultimately, I went back to Holly and Steve's after a hiatus and I, it was fine. They're loving we they're very much in my life. But I realized when I was 16, I had to get out of the system. And it wasn't the most abusive moment of my time and the system. And you know how easy it did not abuse me at all. They loved me. But it was the whole experience was crushing me. And so I decided to emancipate and I imperfectly did that. By hook and crook a little bit. I don't want to give that away, but they can read the book. And I ended up homeless briefly, and then went on through a grant to study in the north of Spain, which you're like, what I now it's bizarre, but I wanted housing, healthcare and food. And I needed to get out of the state custody because my soul was slowly being extinguished. From interviews and bad therapy and core people and assistant kept trying to kill me. And I just wanted to be honest,
you're not alone, as you know. I know. Yeah, it's, you know, it's it even though it may not be the most logical if you think from well, there's more support. If there's more education, there's more. At some point, yeah.
Now you just Yeah, I had to cut ties and I ended up living in the north of Spain with a wonderful host mother, in a rural village and wine country in the base of the Pyrenees mountains and place called Lottie Oka, or pious Basco didn't speak any Spanish. And she taught me Spanish and she's a loving the mountain Basque woman who took the work that Holly and Steve began and really, because of the way I was in a foreign country, not speaking the language, everyone given me more patience and love, it's because of that. I was able to accelerate my healing and my reconstruction. She was a wonderful she is I'm still very much in touch with her Gabriella and from Spain. I I applied to colleges, and it was funny about applying to colleges is I would attach this letter to the applications. And be like, as you'll notice, I'm missing half my high school transcripts. And as you'll notice, I didn't exactly graduate and as you'll notice, I don't have $65 to pay. And all of these schools were like, well, if you don't have money, so they sent me back my package to the north of Spain, if you just think about that for a second. They and it was for one to the fee, nothing else. And the one one of the colleges. There's a few but Vassar admitted me. And their policy was we'll admit you and then we'll figure out your financial aid and we'll make sure you can come and that changed my life yet again. Vasseur opened up so many doors to me in so many ways. I I kept coming back to them with the unique circumstance As a foster care, you know, like I, my first semester I went to buy the books and they're the school book lady I handed her my student ID the bookstore and she's like, why are you handing me this? I'm like for school books. She's like, Oh, no, no, you need your parents credit card in my dreams.
yeah, I need my parents a lot. So I constantly ran into these weird moments where I just was, I was so angry because I got all this way. You know, like, the first time the dorms close, I became, I slept in my car. Until I scraped enough money for a hotel, I'd work all these jobs, which really put a strain on me academically to keep up my GPA for my scholarships, which are GPA mean. And then on top of it just culturally, what was around me was an incredible level of wealth and privilege that I wanted to belong to. But I absolutely did not belong to you know, folks would invite me to sushi. I remember that as what the hell of sushi and then I go, and then I would just be like, No, I'm full. I'm not hungry. I was starving. But I, I couldn't afford to contribute. And all the kids would complain about the food or the comments in the cafeteria. And I'd be like, I'm in my heart. I'm like, This is amazing, like, so just the casual consumption and the cultural assumptions that folks had were just such an anathema to me that I, I didn't know how to quickly adapt. I learned to and I have good friends from college. But it took a minute and I had people in my life I had this woman who I met was basically like a pseudo foster parent. She sent me socks and underwear. When I got an internship at the White House. During college, she got me an apartment, and it was unfurnished. And it was in a rough part of town, but I would not have been able to go. So there are people in my life that helped me,
how did you meet her? Where How did she come into your life.
She was a volunteer, when I went down to DC again, and again, as part of this group that I co founded called the National Foster Youth Advisory Council. And then later on, I was part of something to stop trying to cure gay kids in care with Child Welfare League and the joint initiative with Lambda Legal. I kept going to DC. And I was I was so lucky to go through media training many times with the same individual and she is the woman she's in the book. Her name is Tamar, who became my pseudo adopted foster parent during college. And even today, she's helping me get press for my book. But at the time, she was immediate training, she was communications for nonprofits. But there's these individuals like that and flashing back just for a quick second. You know, there was this church we slept in, when we were homeless, and we were met these parishioners, they're one of the deacons. When I got to Vassar, I looked him up. I sent him a letter to the church. And I thanked because they're the, they're these angels. How did you remember?
Because you were you probably were 12. But so they were an age they were they were a bright, shining light. That's how I guess
they're these moments when you touch that, you know, people call it God, or the universe and generosity at moments kept me alive. And, and it wasn't just like, I was starving, like they sent me to summer camp. And their moments of renewal, when you see this thing that could be in it, it inspires you and it nourishes your soul to be like, Okay, I'm gonna get there. When you see it, you're able to live in it. And they put the three of us in summer camp for a week. But it was like, the most blissful week of my childhood. And then I wanted, they always were in my heart. And there's a bunch of people like this. And I reached out actually sent a letter to a teacher to, I reached out, I sent a letter to the church stress to them, they wrote me. And then they started sending me a check at the beginning of each semester for $120 to help me defray the costs. And was that enough? No, it was like two textbooks, but was I grateful to the depth of my soul. And I'm still in touch with them. They're beautiful people. So
what did you say in the letter, I just want you to know that I am here I am doing well, thank you, or what did you say?
I express gratitude? You know, I say, I said, I don't know if you remember us. And you know, they wrote back and they're like, of course we remember you. And it's funny, because something what some people have said to me is like, why didn't they remove you from your mother's custody? They go immediately to the Why didn't you? Why didn't you and I stopped that because I don't ask people to do what's impossible for them. I asked them to do what they can do, and not what I want them to do, because that's just not realistic. They instead decided this is what they could do. And thank God for it. So I wanted to express my gratitude. I had done that throughout my entire life, even like during college, but ever since then. We we don't do enough of that. And I constantly try and do that and I like to write it. And these folks are still in my life. I mean, not in a big way but every year we changed correspondents and holiday greetings and birthday. But that's one of the ways I got through Vassar. I worked jobs, I applied for random scholarships. And then I started working on reform, like Chafee was one of the first bills I worked on to provide transition age youth resources. But then there was other things like, when you apply for financial aid, you have to prove you don't have parents. On the FAFSA form, how do you prove a negative?
And the truth is you do have a parent. But how do you prove that this parent is? Is is incapable is not supporting you is? Yeah, unless I guess for parental rights were terminated. But still, yeah.
Anyway, so college was an amazing time, I got to do some incredible experiences. It was also a place where I renewed and continued growing, I stayed very much in trouble for reform, and all sorts of ways I sort of came out, as I got to get more and more work done on this, this movement to stop trying to cure gay kids. And then I worked on other things like how do we get the foster youth voice to the table to make better law? How do we stop demonizing the parents so that they, if they're going to be renewed, most foster kids get put back with their families? Well, that
is the goal of foster care is that's the goal. Yes. And some people would say, it's, I don't know. Some people say that there is no perfect answer. Some people say that children are put back into bad situations. On the other hand, we, we would like to believe that children are going to do better if we could, the ultimate thing is to we can we support these families so that they can care for the kids. And of course, as you're well aware, now, the big push, and has been for a while, but certainly after the Family First Act is to, rather than it was to put children with extended family, as opposed to unrelated foster care. What are your thoughts on that and a curiosity as both an advocate and as a person who is a former foster youth? I'm curious
that I've understood that two thirds of the kids entering foster care from neglect. And neglect is a euphemism for poverty. So we are in many times many respects. So we are
real for drug abuse. To be honest, I neglect this correction sometimes that parents are not capable of parenting because they are suffering from substance abuse disorder. But go ahead. I didn't mean
to direct Yeah, no, it's important, and I'm talking to probably an audience of experts is I'm glad you clarified But truthfully, even if it's, let's say, half of that, there was a large number of folks in the system because of poverty, absolutely, absolutely drug drug use. Sometimes it's really been, even aside from the drug use part. If we can remove some of the pressure on the system by perhaps supporting the parents by not taking away their kid, we can remove the pressure on the system, to focus on the kids that do need to be in it for serious reasons. I also am often deeply concerned that the condition of the way that kids are constantly subjected to the whims of the parents compliance. So what do you know, explain
that? I understand what you mean. But I want you to explain it. Sure.
Yeah. You know, often I felt like whether or not my mom was complying with a plan that she often seemed to just deviate from all the time, year after year after year, would determine the course of my life. And six months in the life of a 12 year old is a substantial part of their life. So the older I got, the more chances my mom had, the more I was like, What is going on. So I do think there is inappropriate tendency to covet the power of the state to break up families. And I think we should be judicious and also acknowledged for Ruby kids for poverty reasons, and we should not do that, which would relieve it concurrent all that, but the kids in the system, they're not property. And I feel like our body of law treats children as the property of their parents. And it is threaded throughout. People talk about the vestiges of the child, but they're often not what is determinative in the courtroom, it's the parents rights to the child or the parents compliance with x.
Yeah, you're spot on. I mean, it's it. And yet, we, as you say, we don't want to be removing children. And we know that poverty often is that neglect is often either shrouded in poverty or that then the two are connected. And so we don't want to it. So should we be removing it? So it's so hard, but you're spot on that from the child's perspective, particularly in a case with your case was not at all? Well, maybe it was unusual, I don't know. But the in your case, your mother wasn't going to be able to she had a mental illness that was never going to where her parental rights are terminated,
or they were not at There's movements at various times. You know, I think each case is unique, but the care the overall status of it do, I think I think we are coming to terms with the fact that kids are better off with their families. However, that's in part because we've underfunded the system to the point where we're like, look, it's so terrible. It's terrible, because social workers should have four kids period, they should have four kids, they should earn a base salary of $150,000. I don't care where they live, they should get free
today. Right now, the entire audience is standing up applauding you and foster parents should be paid. You know,
my afterward, my afterword I say, foster families should have their kids go to state colleges or any college that accepts federal financial aid, which is there all of them should have to put foster families, biological children for free through school after five years of good
so you're nominated for sainthood? Now, go ahead.
But it's the moral and economic thing to do. We need to have the best people working in the system we can pay now or we can pay more later. And the bill later is not just economic. It is the moral reprehensible nature of the fact that we just endlessly pass on poverty to these kids to their from their parents to them to their grandkids. Yep, I say this, this thing when I talk in speeches
more foster kids will become homeless and go to college more foster kids will die within a year leaving foster care and go to
sexual traffic. I don't I don't know that stat. But sexual trafficking of children coming out of foster care girls. Yeah. And boys. But yeah.
Are we okay with that? If we're not, there's a blueprint in my afterward for how we fix that. And I look at the four pillars in my mind, which are social workers and biological families, as well as the kids, and then the public. And we have to address all those things. And it's very low hanging fruit. I'm always people like how do we get more foster parents? Why are middle class people not fostering? Because they're worried about college savings, pension, and health care. For example, let's make them federal employees. We need about 10,000, what is 10,000 more workers, and this country's federal pension system, we can incentivize people to do it. However, social workers, all these folks like social workers, there's different classes, there's different agents involved. The public just constantly sees the dead baby story, and then condemn an entire class of people who are doing this work. And it's not just the financials that I talked about, we have to honor these people. As the heroes they are doing the war on poverty, which we never won. And we're still fighting and I see people celebrate Veterans Day on like, when a social work day in our country's mind, never. And yet, my sister, a social worker, she everyday should be her damn day. I did her taxes one year, like where Why are you spend so much money on your kids? And I don't mean her biological, you know, and not every one of them is the same. I didn't have great ones. But what profession is, but at the end of the day, we need them to to be fully supported to do this work. That means what can we do to ameliorate churn, what can we do to support them, emotion is huge, etc, and churn.
And we know that a turnover and caseworker is sick has significantly is significantly correlated to a poor outcome for their children in their care. The children that have the in the case, workers caseload, and that's a big deal. People find out about podcast from other people, ie word of mouth. And that is the best way that you if you want to help this podcast and nonprofit creating a family, the best thing you can do is tell your friends and families about the podcast and why you like it and how you found it. So the podcast is called Creating a family.org. Let's talk about adoption in foster care. So please let your family and friends know about it. So we continue to grow. Thank you. So if if what words would you give to foster parents from us? As somebody who grew up in the system? What would you want foster parents to know?
So I constantly felt in foster homes. I'm not talking about delinquency facilities searched or group homes. You know, look, it's a bit of an arranged marriage, isn't it? And we're thrust into each other's homes with very little consent.
No consent at all as a child. Yeah.
And even if you're a consultant as a kid, often the case is such that there's not enough placement so you're gonna go to the home. So you're you're receiving someone who is essentially being placed in your home with very little say in that how would you feel? And then this is probably not your first home so you carry all this baggage. And then then you're in a home that may or may not share your values, however you want to define that and or have a different religion I've been converted to every religion and philosophy you could possibly imagine. And and then you're throw thrown into a different school. And by the way, that's going to happen a couple of times in your life. So and then the part that also was particularly galling was act like a child, I heard that so often. And, and they meant different ways to go play or go make friends or go this. I had no skill set to do any of those things. You hadn't been a
child, I've already been a protector of your mother, you have been holding together of the family. Yeah.
So. And I've also experienced things that adults don't experience. I've seen dead bodies. I've been like, you know, the frontline of the AIDS epidemic in the New York City in the 80s. Living in I so the whole concept of this idea of like, flip on a light switch and go be a kid is absurd. And so I don't know what the answer is from a parenting perspective, because each case is so unique. Each kid each each family unit, however, we define that it's going to be different. But I would say realize that you're dealing with the imperfect human that does not necessarily have the cognitive capabilities of acting like an adult. But in many respects, exactly. But both at the same time. And that inconsistency, that friction is where a lot of pain points come in. So permission to do this or that. It's like, oh, we're teach them discipline. No, it's it's kind of condescending, dehumanizing, so I go from caregiver, my family to, you know, I have to ask permission to go in the fridge. Or, you know, these things, you're like, wait a minute, I lead my family, and everyone's now trying to shoehorn me into this other personality. And then at school, it's just this complete culture shock, you know, you're, you're basically going through boot camp, all of a sudden, like in in Fort Bragg and you're in boot camp. So I think a lot of I've, I'm a foster dad, I know, lots of great foster families and foster parents. And I think the practice has changed substantially since I was a kid. But I would say what I want them to know, I think one of the hardest parts for me was I couldn't undo the life I had led to that point. And I couldn't forget it or leave it behind. And there was never any space for that in the homes where I was other outside of the therapy room. So I don't know what the right answers in every single situation. But I think in embracing the kids experience, the young person's experience would have been very healthy for me.
Why did you become a foster that?
Oh, my God, I never intended to everyone always says, Not not people know, and feel that outside the field. Oh, that's great. And the underlying thing about that is there's this thing like, oh, well, you are one of course, you're gonna be one. You know how to do children. Yeah, foster children do not owe a bill for what was done to him. And I always pointed out and people said, no, no, you are as likely and as responsible for being a foster parent as I yeah, I guess I push back on that. And the other thing that always bothers me, not that you ask this, but I'll just say this to your your folks. I'd love to get people's feedback. People ask me, How long was your son with you? I find it offensive. When when my brother and sister had kids, you know, biological children. You know, from the moment they met their child, they were in love. And it didn't matter if it was six minutes, six months, six years or 16 years. So my son came into my life as a mentee. My sister ran something. I like to think of it as like, kids with high potential or potentially queer kids. Both
You said you came in as a what? Mentor? mentee I thought you said Manatee and I'm going to be sure what that means. Okay, so I'm sorry. So your sister ran a program for high
national saving and very informal, state chic, high achieving and or queer. And she basically kids in her her kind of purview, not just on her caseload, but areas she supervised. She would connect them to me, and I do a ton a month. And I would, I would basically interview them, kind of figure out what I could do. And I try and connect them to resources or people or programs. And this young man came into my office and he, in so many respects was me. When I came into Holly's life. I saw intelligence I saw what I saw a lot of pain and unbelievable amount of potential. And so mentorship became more and more and more. And at the time I was married, and he just came into our life and it was very clear. Well, at least to me, it was very clear that this was exactly what it needed to be. He's doing great. He went on to go to Berkeley and he's at Cornell doing a PhD in artificial intelligence. He's got three great brothers. i They don't live with me but I'm very close there. I love them very much as as happens. Many of your people listening know this the stereo, and I've worked with them too, but to a lesser extent, and my son is the best thing that ever happened to me. He is the love of my life and is ultimately a big genesis of my ultimate healing of my own childhood trauma was because in order to help him, I had to help myself, as I, as I said, you asked me what my advice is for social workers, I needed to take care of myself, and I thought I had, but that was not true. And he demanded that of me, as children the children can do. Yes.
I want to thank what I think is probably our longest partnership, our longest sponsor of this podcast, and that's children's connection. They are an adoption agency providing services for domestic infant adoption and embryo donation and adoption throughout the US. They also provide home study and post adoption support to families in Texas. And they have believed in our mission as a organization, almost from the beginning, and we truly could not do what we have done without their support. Thank you children's connection. So last question, why did you name the book a place called home?
You know, I started the book homeless because for 12 years of my life, I was and I thought I thought I would I want it was a home. And then I had 10s and 10s and 10s of homes.
Be careful what you wish for.
Know it ultimately was what I realized was it's it's the My home is not a physical place. My home is the belief that I have lived the life that I've lived, I've been put through what I've been put through and had the chances and opportunities to make be a tool to apply those to help kids like me, so that kids that come after me do not have this experience, the good, the bad, the ugly. And that is my home. That is my mission. And that is what gives me fire. That is what makes me feel like I'm alive. And that is inside of me. And I realized that in this whole long journey of a place called home. I had it all along.
Well on that beautiful note. Thank you David Ambrose, author of a place called of a memoir called a place called home. Thank you for being with us today. I have I enjoyed the book immensely. I recommend it. It is you will finish the book feeling uplifted, and the afterword is worth the book is well worth worth the cost. Just read the afterwards. So there that's a tease. You gotta get the book to do it. All right. Thank you so much, David, for being with us today.
My pleasure. Thank you
Transcribed by https://otter.ai