Today was one of those days that can try a man’s patience. We had our first day of our foster/adoptive resource training (step 2 on our Public Agency Adoption Roadmap) by BCDSS. The class definitely started off on the wrong foot.
Actually, when we arrived at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Juan and I were pretty excited. Today was to be a happy beginning of a new journey. While I may look terrified (ok…maybe not quite terrified), I’m anxious to get going.
I should give a little background before I tell you about the encounter.
One of the rules of BCDSS (that’s Baltimore City Social Services) is that only one unmarried person in a household can be certified as a foster/adoptive resource. An unmarried couple must decide who of the two will formally go through the certification process. Both individuals in a married couple can be certified. This requirement poses a barrier for same-sex couples. Because we have no legal recognition of our relationship, we are treated as singles, despite our desire and efforts to start and raise a family together. Based on our marital status, only one of us can attend the full certification training, though both of us will be parents.
The prospective foster/adoptive resource parent(s) must also identify a backup person. This person serves as a backup caregiver in case of an emergency or some event that causes the foster/adoptive resource to be unavailable. The backup is only required to attend Module 4 (of a total of 8 modules). Module 4 is the module that talks about discipline.
Due to some of our current financial and employment-related factors, we decided that Juan would go through the certification and I would be designated on paper as the backup. BUT…we also decided that we were going to push for me to attend all sessions, not just Module 4. To make a long story somewhat shorter, we made some phone calls to the training unit, supposedly they (the training unit) made some calls to the trainer, and I was given the ok to attend all sessions. I was told (and I’m paraphrasing of course) that “Ms. SoandSo Training Unit Coordinator called Ms. SoandSo Trainer and Ms. SoandSo Trainer said it was ok.” Done! I’m signed up and everyone’s on board with me attending!
By the time we arrived to sign in, our feelings of excitement and mock terror gave way to anger and frustration. My name was not on the list of attendees, so I identified myself to the trainer as Juan’s partner and mentioned the circumstance that brought me there. I made sure to identify who I had talked to and what that person had told me.
Well, the trainer immediately became dismissive. Rude, in fact. She barely let me finish my introduction and explanation before telling me that I could only attend as the backup and that, in fact, she had never heard of Ms. SoandSo Training Unit Coordinator. She went on to say that she was sure she wouldn’t have room for me in the class anyways. She was expecting a full house and there wouldn’t be enough materials to go around.
I held my tongue. Actually, I may have bitten my tongue. I felt my frustration rising quickly, and I really didn’t want to start such an important day off on the wrong foot. I offered to call the coordinator to verify that I could attend. The trainer’s response suggested she didn’t give a hoot about the coordinator and that she was the deciding factor, not the coordinator. I stepped out and made the phone call anyways. No answer.
I returned to the class and put my social work/therapy skills to work. “How would you like me to proceed?”, I asked. I figured it was important for her to see her role in deciding my fate, particularly since her decision was being made in front of a room full of people. In the end, with a gentle nudge from a co-trainer (“Oh, I think we have enough materials. Might as well just let him in.”), I was given the ok to attend all sessions.
The outcome was exactly what we wanted, but that beginning really kicked things off poorly. I felt mishandled, angry, defensive, and on-display. There’s no way of knowing exactly why things happened the way they did. Why were we given the ok on one end but roadblocks put in front of us on the other? How could the trainer not know the training coordinator? Who did the coordinator actually talk to? Have these folks ever dealt with a gay couple before? Surely, we aren’t the first. If we ARE pioneers, what can we expect from the rest of the process?
Oh and by the way, the class never filled up. Of the expected 24, there might have been 12 people.