Blog is moving to updated Minds On Fire website!

Excited to announce the launch of Minds On Fire’s new website, which now hosts this blog. If you subscribe to posts by email, you will able to do the same with the new blog. If you follow me on your WP Reader, the good people at WP will move your subscriptions over shortly.

I’ve greatly appreciated your readership here and hope you will join me (and my Emerging Leaders!) in our new home.

While you’re at it, check out our new YouTube channel! My Emerging Leaders and I are chatting self care for social entrepreneurs and youth-serving professionals. I am so proud of their dedication to their health and wellness.

AdoptMent works on goal-setting

In this same workshop we also revisited the topic of brain development. We reviewed the difference between the prefrontal cortex or “White House of the brain,” which has the ability to plan for the future, and the amygdala or “reptile brain” that reacts instinctively in fight/flight/freeze fashion.

This helped to introduce the concept of time perspective. Using part of the framework developed by Stanford professors Zimbardo and Boyd, we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of being either a “present hedonist” or a future-oriented individual. Everyone agreed that it was best to live a balanced life.

Since future orientation is the time perspective that most young people generally need to cultivate, we talked about how athletes who are off season or injured often use visualization as a way to “stay in the game.” Our young people learned that going through the motions in your brain actually improves your muscle memory and the chances of you succeeding in whatever actions you plan to take in the future.

We then dimmed the lights and I led a the group in a guided visualization of a day when they hit all their goals and “earned all the points” they needed. I asked them to sit with the feeling of accomplishment and self-pride. This was the first time that I’ve ever done this exercise, and I did not realize how powerful it would be. One person emerged from the activity with a peaceful aura, but two others became quite emotional. This was a moment when I was especially grateful for the clinical staff in the room. Talk about cathartic!

Forget about vulnerability: let’s talk about shamelessness

My life has been a speeding train lately, and oh, how I’ve missed my blog! My emerging leaders and I are working on self care for the next few weeks, so this post indulges in quite a bit of navel gazing.

Let’s get to my thoughts on vulnerability and shame that I promised almost a month ago—but first: hat tip to Brené Brown, who has really pushed the discussion on authenticity forward by speaking openly about her own vulnerability and shame. My two cents on this revolves around how shamelessness resonates with me much more than vulnerability, and how letting go of shame is one of the kindest and most empowering gifts I’ve given myself. Continue reading

When it comes to love, don’t ask ‘why’ but ‘how’

Yesterday I started working on a Valentine’s day project that was inspired by a thought that came to me during my morning meditation. Here is the email I sent out to my list of loved ones last night. I invite readers to spread the love this week. Ping me if you want in on my list.

Dear friends:

On February 7 an insight came to me during my morning meditation: When it comes to love, don’t ask ‘why’ but ‘how.’ We could waste a lot of time pondering the why to no end. Asking why seems to imply that our loved ones “earn” our love by being or acting a certain way. Fact is we love whom we love. Why do we need explanations?

What truly matters is how we express our love. Do you show it through words or actions? Do you shout it from the mountaintops or send it out quietly into the universe? Most pertinently of all, do you love in ways that are consonant with the individual needs of others, or only in the manner you’re comfortable with?

These thoughts inspired me to do something for Valentine’s day as a way to reflect on how we show our love for others. Here’s the deal: Below I share with you something in my life that I love very much, but instead of telling you why, I’ll tell to you how.

If you are so inspired, I invite you to send me (and anyone else you wish) a Valentine’s day email about *how* you show your love for someone or something in your life. This can be anyone or anything at all: animal, vegetable, mineral, or something entirely abstract. The object of your love can even be you! (Major bonus points for sharing how you show love to yourself.)

While this is a mass email for expediency’s sake, if you choose to participate in this project, I will reply to you with a personal message. Yes, I am cleverly engineering it so we all get e-Valentine’s on Feb. 14!

So here is my share:

I love my garden. Continue reading

Case in point

Well, I promised to follow up my last post with some good news, and I know that at least one of my readers will be disappointed that she won’t get to read about the sense of optimism I feel in the air just yet. Instead, I’m gonna hang out on my soapbox for a little while longer because I’m still working through my irritation.

Last night’s Teens in Foster Care panel was very odd. I think the organizers felt like everyone in the room was on the same page regarding permanency for youth in care 14 and older (roughly 3600 of New York City’s 12,000 children in the system). Funny thing though: I don’t think the panel realized how deeply their message conflicted with one of their guest speaker’s most important points. …And then things got even worse.

Let’s do this good/bad/ugly style.


Cris Beam. CRIS BEAM. I’d seen her give a reading to a group of young writers back in December, so I’d already heard the whole spiel of how a teenaged daughter entered her life with the suddenness of an unplanned pregnancy. Tonight, however, Beam came with a stronger agenda and she prefaced her reading by dropping some data.

Here’s some straight from NYC ACS: Between the ages of 14 and 15 only 17% of young people in foster care wish to exit the system as an independent adult. By the time they reach 17, however, the percentage of youth who wish to age out to independent living rises to 94%. That means that by 17, only 6% of young people in foster care want to be adopted.

Continue reading

Complaints, concerns, but also causes for optimism

I’ve been delaying writing this post because for a stretch I was too outraged about certain things I’d been hearing in the foster care scene. Outrage is healthy if you can articulate it well and channel it productively, but anger is not the emotion I want to lead with. So, what’s changed? So much in the last two weeks, it seems! But before I get to the good news, let’s start with the issues.


1. Housing is the number one problem facing my emerging leaders, the youngest of whom just turned 21. At the beginning of last semester, we went around the table introducing ourselves to each other. I was struck that with the exception of the two eldest, who are working professionals in child welfare, every single person at the table was facing some form of housing crisis. A couple had to get extensions for their time in care; a couple others didn’t secure formal extensions, but were able to remain in their foster homes out of the generosity of foster parents willing to house them for just a little longer; one was on the verge of losing a NYCHA apartment due to bureaucratic inefficiencies; and still another two were worried that their agencies weren’t moving quickly enough on their housing applications.  Continue reading

Sentimentally, it isn’t a big deal, but legally it is

Happy 21st birthday, @beYOUtifulBrian!


I know you aren’t much for celebrating, but today I am grateful for your presence in my life. I’ll never forget the day we met, when you told me you liked my website and agreed to be my first youth advisor. Your twenty-first birthday really snuck up on me! I thought we had another year to prepare. I hope that despite all the competing demands on your time and headspace, you are excited about what lies ahead. I, for one, am looking forward to you moving into your new digs! We’ll hook you up with an account on the Camellia Network to supplement the ACS grant to cover moving and furnishing costs.

Wishing you only the best this coming year, which I know for you includes many days of dancing and filling the people around you with the spirit.

Hazards of the job

Recently I’d been thinking a lot about how this work uplifts me. On Twitter I had some wonderful conversations with advocates in the special ed and autism community about the public misperception that the populations we work with are depressing. “I could never do the work you do” is often coded language for “I could never work with those people.” It’s offensive, especially considering the fact that what’s dispiriting and draining about this work has virtually nothing to do with the people we serve.

You know what does get me down? On one level it’s the larger institutional, economic, and social structures that present significant challenges to our young people. If I dwell on them too much, it makes me lose my sense of humor. Some days I wake up wanting to punch somebody. I wish I could say that my advocacy springs from a generous Dalai Lama-esque capacity to love all my fellow human beings, but I’m not there yet. The truth is, my sense of purpose and outrage is very personally rooted. I’ll say this much: many of the stories I hear about children in foster care resonate with me.

Continue reading

ladamski gets her own blog! (and the state of this blog)

Minds On Fire’s very first guest blogger, Lindsay Adamski, is moving up in the blogging world. She’s set up shop here, where she writes about child welfare policy, strategies for working with youth in foster care, and other ideas coming from feminism, sociology, and whatever else is on her long reading list. Lindsay is passionate and insightful, and if you’ve read her posts here, you already know that she has a lively writing style.

As for my own blog posts…I’ve been writing a couple of them in my head. It isn’t February yet, but so far 2014 has been a whirlwind and I’m realizing that I need to be managing my time differently and taking better care of myself. I’m not leaving myself enough quiet, quality time to write, and frankly, it’s bumming me out. I’m completely spent by the time I get home from the office, and barely have it in me to get dinner together, much less write something thoughtful. I’ve loaded too much on my plate this spring and need to scale back. It’s not helping that the extreme cold has been messing with my exercise routine.

Upcoming (a trick for holding myself accountable):

1. Child welfare policy trends vs. life on the front lines / what it means to incorporate “youth voice”

2. Never mind vulnerability. Let’s talk discomfort and letting go of shame.

3. Also, my continuing discussion with resident devil’s advocate, Steph Cowling, on the idea of pushing our young people toward “purposeful work.”

Guest posts from Steph and new guest blogger are still in the pipeline.

My #emergingleaders inspire me

Most people who work outside the field of child welfare tend to assume that my work is dispiriting. They hear the words “foster care” and immediately think “at-risk youth,” a loaded term that conjures only negative images. They imagine that I am out every day fighting the good fight, doing charitable work for the needy. The truth is I have the best job in all of New York City. I have the best job for a whole host of reasons: terrific colleagues, flexible work hours, and a varied work week that keeps me engaged, whether I am deep in research or out in meetings. But above all, I have the best job in NYC because I am surrounded by young people who are at a stage in life where they are all trying to figure out who they are, who they want to become, and where their place is in the world. It’s fascinating.

I work most closely with my emerging leaders—young people on a mission to revolutionize child welfare and other fields of human services. They are working to connect their values, strengths, and passions to embark on careers that will sustain them financially and emotionally while improving the lives of others. Watching them go through this process is inspiring. But what is most touching about my emerging leaders is they way they all throw themselves so fully into their transitions. Aristotle would surely approve of their zealous pursuit of the good life.

How many of us would and could be productive, for example, in precarious housing situations? Sure, some of us worked jobs while going to school, but how many of us also had to navigate complex bureaucracies whose stated missions seem to contradict our daily experience of them? 

My window into the lives of my emerging leaders and other young adults who have transitioned from foster care offers me a profound and daily reminder of the strength and the goodness of the human spirit.