Friday, August 03, 2007

A Trip to Grace Street

Well, for those of you following the Mike saga via these blog posts, there is news. He called me at about 11:30 today and asked if we could talk. We set up a time and location, I picked him up and we resumed a relationship. As we ate lunch together I asked him what he saw as his options, after I had reminded him that he would not able to live in our home. With a dejected look on his face, all he could muster is, "With friends I guess." "Haven't you pretty well worn out your welcome with your friends over the past several weeks?" "Yep."

I suggested that the next step might be to talk with adult mental health at our county social services department. In the past he has refused this intervention. Today, after I told him I would go with him, he agreed. I asked him if he wanted to "drive" the conversation, or if he preferred for me to be the "driver." "You," he said. And so we headed to the social services building in our county seat town.

Arriving I told the receptionist that we needed to see an adult mental health intake worker for a crisis situation. She was helpful enough, although she seemed a bit surprised at my direct request. Within a few minutes a case worker on call greeted us and invited us back to an interview room, where I explained the situation. "Mike is my eighteen-year-old son. He joined our family at the age of eight, and we have had our share of challenges over the past few years." I explained Mike's juvenile and most recent adult history and said in the most factual tone I could muster, "And so Mike is unable to live in our home. He has been living with friends for the past three months, but he has worn out his welcome there. He has no place to live and needs help."

The worker did her best to be helpfu and hopeful, but all she could offer was an emergency shelter where "the first priority isn't single males, I'm afraid." "It looks like you've burned a lot of your bridges, Mike," she said. "I'm sorry to see that because we have so little to offer someone in your situation." With a question that betrays his diagnosis, Mike asked, "You mean there aren't any foster homes or anything?" "Not for someone who is eighteen."

She told us how Mike could apply for General Assistance, but it would take some time and wouldn't be much income for him. She asked if he had any diagnoses, so we told her he has FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), but her only response was "I'm afraid that doesn't qualify for any kind of assistance. Now if you had a schizoid-affective disorder or depression we might be able to do something more immediate." The conversation frittered away with meaningless wishes for a good and successful life, but with no assurances of any assistance available our son.

As we walked out the door Mike muttered, "I hate those people." "Yeah," I said considering his plight, "there's not much they're going to be able to do to help you. It's like Mom and I have been telling you for years: when you become eighteen the system doesn't offer what they could when you were a juvenile."

"So, dad, what's next?"

"I don't know, Mike. I'll need to talk to Mom and see where to go from here."

So Mike went to a park for a while as I talked with Claudia. We find ourselves so torn. We did not adopt a child so s/he would become homeless, but what do you do when their criminal history and behavior is deliterious to minor children still in the home? We know we cannot allow him to live in our home, which has been our consistent message to Mike and others for months now. But we finally decided together that we would offer Mike assistance if he would agree to working closely with us.

I picked up Mike from the park, explained to him that he was going to need to trust us and work with us as never before, and that we could help him only if he was willing to let us. He agreed. In the meantime Claudia called an individual from our church who is a landlord in our community. She has worked for years with people at the margins, and we asked if she would consider allowing Mike to live in one of her apartments in return for his working for her. She was open to the idea, but only after a conversation between Mike and me.

I told Mike about the possibility, and his face cracked with a smile. I said, "So, you're willing to work with us on this?" "Yeah, I think so." "Well, let's round up your stuff and meet her at the apartment in 30 minutes," I said. So we set off to two different places where his stuff has been stashed over the prior weeks.

As we drove in that direction I still felt mixed emotions. How do we maintain appropriate boundaries so that our assistance in this situation doesn't turn into what it has in the past, with Mike milking us for everything he could get without any success on his part? What if going back to jail is really the best and safest option for him? What if he doesn't cooperate with the landlord -- a parishioner -- and we lose credibility in her sight? What if's plagued me as we drove to his friend's house. We turned street after street ... until Mike said, "There, that's the street, turn right."

And I couldn't believe what I saw. We were headed down Grace Street to pick up his belongings. Grace Street? What kind of a message could that be and from Whom? As I waited for Mike to retrieve his belongings, I spent a few moments in quiet conversation with God, the same God who called us to the adventure of adoption more than a decade ago. The same God who opened the way for us to adopt Mike when he was a troubled, vulnerable eight-year-old, so that we might be able to care for him now that he is a troubled, vulnerable eighteen-year-old. And this God, who is full of surprising grace in so many ways, once again has confirmed in my heart that we are doing the right thing.

It may not work. Mike may choose to violate the terms of his lease. He may not follow through with his verbal commitment to work with Claudia and me. It may be one more opportunity for him to fall flat on his face. But at least I will know that once again I have done the best I could do as his parent to offer him some grace.

Tonight we have had a trip to Grace Street. I pray it will continue.


debbie said...

bart, i just have a question that nags at me as i have no doubt i will be in a similar situation. if we are accepting that FAS is real and organic damage as is diabetes or loss of a limb, and our kids are truly not capable, however good their intentions are, of managing their lives, then is independant living ever going to be the answer? what if they want to do it, but completely lack the impulse control and problem solving skills to do it? what do we do?

Bart said...

Debbie ... I think you are correct in assuming that completely independent living is unlikely for most kids who grow up to be adults with FAS. Part of the tricky issue with FAS is that there is such a "spectrum" of severity with regard to the disorder. If you were to meet our son Mike you would not think he has any disability at all. Only when you spent some time with him and discovered how challenged he is when it comes to executive functioning might you make that conclusion.

Our hope is that Mike will be able to trust us enough (a challenge with someone who has Reactive Attachment Disorder) in the months ahead so that he can attain semi-independent living. We will check in with him at least once daily, help him plan his following day and help him manage what little finances he will have. While this will prove challenging for all of us, it is still better than his sittingi in jail or in our home where his siblings can be negatively influenced.

There is no guarantee of success, so this is a very day-by-day kind of thing, but it is an opportunity for Mike to experience some adult-like responsibility with the assistance of those who care about him.

We'll see where this experiment goes!