S2 Ep34: 424,000 Garbage Bag Suitcases and Counting: The journey through foster care is often messy and traumatic. It’s time to change the outcomes for kids in the foster care system.
10:33PM Apr 25, 2022
Shelli Ann Garland
Hello and welcome to A Dash of SaLT. I'm Dr. Shelli Ann, and I'm so glad you're here. Whether you stumbled upon this podcast by accident, or you're here because the subject drew you in welcome. SaLT is an acronym for society and learning today. This podcast was created as an outlet for inviting fresh discussions on sociology and learning theories that impact your world. Each episode includes a wide range of themes that focus on society in everyday learning, whether formal or informal, so let's get stuck in shall we.
Welcome to A Dash of SaLT today I'm joined by Shenandoah chappelow. Shenandoah is a graduate of Michigan State University and coach you she is sought after is a sought after speaker on topics surrounding youth in foster care and the science and the impact of trauma and resilience on various social issues. She's also a trainer consultant that helps private governmental and public organisations implement sustainable trauma informed strategies that are focused on learning new skills as well as organisational culture changes and shifts. A survivor of the foster care system herself, Shenandoah aged out into homelessness at the age of 18. She began researching and learn that there were nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system each day in the United States. And she set out on a mission to tell her story and educate the general public about the grim realities of a life that she had always tried to hide. Through education. She believes that some of the grassroots solutions that she offers, as well as ideas and solutions from others could change lives of children and the landscape of the country. I'm really delighted to have you on the podcast today to talk to you about the child welfare system, your own personal experiences, and other adverse childhood experiences and trauma and the importance of of storytelling, and how we might learn from our life journey and find those aha moments that become teach points for others. Welcome, Shenandoah.
Oh, thank you, Dr. Garland for having me on. I'm super excited to be part of your community today.
So I know that you get this question every time it's a good icebreaker. It's a good opener. And of course, you know what's coming. Shenandoah is a you very unique name. So why don't you start if you don't mind telling us that the story behind the name?
Yeah, so it's always a good place to start right with your name. And so it's so telling about so much about us. I think our name that is we're tied to that as our identity so much, which is super interesting. So I joke with audiences very often and say, you know, the only way you get a name like Shenandoah is to be born in Southern California in the early 70s. And, and that's sort of the truth. Now. It wasn't what I grew up knowing what I grew up thinking about. My name was that I had been named after the Shenandoah Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which is my mom said she had met my father there, and that they had met there. And that's how I got my name. And so I used to joke as a kid and say, well, at least it wasn't the Tropicana right. So that could have been much worse. And then what happened is that I'll really in my I believe that story my whole life, right that my parents had met at the Shenandoah Hotel Casino. It was owned and operated by Wayne Newton, who had the Shenandoah ranch and still has the Shenandoah ranch. And so I thought, yeah, that makes perfect sense. Then my mid 30s, I was actually being interviewed for a newspaper article. And the gentleman came in and was doing this really, what became an incredible write up about me. And he asked the same question you asked, which was, how'd you get your name? And so I told him what I thought was the truth, right? And a couple of days later, I got this what I considered a really embarrassing email saying, hey, started doing some research about your name. And it turns out that the Shenandoah Hotel opened like eight years after you were born. And and what that caused was an immediate embarrassment on my part, because here it appears that I've lied to the shut off about something so basic, right? So what else have I lied about? And what came to be was this idea that I had been running from my past, and I had no choice but to tell him about my mother. And to that point in my life, I had never disclosed my type of care to anyone. So Since I had aged out, I hadn't talked about it. But I felt painted into a corner where I didn't have a choice. And so it was him. And simultaneously something happened in my professional life that began be able to share sort of this journey that I had been on those things kind of came together at the same time. So this question, how did you get your name actually became a life changing point in my life. And so it turns out that really, you just need to be born in California in the 70s, two parents who dabble in all things hippie related at the time. And then you get a unique name like Shenandoah, that you regret until social media becomes a thing. And it turns out people can find you really easily when your name is shown. And
this is very true. And so that's really a really interesting story, especially when we do you know, have traumatic things that happen in our past. And a lot of times, we do want to often forget our past, or we want to spin our past and a little bit of a nicer light than what it actually was. And so, you know, really that coming to light about the reality of your name and, and the truth of it, you know, it wasn't that you were lying, obviously, purposely about it, you had no idea. And I can imagine the shock in your own thought was like, Wait, that's what I always knew, you know, it almost almost be as if somebody had been suddenly told, Oh, you're not, you're not our child, you were adopted, like, it would be that same kind of a shock, because like you said, your name is so tied into your identity. But you did have an interesting and traumatic childhood. And if you don't mind, I'd like you to briefly summarise for us a little bit of some of your childhood experiences. And that will help to direct us to where we're going next in our conversation.
Yeah, of course, right? Because, because that's the thing for me, it was the shock and panic moment, but I had had lots of those in my life. So this not being the first one. And so I was born in Southern California in the early 70s. I never knew my biological father was quite some time before I actually knew who my biological father was. And, and my mom was really sort of a wandering soul. She suffered from numerous mental health conditions, she had to medicate for her mental health conditions at the time, she used, you know, drugs and alcohol as as medication for those. And so we had quite a nomadic childhood, I moved over 50 times attended over 35 schools before the age of 13, before I was ultimately placed into foster care. And so I talk about my childhood in two really different ways, right, is that as a child, it was really quite exciting and fascinating to sort of always be moving and always not knowing what was what was happening. And so that's exciting, right? It's a it's a bit of a like Tom Sawyer adventure. And I talk about being on like, a reverse Oregon Trail, because we were moving from the West Coast and sort of making our way east, back. And it was also quite terrifying. Right, so there are many times coming home from school that I didn't know if my mom would be there. Like, she might just move and forget about me, was a constant fear that played in my head through my childhood, and never feeling connected. So we very isolated. So a lot of times I hear from people who grew up in military families where there was often that moving and feeling sort of very discombobulated. What they say is they felt stability within their family. Like that was the thing. So although like making friends with classmates and and losing those connections happen very frequently, they became quite close with their siblings or their parents. And in that very mitt, why didn't have that either. So I was an only child with a mom who was really suffering, who would disappear for days and weeks on end throughout my childhood was very much responsible for myself from some of my earliest memories, right? My mom is is really a background player in that. And so So that's like the crux of it, right? Is that that you just live in this very disconnected, isolated version. And at the same time, it's really quite exciting. Because you never know what's going to happen. You're not in a routine and the routine itself is not the route so so there's excitement in that in there some some joy and fun in that but there's also a lot of pain and sorrow that exists because it forces you into what you know as an adult or really unsafe situation. But as a child, you believe that everybody is living this way. Because you don't know any differently, right? So I have this really this dichotomy of my childhood of like, the excitement and fun of it that I can tap into sometimes. And from adult eyes looking back, this also, I see a lot of fear in my childhood, and a lot of uncertainty. And it can obviously tie a lot of my traumatic experiences to there being, you know, zero adult supervision, and, and being put in a place of victimisation. Unbeknownst to me thinking that this was the existence that everyone was experiencing. And even today, I find myself when people say things or talk about their childhood, I think like, oh, that's, that seems strange. And I have to realise like, no, that's like a typical in my childhood was strange, right? So it's like, I can find myself in conversations with friends or peers, where, where people talk about things, and I'll say something that I get the strange look, and it's like, okay, that was that's weird to other people, right? Because it still seems very normal to me, even as an adult sometimes.
Yeah. And I've been listening to your book on Audible, which we're going to talk about your book a little bit later. So I don't want to give too much away. But I was kind of thinking about some of those childhood experiences where you thought, you know, to yourself, yours was normal, and everybody's else's was not quite as normal. And I want to talk a little bit about your I want you to talk a little bit about your dad. And there was a point in the book. And to me, I found it quite horrifying. But you were you were just telling the story. You know, I sat back and I realised you know that that could seem like something that would be fun to a child. But tell us a little bit about the red light game.
Yes. So throughout my childhood, my mom was married to a gentleman who I believed was my father. So for most of my childhood, I grew up with a man sort of in the background, who comes and goes quite frequently, but who I thought was my father, it turns out that he's not that bad. He's my stepfather, but he still played a pivotal role in my life. And because alcohol and drug abuse was so prevalent throughout my childhood, you know, I spent many of days and nights in bars and taverns in city locations. And so it became a game of my childhood called the red light game where oftentimes my stepfather would be driving home from the bar tavern, and I would be in the vehicle with him. Of course, you know, no seatbelts. No, no, no, I was probably still young enough to be in a car seat by modern standards, but but we weren't even in seatbelts. And in the game was to tell my stepfather what the colour of lights were, it was really quite fun. Because we would, we would have to say if it was green, yellow, or red, right? And so then that would tell him whether or not he needed to go because he couldn't tell the difference. I mean, he would be so integrated that, that he couldn't tell right. So from a kid's perspective, this is purely fun, and a lark and a laugh. I mean, I sometimes think, gosh, if if social media were a thing, and we would have had a million viewers, right, like, because these are the things we would have been taping thinking that they were, they were just normal parts of everybody's life. I remember the first time telling the story to somebody about the red light game and then just looking blankly at me. And I was telling that in good fun, like, it wasn't a, it wasn't a sort of sadness for me. And I was probably in my mid 20s At the time, and I remember the people also in their mid 20s, just blank, like not even knowing what to say. And one of the people saying, like, you realise that this is abuse. And and I remember arguing adamantly against it. And, and then thinking of that conversation now, I just wonder what these people were, like, like, you feel so detached, because that's your life. And so if people are saying that's abuse them, what are they going to say about like, physical, right, like being punched in the face, being stabbed in the shoulder with a fork, like, that was abuse in my mind that the red light game was like, the fun of our family. And so it can be really hard to reconcile those things with yourself. Having to stand back and say, Well, what is that really what's really going on? And then when your best memories then become these abuse filled memories, then what rights like But those were the the joyous times that sort of got me through. And now you're saying their abuse filled. So what does that mean?
Yeah, yeah, it's just listening to this, this, this stories and, you know, hearing your experiences. And, and I'd love to say, Oh, it got better. But at the when you were an early teenager and you're early in your adolescence, and going into your teen years you were placed into foster care. And and that has its own set of experiences and traumas of its own. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Yeah, so So the summer before I turned 13, so I was still 12, I was actually sent to live with an aunt in California, we had sort of made our way on the Oregon Trail to Michigan. So we had, we had moved state to state to state back to Michigan, which was my mom's home state. And then I was sent back to California to live with one of my mom's sisters for the summer. And when I returned, nobody picked me up at the, at the airport, and then becomes a major turning point, I convinced the flight attendant to allow me to just take the city bus to go see my grandmother. And of course, this was at a time in airports, when like, you could go to the gate, pick up your guests, you didn't have to, you know, go through security and sort of do the whole thing. And so she just allowed that to happen. And so while doing that, I got on the bus and I went to my grandmother's house, which was the only person in the community who I knew where she lived at the time. And at the time, she was living in a senior housing community, you know, she had a little apartment with a little kitchenette, but they gathered for meals and events. I mean, most of us are familiar with these types of places. And so of course, my grandmother let me in. And this was really the first time in my life where not that my mom had disappeared, but that other adults knew my mom had disappeared. So in all previous times, like we were living on our own, and so, you know, there was no intervention from other adults, nobody really knew that this was happening. And so, you know, my grandmother allowed me in and I think she thought my mom would appear the next day or something. I think people in my family knew my mom was struggling with addiction. But, you know, she was doing just fine on that same token, right? Like she was functioning for most people standard well, so my mom didn't appear. And so a day sort of turned into a week and my grandmother really never said anything to me. But what happened is you have this really like preteen girl, living in a senior living community who has a significant trauma history, right? It causes problems. And the senior living community came to my grandmother and said, Listen, either she needs to go or you both need to go, essentially. And so at 12, I was left with this decision of, do I call the authorities on myself to get placed into foster care? Or do I become homeless with my grandmother? I was 12 years old. I had raised myself pretty much at that point. But I still think back is a person who's now raised a functioning adult daughter, like, at 12. I mean, I remember the year she was 12, thinking, There's no way this kid could make this decision. Right? Because, like, I spent a lot of the year of her 12th birthday like in this like, oh my gosh, like it was a real sort of awakening for me to now be caring for a 12 year old to realise what I was tasked with doing at that time. And this is why I talk about why representation matters so much, right? So even as like a white person people are like, oh, there's plenty of white people on television. You but at the time, I didn't know of any foster kids. Right. And, and I was definitely a latchkey kid who was raised on The Cosby Cosby Show and in different strokes, which, by the way, didn't realise those kids were adopted. Like, that wasn't like the theme of the show, right? So like, I was raised on television and family ties, and, and in 30 minutes, everything was fine. And I, I didn't see myself I didn't see families struggling. I didn't see that. And so I didn't know what to do. And it was really the story of Annie that had me call the authorities on myself. And of course, the story of Annie is yes, she's in this orphanage. That's really horrible. So she ends up with Daddy Warbucks and Sandy the dog and everybody lives happily ever after. And I thought, Oh my gosh. Yeah. If I go into foster care, these are like, the world's best parents. Right. So like, my parent can't care for me. I was I knew that I was clear on that she hadn't been able to care for me money. entire life. But foster care was like the state was saying, these are our best parents. And they will care for kids who have no one. And that's what I thought, right? That's what 12 year olds think. If it happened to Annie, it can happen to me. Um, you know, now, at this age, I'm just like, still waiting on Daddy Warbucks. Right. So I called the authorities with that idea that I was going to have a nanny or Disney happily ever after. And I convinced myself that I would give them the least amount of information possible. So in other words, like in my life, and in my communities that I grown up with being sort of a snitch, or a tattletale was like the worst thing you could do. And that you could be labelled. And I grew up in an environment where distrust of police was common, and was justified. There were times that I had called 911, as a child, witnessing my mom being brutally beaten or brutally raped, and the police would do nothing, nobody would be arrested, nothing would happen because of it. I had seen the police being aggressive with people in our community. So I didn't really trust police, and I didn't want to be labelled a snitch. So I made a deal with myself that if I just told them the least amount of information possible, that I could, I could have the best of both worlds. I could not be a snitch, but I could save myself, keep my grandmother housed. And then I get Daddy Warbucks. Like, in my 12 year old mind, that's what I thought like, no one's gonna come after my mom, my grandmother say, and I can go live this amazing life. And I I really believed that. And so they came, the police showed up with a social worker, I did a 20 minute interview, if that. And at the end of the interview, I was in back of the social workers car, on my way back to her offices as an emergency placement. And in that 20 minutes, I told them that my mom suffered from alcohol and drug addiction that it wasn't uncommon for her to go missing. And that's a really the story that I crafted. And for my time and care, which was five plus years because I eventually aged out was never adopted. That was the only story most people knew. No one ever asked me about emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse that I had suffered. And so I never told anybody. And thus, you know, never received proper therapy never received diagnoses, and everything around my experience in foster care, as a preteen. And then a teen was everyone having an expectation of me turning out like my mother. Right? So I got here, I get placed into care. And everybody is just waiting for me to turn into my mother because that's what teenage girls do. And so I really thought, Oh, I'm not I quickly knew I wasn't getting the any ending. And then quickly realised, oh, my gosh, I'm going to be a teenage mom with mental health issues, and a drug and alcohol problem in the system, confirmed that at every turn for me that right like I started getting diagnosed, turns out misdiagnosed with many mental health conditions, because that was attached to money, right? So every time we diagnose you, you become a higher risk case, and you're worth more money. So your your commodity price goes up, right? I mean, there's really your stock price and your stock value goes up every time we can diagnose you with some new disorder. And so I was shuffled between lots of doctors and psychologists and therapists constantly getting diagnosis that would take me many years to to find out what's true and what's not in that, because it's a system of money and games. And
I was just gonna say and let's be very clear here, that that increase in that money and that commodity or that that value in you was not something that was invested in you.
No, no, no, no, I, I just said this to an audience. I actually was fortunate enough to be speaking at a substance abuse conference. And I said, I entered foster care in a pair of underwear that I walked across the stage when I finally graduated from high school in the same pair of underwear. I mean, I don't think people understand, you know, I came into the system at 12. I aged out at 18. You know, for your women listeners. They're all just like, how is that even possible? Like, you grow but like, what, but that's all I had. So I was making do with things that I had and I talked about this quite frequently is that I, I turned 18, halfway through my senior year of high school. So just because of where my birthday was, I ended up starting kindergarten late, right, because I didn't make the December 1 cut off when I was a kid of 35. And so, so I was one of the older kids in my class. So I turned 18, during my senior year of high school. And so in order. My last foster care placement was in a very rural location that didn't have public transportation that didn't have, you know, apartments near the high school that didn't have sort of all these things. And I didn't know what I was going to do. So I negotiated with my foster parents, to live with them, if I continued to pay them what they had been receiving from the state, right, because when I turned 18, the money from the state gets turned off. And so I was working a minimum wage job. But that was the only thing I could think of. So I could graduate from high school because that was my big goal. Like, I wasn't trying to, like do anything other than get a high school diploma. I didn't know anyone with a high school diploma, no one in my family had had a high school diploma. So I thought, if I could do that, then I have really succeeded. And I had really showed the system who was still waiting for me to be pregnant, right? Like they couldn't believe I wasn't. I wasn't doing all of these things. Because really, for me, it was like, I'll show you, right, like, I was just so angry, and so upset that I was like, I'm gonna get this high school diploma. So I negotiated with my foster parents who agreed that I could stay if I paid them. And if I gave them a $50 a month raise. Well, that was a $50 a month raise with every single penny I earned from my job. Which meant I didn't have feminine hygiene products, which meant I didn't have deodorant, which meant I didn't have toothpaste. I mean, that makes you really popular in high school, by the way, when you don't have basic hygiene products, right? You're an educator. So you like you get this on a deep level, because you've had these kids in your classrooms, right? So. So then you're also dealing with the social implications of this, you don't have those basic needs. And you're right, this is all this, you become a commodity. And it's not a commodity of care for you. So you become this 18 year old girl who still crosses the stage and Strawberry Shortcake underwear. That that by the way you came into care with when you were 12. But you've probably had since you were like, eight, yes. or younger, right? Like, because you came from a poverty situation. So it wasn't like Josh, I came into care. And someone took me on some big shopping spree and I got this great new red dress that he got. And all these lavish things were upon me, I think we live in this myth that that's what's happening. And then it feeds this myth that then foster parents are heroes, and that foster kids should be grateful that people want to come in, when really, we're still just trying to survive. So I say this often, foster care changed nothing for me, except for I didn't know what to expect. And when I was with my mother, I knew what to expect. Yeah, that was really the change for me.
Sometimes there's that, that phenomena or that feeling it publicly that foster care, you know, that foster parents are, you know, are doing some they're doing something so good for children. And, and what I'd like to say, in all honesty, as you know, somebody who was a child of foster parents, I wasn't in foster care. My parents were the foster parents who took in children, the I actually would realise that, you know, it, especially in sort of socialising and communicating with other foster parents in that county that we lived in that that good foster care is it is is the exception rather than the rule. And I know that that's probably a really dicey thing to say publicly. But it from my own experiences. On the other side, I wasn't the foster kid, I had foster siblings. But I recognised even as a young girl that, you know, that a lot of times foster kids would say, oh, gosh, I hope I get this family. Just like you said, I hope I get the Daddy Warbucks family, I really hope I get this family. But I ended up with this family. And a lot of times the foster parents have that mentality. Well, I'm doing such a good thing. I'm taking care of you, you know, you've got you know, you get fed and you've got a place to sleep and you know, you're safe and that kind of thing. And a lot of times it doesn't go much farther than that. You know, from what I had seen and experienced.
Yeah, like, like food. food and shelter and safety aren't guaranteed, though, you know, like, there were many homes in which we had to request food. We we weren't given different foods and other members of the family, there were different meals prepared just for for the foster kids in the family versus, you know other people. So like, in one home in particular, like we were never offered meat, right. So we always have pasta or something else. So it's like, this also causes issues and donations. And you're not always safe in every home. And so it's it's really a perpetuating thing. And I learned quite quickly. And other girls and Groupon placements that I were in touch us quite quickly, right like because we learn from the other girls that don't complain about the things happening in this home, because the next one might be worse. And so when you were older, teen as well, it became quite clear of like, put up with whatever the abuses here, keep your mouth shut about the abuse that happens here because no one believes you. One because you're the kid with all the trauma and all that. So you're clearly not telling the truth is one, two, if someone might believe you, or if your rumblings are disturbing, disturbing the regular flow enough and you get moved, chances are they're gonna move you somewhere that is more uncomfortable. And so then what, right, so you've learned really quickly to just shut your mouth, and do as you're told and play the game to get through. And so I talked about this in terms of I never did a prison sentence, but I think that's the closest you could do without doing a prison sentence to prison. And so when we talk about things like raising the age, right, so like, okay, for kids like me, who turned 18, in the middle of their senior year of high school, we know what the, the outcomes are, for most kids in that situation, we'll raise the age to 21, right, but, but you get to opt in. So if you opt in to stay till 21, then you get all these extra services. And I say, like, if you've worked with prisoners of any kind of like, that's like saying to a prisoner, hey, we can open the gates and you can leave, or you could stay a bit longer, and we'll provide you more services. And so for, for the kids who opt in, it's usually kids who do have really great foster families or bio families that are still heavily involved. And they realise, hey, we can just get the services. And we'll be in an even better position to truly need the services. And I would include myself in that group, or like I'm out of here. I'm not playing by these rules anymore. And by your rules, especially for me, where I had pretty much raised myself, and then to come into a household and be told there been times that this you're gonna do like, that's really a traumatic experience that nobody wanted to. It was just like, I was supposed to just get in line with no regard for what had happened to me. And how I had arrived to this point. Right. It was like, You're to disregard anything that's happened to you over the last 12 years. And now just follow the rules here. And in by the way, don't even talk about it. Yeah, to talk about, well, in my other house, or over here in this foster home, we did it like like, that was the triggering point for most foster parents when I was in a home and it really, I was just trying to understand what's going on because it was all strange to me, right. So I took about my first day in care, my first emergency placement that, you know, when I was a kid, I knew I was safe when I came home. And my mom was in the back bedroom with some strange either drugs on the table. I knew I would be safe that night. My mom had everything she needed. I could just kind of slink into my room and I would be okay and safe. If I walked through that door after school and one of those things weren't happening my brain without me even knowing it right unconsciously knew to be on high alert and to be hyper vigilant, but it was gonna be a long night in my brain just became trained that way. So when I walked into my first foster home, it wasn't that bad right like the worst drugs on the table. My first foster home in the foster mom was was nice enough, like it was the nicest person and around six o'clock that evening she said, Hey, cuz I was just sitting in my room being hyper vigilant, right? Not knowing because those things didn't exist. Didn't know I was being hyper vigilant. Hey, could you wash your hands and come to dinner? I went ballistic. Right? I went absolutely ballistic. And because I went ballistic, I was. I was swearing at her. I was throwing things I fully admit and take my behaviour into this. She responded and called the police and then she wasn't hyper hit To what mode, right? She's, she's in trauma brain and the police arrived in trauma brained and that I got put in handcuffs and arrested. What nobody ever did and that intervention was the executive functioning, which is like, why would you ask the kids to come to dinner? And they would go crazy. Makes no sense. Nobody ever asked that question. It took me into my 40s and lots of therapy to ask myself that question. And the truth was, is I was in survival mode, I was waiting for something that was going to attack me, because it was unsafe by everything, what I knew what Safe Walks, right. So just because we remove you from unsafe circumstances and put you in this new home, it's a stranger, and it's unknown quantity. And so you're on alert, right? Well, I also never sat at a dinner table to have dinner. So now you're basically saying, Hey, Come jump out of this thing with me. I've got you. And so that was the thing, like there's the bear coming for me, right. And so it took me a long time to understand that and begin to see this idea of triggers, and how how unconscious it is and how other players people can escalate a trigger. But then just point to behaviour as the problem versus really getting to root cause sores. And that's what I really see, organizationally in systems professionally now is that we're oftentimes trying to Band Aid behaviour, instead of really dealing with root cause sources.
I'm really just blown away by you know, again, kind of hearing your experiences and knowing that as a young adolescent on my side, you know, being a part of those experiences as a child in the home of foster children coming into the home, and I had, obviously, as a young child had no training or experience and understanding of how, you know, my fellow New siblings would be experiencing these types of things, I had no idea and that's something that I wanted to talk about, too, is that the idea of training and experience that are given to these foster families, and the way in which a lot of times governmental entities will, they feel if they've certified somebody and deemed them a good, you know, foster family. They don't, they, they want things to be hush hush and left hush, as you were alluding to earlier, because they don't want anybody to say well, that's, you know, maybe that's not a good experience that's happening in this foster family, they don't want to be told that foster families that they've chose, chosen to take care of children are maybe not as shiny as you know. You know, they would they would portray them to be. And so you know, that's something to think about, and maybe to talk about, too, is the, the, let's sweep this under the carpet, let's all sweep these things under the carpet, and then do a lot of the blaming of, of the child, the traumatic child, in that experience.
quite frequently, right. And there's multiple reasons for this is that if foster parenting is a terrible experience, then who's gonna want to do it? So there's that right, and then we don't have any foster parents. And there's a need to we we often see foster parents pitted against biological parents. So instead of saying, Hey, you could never have too many children to Love A Child. What we see the system doing is pitting these people against each other. So bio parents are distrustful of foster parents and foster parents, of course, are just stressful a bio parents. And so they become these opposite ends. Instead of you know what I've seen it done really well, it's typically those two entities joining together and saying no to the system. That's not what's best for this child. So when I've seen foster care work really, really well, in all honesty, it's bio parents and foster parents who come to love and respect each other and say, We all love this child. And we all want what's best for this child. And then you see some really beautiful things that can happen. Because the truth is, is over 95% of kids who are removed from biological parents are removed because of neglect, which is really the government's fancy term for poverty. And so this gets into this whole debate of like, shouldn't be even be removing kids in the first place. And could we drastically reduce this? Now? Of course, professionally, I know the answer is yes, yes. And yes, right. But this requires just regular citizens. And it's really the reason that I started doing this work, to understand foster care at a really deep level, and to know what's happening in our own community. And what I hear often is false. Is your family, they're wonderful that that's probably true. They probably are wonderful people. But that doesn't change what's happening to the child. So I see this all the time, no person or group of people could love me out of my pain and trauma level low doesn't sell it. That's what people don't understand. Yeah. And we have to move away from what I call this hero culture of making every like, it feels like every profession. Currently. There's there's heroes, right? And the problem is, there's some things are just jobs, and you're just doing the job. And when we're talking about doing the job of families, there's really nothing that can replace that. We're born into a family, and nothing replaces that bond. All the abuse and hardship with my mother. Right, I get to say what I get to say about my mother, I don't usually tolerate even to this day, other people making a judgement about her because they don't know her. Even if you've read the book, and you think you know, or you don't know where, right. So like, people are more than that. And we have to stop trying to villainize and harrowing, people and stories and just understand that, you know, I talk about what was the trauma of my mother's childhood. You know, my mom's face score is through the roof. Only on the pieces that I know. And I don't know the whole story, I'm still trying to figure out who my mother's biological father is, right? Like she has her own traumatic story for which she wasn't given services or help for. And so if my mom on a trauma scale is a 10 plus, and she raises me and I'm a nine, that means she really did do the best job that she could. And instead of villainizing, her, we really have to just focus our time and attention on not what a terrible parent she was. But why did we not give resources? Why did we with hold? Why did we return? That's not our issue right? On there were plenty of times where red flags were raised in my own childhood, much sooner than the age of 12, where somebody could have said, something needs to be done, how can we help this family? And would my story have been different? Because I was removed, I was placed into foster care. I had many traumatic experiences within foster care itself. Would I have been better to have been with my mother? This is a question I still ask myself quite frequently is like, the trauma didn't stop just because I was placed in foster care. Now I am completely disconnected from everyone and everything, even as an adult. And so we talked about that ageing out process at 18. Well, what happens when you're 35, and you have your first child, or what happens when you get married? And there's nobody? Nobody, nobody thinks about those lifelong effects that continue forever? Yeah. And I think that's an important piece for us to to, to consider and think about, instead of just who's the hero and who's the villain of the story.
Yeah, and you bring up a really good point that I kind of want to expand on, on, I know you, you've obviously done loads of research, in this as part of your advocacy and as part of your own personal experience. And also, as part of, you know, going through the process of writing your book, the garbage bag suitcase. But in your bio, we talked a little bit about, I had said that more than 400,000 children are in foster care at any given day in the US. And your research has shown that out of those children, nearly 61% of children in foster care will age out of the system without having any place to live or go. And then you've also said that nearly 50% end up incarcerated within two years of ageing out almost 80% of those who were in foster care.
Those who are on death row.
Thank you. Yes, though, almost 80% of those people on death row, were in foster care or foster care alone. And you know, these are, these are the statistics that made you realise that you needed to do something. And I know as I read those and saw those, I also was very shocked and taken aback. Can we really change the system? What What? What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, so we can write Dr. Garland so we can change the system because we are the system. So one of my big frustrations is I constantly hear it's the government. It's like, that's us, right? So we have to stand up and take responsibility for that. It's a real frustration of mine. because I hear it even when I'm within systems working, right? So, so even when I'm within a child welfare system or within a public school system, they're like, well, they're forcing us like, no, that's us. Like we're forcing ourselves to do these things. Right? We are the government here. And so what I think is many of us do not understand what's actually happening in the system. Most of us are passionate about a cause or a couple of causes. And I don't care what it is, right? So if you're worried about homelessness, if you're worried about drug addiction, if you're worried about employment and unemployment rates, right, everyone started right now calling this like the great resignation, these things are all tied back to trauma. And until we really deeply understand the science, of trauma, and what's happening in the brain, and how that changes lives, not just emotionally, but also biologically. So when we're talking about high cancer rates, when we're talking about high heart rates, and risk for heart attack. We know scientifically, it's been proven in study after study, that there are higher correlations to things like cancer to our adverse childhood experiences than than it is to like secondhand smoke, right? So we do all these campaigns about non smoking, which are great, I don't want us to stop that. But we don't talk about how the things that happen to us are actually impacting our physical health as well, not just certain mental health and well being, all of these things are connected, right? And we know and this research and science isn't like, new. It's been around for decades and decades. In fact, the adverse childhood experience study is almost 30 years old at this point, right? So this isn't like breaking new science. It's just we continue to fight it. And I'm really intrigued, as I mentioned, this sociological perspective of like, why do we fight what we know is true, right? Because what I find in the systems that I work with is that oftentimes people hire me and say, help us have better outcomes for kids. Because of all of the systems I worked with, right? Whether I'm going into a health system, or a school system, or child welfare system, they're thinking about the end product user, which is really intriguing. And I spent most of my time saying, it's not about your end product user, it's about you. You're not healed. When you become healed, you begin to mirroring healed behaviour. And right now what you're Mirroring is unhealed behaviour. And so people mimic that behaviour and learn in the best way I can talk about this, as currently this hustle culture that we live in, yeah, where everyone needs to be busy all the time, you need to be up at 4am, you need to be working out eating healthy breakfast, real preppy, right, you need to be doing all of this before you even get to your job. And then you need to work 12 hours a day at your job, really produce the highest quality work for all 12 hours, you're there. And then you need to come home and you need to get the kids everywhere they need to be because you need to have exactly this many kids and live life exactly in this, like predetermined way. And then you need to like fall into bed completely exhausted and wake up at 4am and do it all over again. So that's been part of our culture for a really long time. That's like the American way, right? Like, it is very much an American Standard, where seven days a week and stars are opened all the time. And then what I saw on and I see this in schools very frequently is like, even before COVID is like principals would say, I just need my teachers to take care of themselves and and have lunch. And I would say that's that's really wonderful behaviour, sir. When was the last time you took lunch? Oh, I don't have time for lunch. Right? Well, so you've made as a leader a culture if we don't take lunch here. So then the teachers don't take lunch, right? And so what do the students see? Then the students see, like, we work really hard here. And so we have to get the best grades and maybe the most effort, and teachers feel like I can get more homework. Because my parents work really hard. And teachers work really hard. So I better work really hard. And we have parents saying, Gosh, my kid has no time for playing or to do anything. It's like no, no, you gotta be working. Oh, so you have downtime. So what's the four sports you participate in? Right? Yeah, instead of them. And we have principals who lead from a place of saying, Hey, we take care of ourselves here. And I take care of myself and hey, we watch Wait, teachers go to lunch and teachers care for themselves. They actually tend to then give less homework and do other things in kids begin to care for themselves. And there's more play and happiness. Right? It is. We don't do as we're told we do as we see. Yeah. And so this mirrored behaviour becomes us saying as a culture, we have to fix us. It's not about fixing all these other people. It's about really reflecting to do their own personal deep work. And when we do that, when we come from a place of that, that it's easier for others to do their work. And healing comes in that way. Because we can't fix people's traumas, right? We can't, I can't fix yours, surely you can't fix mine. But what we can do is have space that we're all doing the best we can. And then when we come from that trauma informed place, and that universal understanding of everybody's got something that I don't even need to know what it is, I just know and respect you. And I know you'll get this work done when you get it done. And it's going to be amazing when you do instead of this whole slow culture of like, now now now now, that sort of perpetuates that toxicity.
Yeah.You have a you co founded the hashtag 4600, and counting. And it's a grassroots movement to bring awareness and change to the missing youth of foster care. Tell me more about the meaning of 40 that hashtag 4600. And and tell us more about this movement, if you would.
Yeah, so um, I co founded this with a girlfriend of mine Mardi Gras men, who was sex trafficked as a young child as well. And we really became concerned with the number of kids not only being trafficked, but specifically being trafficked to had foster care backgrounds. And so what we began discovering in our research is that many foster kids go missing. So they're removed from their homes. And then they get tagged in different ways they get tagged as runaways, or on the typically not missing, like they're not given that title. And then thus, they don't get reported in the same way. So if you were I one of our children went missing, right, there would be this whole thing we would do this parents, I mean, it'd be our worst nightmare. But we would like call the centre of Nash, right, we get the police involved. We'd be on social media, posting their pictures everywhere, have you seen this cane, we'd be trying to get news media to run stories on them. And essentially, the Centre for Missing and Exploited Children would also post on the national website that keeps track of all the missing kids in this nation. What we found is, is that through a bunch of governmental loopholes, foster kids weren't getting reported as missing. And so the federal government several, almost a decade ago said, Listen, we know kids going missing from foster care, we estimate it's 1%, which at the time, based on the numbers need that 4600 kids a year saved for foster care. That number is up now, right? Because how we know we're over 500,000 kids in care today. So we started just breaking that down and saying your children for school started losing seven kids a week. Like, it would be up in arms if like, seven kids went to school and then didn't come home every week, right? But but that's how many kids were essentially missing from foster care. And nobody was saying the word about and our mission really is to get people to start saying that's not okay. Like, we have to hold ourselves accountable to a higher standard. You know, when I talked about families, so like, if you had seven children and one went missing, but you've ever noticed a problem, right? So we have to, we need people just didn't even realise how big the problem was. And so really the point of hashtag 4600 4600 kids a year at a minimum, we know that the federal numbers are low. And we have to begin finding these kids.
Absolutely. So we're at the point, nearing the end of our conversation today. And I did mention your book that I absolutely love, and I highly recommend it to others to read called the garbage bag suitcase. And I also want to give you the opportunity to provide us with some contact information, some, some reach out information, anything that you would like to share with listeners, can you give us some contact information?
Absolutely. So your listeners can go to either garbage bag suitcase.com or Chefalo consulting.com garbage bag suitcase.com is dedicated purely to just the book and in foster care research and resources, Chefalo consulting.com offers classes. You're doing some of your own deep trauma informed personal development work that are starting later this summer. And we are also offering a trauma informed masterclass, that's beginning at the end of May, that your listeners may be interested in as well. If they want to dive into really understanding and dismantling the research of how we can change outcomes for kids, not only in care, but for anyone, adult or children who have been the victims of of adversity and trauma throughout their lives. And I do want you it is easy to find on social media, right, because Shenandoah Chefalo
Shenandoah Schefalo, exactly. I mean, how many are out there? Exactly.
I'm confident. I'm the only one.
And I do want to mention also, that May. Obviously, this is being aired in May and May is foster care Awareness Month. Did I say that? Right?
That's correct. So yeah, so may is foster care Awareness Month. So for people who are on social media and all over, they may begin seeing items, lots of agencies and nonprofits will be posting about that. And so sort of good timing on our part that the this conversation as part of that as well,
absolutely, Shenandoah, any final words of wisdom or advice for listeners, before we say goodbye,
I just want to remind people that no matter where you are the grocery store, a retail store, at your church somewhere in your community, that sometimes when you see a person having behaviour, that that you may find otherwise unfreezing that it's a really good time to to stop in and switch from that what's wrong with that person, to what's happened or what's happening for that person. Right. But the story behind the story is usually much more heartbreaking than we want to know or give credit to. And really, it's can we find the strength in that person? Can we help them see the strength in themselves to change versus jumping in and just correcting the immediate behaviour, you see? Can you find a place of empathy for them? And and take a moment of compassion with them? And I think if we could each do that we will have different kinds of communities to live in.
Yeah, I think that's absolutely brilliant, brilliant advice, is to just take that pause, take that breath and say, You know what, what is happening in their life? You know, they're acting out this way for some reason. And it's not just because they enjoy it specifically, it's, you know, often because there is something going on in their lives, Shenandoah, it's been a pleasure talking to you today. Thank you for coming on, sharing your wisdom and telling us about your experiences and drawing awareness, bringing awareness to the foster care system and, and, and, and trauma in childhood, and how that, you know, can really manifest itself into adulthood. adulthood as well. Thank you very, very much for being my guest today. I've just really enjoyed our conversation.
Thanks so much for having me.
I hope that you've enjoyed this discussion on A Dash of SaLT, a space where you'll always find fresh and current discussions on society and learning today. Seasoned with just the right touch of experts in education, and a dash of sociological imagination. Please be sure to like and share this episode. And don't forget to subscribe to A Dash of SaLT on PodBean so that you don't miss the next episode. Thanks so much and we'll chat again soon.