Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Social Worker and Foster Care Author on Life Story

John Dunn created a CBC Outfront Radio documentary which takes you on a thirteen minute virtual ride through his life in foster care. An American child protection worker, supervisor, and author of books for kids in foster care and adoption recently contacted Dunn with the following letter of support for his documentary.

This letter is something which should be read by people who work in child welfare at all levels.

The letter follows:

John Dunn

As a former child of the American foster care system, my heart and passion will always be in this field. When I began my career in social work 13 years ago, I came in with the perspective that "parents need to work harder to get their children back!” This was a very na├»ve statement on my part and after a few years, I realized just how the child welfare system really struggles to meet the needs of children in care. The damage that can be caused is lifelong and … hey, I am preaching to the wrong person…you already know all of this.

I started doing a lot of research and searching for a better way to do things and I came across your website. I listened to your story and it was such a powerful way to describe your experience. At that time, I was supervising case managers and I pulled them together one day so that they could experience your story.

All though many of them were very good social workers, and cared deeply for the children they worked with, I knew that none of them really could understand what the journey is like for a child in care. Your virtual journey was the perfect way for them to visualize what it is like.

They all listened to your story and afterwards they just sat there. My first thought was; okay this didn’t work out the way I thought. It didn’t affect them at all.

But, their silence was because they were all absorbing your message. One of them began to cry because it really affected her in a meaningful way. We had a great conversation after listening to your story and we began the process of trying to change the way that we practiced social work with families.

We created a new mission statement for our work – throwing out the one that the state created for us. Because we worked for a private agency, we didn’t have to adhere to the same restrictions that state employees were held to. We were able to really look at and implement changes to our own practice.

Unfortunately, the resistance from the system to our new approach was strong. Team members looked at us like we were crazy and that we didn’t know what we were doing. People that had known me for years would come up to me and ask what happened to the old Adam. When I asked them to explain, they would say that I just was different and that I seemed to be really focused on parents instead of the children. My answer was; I see what we are doing to children in care and if you can stand here and tell me that every child that comes through our system is getting what they need then I will back down, but until you can do that, then we need to all change our approach. None of them could say that we were helping every child.

I started opening my eyes to the treatment that parents were receiving and it made me sick to my stomach. They powerless and helplessness that they felt poured from their souls and no one was listening to them. In meetings I began to notice that not many people would regard the parents as experts of their own children. They were seen as a necessity of the process versus a participant.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a strong believer that children need to be protected from abuse and neglect and that if parents can not protect their children, they should not be allowed to continue to abuse them. But, for heaven’s sake; WE can not be allowed to put children in a situation that is worse than the one they were in. And WE need to really include the parents in the process.

The way that you tell your story did impact the people I worked with! So, please keep telling your story!! When I heard your message, I did hear anger and frustration with your system in Canada, but I didn’t take it that you were against them, you just want them to do their jobs better! The people who say that you are against them are like the ones here who said that I was changing, they are too blind by their own beliefs that they can’t see beyond them!

I actually have written (along with my wife) five children’s books for children in foster care. Three of them just came back from the printer so they aren’t on our website yet. But, if you want to check them out you can at

I started writing books for adults years ago, but then I realized that I needed to find a way to help children in care communicate what they are feeling and to help their caregivers understand that the behaviors they are seeing are not always what they seem like on the surface. It has taken me four years to get these books out there, and hopefully they will start picking up. I am still going to finish those books for the adults, but they will take more time.

Thanks for emailing me back and I look forward to collaborating with you!