Clowns, Catalogues, Cassettes and Speaking Up for Kids in Foster Care

We recently showed our kids a video of the amazing performance of a 12-year-old ventriloquist (her name is Darci Lynne if you haven’t seen it).  This got our kids asking questions about ventriloquism and got me talking about about a ventriloquist puppet I got one year as a Christmas present.   I remember the annual tradition of sitting on our sofa thumbing through the JC Penny catalogue in the weeks leading up to Christmas. As you’ll recall, it was an impressive publication containing wildly varied products of every kind.  You could also smash spiders with it.

This catalogue was the of our day (except for the spider part).  However, there was no fancy automatic sorting function that allowed you to sort by product type, price, or by average customer review.  You just flipped through the pages repeatedly, speeding past the socks and underwear section as well as the Barbie Doll section to get to the good stuff.  That particular year, there were a couple of ventriloquist puppets listed and I can remember going back to that page over and over again.  I had my eye on Bozo the Clown.

Apparently, I had not yet reached the important milestone that nearly every human reaches at some point in their cognitive development:  the realization that clowns are kind of creepy.  As I would later find out, this was especially true when said clown was sitting in the corner of my  room after dark and the lights from passing cars swept along the walls as I tried to go to sleep.  I am happy to report, however, that Bozo never actually tried to kill me in my sleep.

But here was the thing about having a ventriloquist puppet:  it is super hard to talk without moving your lips.  And this, of course, is the central skill involved in being a ventriloquist.  Bozo came with a ventriloquism lesson cassette tape (if you are a college student or younger and wonder what that is, Wikipedia can help you out HERE.)  The Bozo tape gave some pointers like using “d” to replace the “b” sound and “n” to replace the “m” sound so that your lips never have to come together.  I still have a really hard time believing that this strategy actually works for real ventriloquists.  Their puppets always sounded normal while mine said things like “Hi! Ny nane is Dozo the Clown!” Maybe I should have picked a puppet named Al.

Similarly, the goal of advocating for kids in foster care is to give voice to another without drawing attention to ourselves.  It’s important to note that the reason we give voice to kids is not because they don’t have one.  They surely do.  However, their voice is not always heard by the all people who need to hear it.  That is where we step in.  We lend our voice to each child we advocate for, saying things to others in our sphere of influence that kids should never have to say for themselves. Things like:

“I deserve to be safe.”

“I need to be in a permanent family (whether biological, kin or adoptive).”

“I have been hurt, but you can help me heal.”

“I need someone to love me AND my biological parents no matter what they may have done to me.”

“I need someone who will help me learn what it means to trust.”

“I need someone who will fight for me even when my hurt causes me to do things that hurt you.”

Just like my first attempts at ventriloquism, the things being said can sound a little strange at first.  Just like substituting a “d” for a “b”, some of the things that need to be said for a child in foster care feel counter-intuitive to some (particularly when it comes to advocating for bio families).  But, counter-intuitive or not, we say them because they need to be said.  There is a child in your county right now who needs you to say some of these things for them because (1) they shouldn’t have to say them for themselves and because (2) they don’t have the same audience you have.  It’s time to speak up.

This post originally appeared in our Foster Roster e-newsletter which is delivered each Friday. We keep it short and sweet and fill it with practical articles, videos, blog posts and other tools for leaders like you working to help kids and families in foster care.  To sign up, go to