Thoughts on Dead Poets Society

I often recall watching the film Dead Poets Society when I am engaged in work on the foster care system. In that movie there is a teacher, John Keating played by Robin Williams, who becomes an important influence in the lives of the young men in his English poetry class. Keating does so in an avant-garde and poetic fashion, passionately inciting his students to live life extravagantly, to be masters of their fate, “carpe diem,” he says - which is Latin for “seize the day.” As I think back on the trajectory of this film, I think of the complexity of Keating’s efforts to guide his students to thrive in life. Everything he presents to his students to coax them out of their tightly bridled, uniformed, rich boy mentality and into the mindset that they could be free of such pretense was unorthodox, intricate, and even difficult for his students, that had it so easy, that had so many resources!  

In my work as a Communications and Outreach Coordinator with Family & Youth Initiative (DCFYI), I get daily reminders - through other foster care organizations’ Twitter feeds, directly from a teen in foster care sharing his or her story, or through some study - that all a child needs is one caring adult to support him or her toward goals of success and independence. A recent Huffington Post article entitled ‘Childhood is a Birth Right’ states,  “All kids who do not have at least one steady, loving adult in their lives will have a much more difficult time navigating the world when they age out of the system and even before they age out.”

It resounds in the foster care community and should be well known throughout the foster care system that the support a child needs isn’t complex. In fact, during the recent DC Council Committee on Human Services oversight hearing on the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) several teens who had or were in the process of aging out of foster care testified as to what they needed from the system. One desire seemed to be consistent and simple. They needed to have one caring, consistent adult in their lives. They didn’t mention the need for grand empirical statements in Latin. One teen’s recommendation was to “Make sure all youth have someone consistent in their lives at home or at school.” Family & Youth Initiative is trying to meet that need by helping youth at risk of aging out of the foster care system through our mentor and host parent programs. While we work to help teens find adoptive families, we know that the simplicity of connecting them to one caring adult can, and likely will, change their lives. 

I’ll close by sharing a Ted Talk featuring Josh Shipp, an award winning youth speaker. It flows much like a lecture by Dead Poets Society’s Keating but is very different in that it discusses something very simple- Shipp’s life is an example of how important it is for foster children to have one caring adult in their lives. 

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