On days when I know I'm shooting a story outdoors, I pick out my outfit based on "most likely to conceal mass quantities of sweat."
I had one of those days this week.
I was set to shoot the August feature for KPLC's The New Family Tree, where I interview a foster child who is hoping to be adopted. We were meeting at Lock Park in Lake Charles and I showed up 15 minutes early to get set-up, while also allowing my camera lens to adjust to the crazy high humidity.
When I made my way to the park's pavilion, I noticed one of the tables was already taken. A man was sitting there, already sweaty from the day, with his overstuffed duffle bag right next to him.
He didn't turn around at first, but the commotion I was making with my larger than life tripod eventually caught his attention.
"Are you doing a news show here or something?" he asked me.
"Hi there. I'm taping a segment for a future newscast in just a few minutes. I'll be sure to stay out of your way, so no need to move if you're comfy where you are," I responded.
"What's the story?" he asked.
"There's a boy who has spent a couple of years in foster care and is hoping to be adopted," I said. "I do these stories once a month in the hopes that someone will see the child, connect with him or her and pursue the adoption."
The man's raised eyebrows lowered and he turned away from me for a few seconds.
I could feel the humid air enveloping both of us as the silence lingered.
"That was me," the man said. "I was a foster child from when I was 10...until...well, until I decided I would just have to be on my own when I was 16."
It was obvious that the years to follow have been tough on this man. I could see the rolled up blanket shoved into the top of his bag that wouldn't zip.
He was a drifter without a home.
I sat down at the picnic table next to him. He told me his name was Vladimir. I would have never guessed that.
I told him my name was Britney. "Britney Glaser," which he heard as "Iglesias."
"Iglesias? I wouldn't have guessed that," he said.
So there we were. Vladimir and Iglesias, talking foster care, adoption, and the fears of a 10-year-old boy when life is suddenly disrupted in the scariest of ways.
"It was hard," Vladimir told me. "And I have several siblings all over the place."
"How do you think adoption would've affected where you are today?" I asked him.
Sticky, hot, stalled silence followed that question.
Then he answered. "I don't know..."
I could hear car doors close in the distance. A boy walked toward me, looking at the ground with his case worker next to him.
My heart always breaks in that first moment I see the foster child and my mind races with questions: "This child? Why wouldn't a mom, dad, grandparent, aunt or uncle choose to raise this child? How long has he been in transition? Why him?"
"Hi there! I'm Britney and I'm so happy to meet you!"
"I'm J'Von," he said.
"You're such a good looking guy! How old are you?" I ask.
"Ten," he responds.
My heart sinks and I wonder if Vladimir can hear our conversation.
Ten years old. That was when Vladimir's foster care journey started, one that would end with no one ever pursuing his adoption.
When I feature a foster child for a television news story, I know that he or she has been in state care for a long time, typically at least a couple of years. It takes several months for case plans to go from parental reunification to termination of parental rights to free for adoption. J'Von has already been through all of that in order to be cleared for this interview.
The featured children are also selected by case workers when they feel all other means of trying to get the child into an adoptive placement have been exhausted. J'Von represents one of the hardest to place groups of children in foster care: African-American, male, and over the age of five.
When we sat down at the picnic table to talk, I could tell how nervous this soon-to-be fifth grader was. We talked about his favorite things: green slushes from Sonic, catching crawfish, and mud-riding.
J'Von started to relax and I pressed "record" on my camera.
I've never had an audience for one of these interviews, but today I did. Vladimir sat about 20 feet away from our picnic table, listening in, nodding his head and smiling as J'Von answered my questions.
I stuck to surface level questions for a few minutes: favorite food, subject in school, sport, etc.
Then it came time for the "meat" of the interview.
"Do you understand why we are talking today?" I asked J'Von.
"To get me adopted," he said.
"Is that something you want to happen?" I asked.
"Yes. 'Cause ever since I was little I've moved from place to place," he said.
"Let's talk about the type of family you'd like to be a part of. Do you want a mom and a dad or would one parent be okay?" I asked.
"It doesn't really matter," said J'Von, "as long as I have a family to live with."
I asked J'Von if it's scary living in different homes and not knowing how long he will be in each place. He said he's gotten used to it and he's not scared anymore.
I don't know if that answer was the truth or if J'Von was just trying to be tough. Either way, both answers bother me and I hope they bother you.
A child should not have to be so accustomed to moving around to strangers' homes that he gets "used to it."
And if J'Von is covering up his fears about this uncertain, transitional life, that is indeed another tragedy.
I gave J'Von a hug after our interview and told him I was incredibly proud of his bravery in doing the story.
I always want to tell the child, "I know someone is going to want to adopt you," but what I've learned is that lots of people do respond after seeing the story air, but baggage scares prospective parents. J'Von told me himself that he's had some behavioral issues, but that he is working to be better. He also said having a mom or dad would help him behave more.
I believe him.
I told J'Von he definitely earned a green slush from Sonic for doing this story and he gave me a big smile.
We posed together and his case worker snapped a picture for his life book, something children in foster care have to document memories and experiences.
J'Von and I said goodbye and I started packing up my camera gear.
"So do these stories actually help?" asked Vladimir, the first words he'd uttered since J'Von arrived 30 minutes earlier.
"They do," I said. "Not 100 percent of the time, but children are being adopted, more adults are pursuing adoption certification and we are constantly raising awareness about the need for adoptive families."
"I didn't know there were so many children without homes," Vladimir said.
"It's sad," I responded.
I wanted to tell Vladimir I was sorry that he aged out of foster care without a family. That I was sorry his shelter on this 96 degree day was a public park pavilion. That I was sorry when the holidays roll around in a few months he won't have a place to carve a turkey or share Christmas memories with loved ones.
"It was nice to meet you," is all that I found myself saying as we parted ways.
"You too. Good luck," he said.
As I drove away, I couldn't help but imagine what will become of 10-year-old J'Von if he is never adopted.
Here's some statistics from Partners for Our Children, a policy center at the University of Washington, where 600 former foster kids were studied after aging out of care at age 18. By 24 years old:
*Less than half are employed
*Only six percent have a two or four year degree
*Two-thirds of the women are pregnant/have had a baby
*60 percent of the men have been convicted of a crime
*Almost 25 percent have been homeless at some point
Can't we do better for kids like J'Von?
I know we can. Don't let the "baggage" of a child in foster care turn you away.
Vladimir's overstuffed bag was a physical representation to me of what years of foster care can turn into - a continuation of survival mode, but this time with no real promise of a change.
J'Von has promise. I hope you can see it.
J'Von's story will air in The New Family Tree on Tuesday, August 4th at 10:00 P.M. Click here to read more about J'Von.