Foster Care Reformers: Don't Stop Looking Upstream


I came across the "Upstream Story" or the "Upstream Parable" recently, which is often used to teach people to think about prevention. It made me think about how it applies to the foster care system, seeking foster care reform and working together.

First, here's the Upstream Story:

In a small town, a group of fishermen gathered down at the river. Not long after they got there, a child came floating down the rapids calling for help. One of the group on the shore quickly dived in and pulled the child out.


Minutes later another child came, then another, and then many more children were coming down the river. Soon everyone was diving in and dragging children to the shore, then jumping back in to save as many as they could.

In the midst of all this frenzy, one of the group was seen walking away. Her colleagues were irate. How could she leave when there were so many children to save? After long hours, to everyone’s relief, the flow of children stopped, and the group could finally catch their breath.

At that moment, their colleague came back. They turned on her and angrily shouted:



She replied, "It occurred to me that someone ought to go upstream and find out why so many kids were falling into the river. What I found is that the old wooden bridge had several planks missing, and when some children tried to jump over the gap, they couldn’t make it and fell through into the river. So I got someone to fix the bridge."


It's interesting because those who deal in foster care HAVE to "catch the children" floating downstream, so I think it is even easier to go head-down and ONLY focus on "catching the children." But real change requires that we look upstream and work together to find and fix the broken bridges.

When we only focus on "catching the children" we get frustrated. We feel the system will never change and things will never get better and the children will just keep floating downstream and what is the point of trying??!! Well, I offer up another riddle to keep things in perspective: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

Looking upstream may feel dauting, but it's the only way we're going to fix the bridges. And if the whole problem is the size of an elephant, then we've got to cut it up in digestible bites to take the "divide and conquer" approach and eat bite by bite in order to consume the whole elephant faster.

Earlier this week I had a program director tell me he wouldn't take 5 minutes to cut and paste a pre-written support letter for a cause that supports foster parents because his organization's mission is solely focused on helping emancipated youth. Folks, we need to stick together to consume the whole elephant, and recognize that the whole elephant (the big problem) is the sum of its parts. If you are going to focus on eating the foot, but won't take 5 minutes to aid the person eating the trunk, then we will never eat the whole thing.

So to my tired and tireless foster care reform advocates, let's not stop catching children, remember to look upstream for the bridges, and sit down and eat our elephant together one bite at a time to avoid choking!

Story and photo source: Shawnee Mission School District

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