Part 3 of Things I Wish I Knew Before We Started Fostering
I sit here this evening telling myself this is a biased statement.
I mean, when you go through training and they tell you state law mandates one year before a decision must be made for these children in care, you think, “okay, that’s cool, no matter how hard it is to see it through, it will only last a year. Anyone can hang in there for a year, right?”
But just because a law is in place on paper doesn’t mean it plays out that way in the system. Especially a broken system.
Our case worker, our Family Consultants, even our guardian ad litem have all commented over and over again at what an unusual case we have, and how this never happens, and hopefully it will all be over soon.
They are trying to be supportive and kind and all the things because they know they can’t fix it.
I appreciate that. I really do. I have never seen people more invested in the well being of children that are not their own. The hours they work, the things they have to do that were never listed in their job description, and the stuff they have to put up with sometimes in indescribable. They can’t unsee the horrors. They can’t undo the abuse or neglect. They can only stand in the space of the in-between with that child and hold that moment with them so that they are not alone. That is what our case workers have done, and I thank God for them every day.
Three years in the foster care community and I can now say “I have seen some stuff.”
I have friends in Pennsylvania that have finalized their adoption after three years and one month. I have friends here in town that have gone two years and eight months. I have friends online that had two girls given back to their father, only to come back into care to her for another year and the conversation is heading back to dad again, but no one knows because it’s all uncertain.
I have another beautiful friend who took in a baby girl shortly after we said yes to Little Buddy, and that little girl is now completely adopted and that foster mama went back in the ring to give another yes to a brand new baby boy, though we cannot know his future outcome yet.
And here’s the thing: we did not say yes to our Little Buddy thinking he was The One. We did not say yes with the condition that we could keep him forever. As a matter of fact, there were days I prayed that God would send a relative or open a door where someone more qualified or someone who could give him more attention would want to take him, and there would be an instant connection and I could just play a part in his journey.
Mostly, I prayed for his biological Mom and Dad.
I prayed for them as I tucked in Little Buddy, and I prayed for them as I hit my knees in the morning. I knew their lives were hanging in the balance, and I knew these kids’ futures were at stake.
A child is designed by God to be with his or her parents. To sever that tie and separate that child from their parents creates a trauma that no child should know, and creates a grief that cannot be undone.
To be the one to try to graft that child in to another family is the work required by a craftsman gardener trying to create a special hybrid of a one of a kind plant. It takes, painstaking patience, perseverance, constant care and attention, and a willingness to keep trying even when it seems impossible.
When the twelve month window in care came up and bio Mom and Dad were unable to care for the children, the day came when their rights as parents were legally terminated and the permanency goal changed to adoption. It was what we wanted because we knew it was best for the kids, but it was everything we didn’t want because we knew a God-designed family was about to be broken up forever, and the pieces were going to need to be painstakingly put together in other places.
Well meaning friends and family would congratulate us, and we knew what they meant: we knew they were happy that these kids would not have to grow up in abusive or neglectful situations. We understood that, and it was probably the best they could say.
But in my broken heart and emotional wreckage from sitting in courtrooms for hours and hugging a woman as she sobbed on my shoulder to please take care of her babies… it felt NOTHING like a congratulations should feel.
We did not win ANYTHING.
In time, we realized once again that we did actually win something: we won the chance for these children to be raised safely and securely.
But have you ever heard the cry of a mother who is being told that she will not legally be the mother of her babies anymore, nor see them again…?
I did for the first time that day. And I had to stand in the space that held those children between what family they were being taken from and stand firm until they were ready to walk into the family we were offering.
They were grieving. They were petrified. They were so conflicted.
And so was I.
The next year was a play of a broken system that we are still tripping through and over. There were paperwork snafus and court appeals and lots of strife and confusion. There were kids settling in to a new normal where, even in their grief, they were starting to move away from fear and into laughter and joy. We saw smiles and felt relief. There was hope.
We were heading in to year two, so why were we not out of this system and contemplating what type of party we would throw to celebrate the adoption, and did we want to remain certified foster parents?
I remember the day I was home visiting upstate New York, and my mom and my sisters and I chatted over tea, cooked lots of food, corralled lots of kids and tried to catch up on life. I blitzed through some pieces of the case to give the highlights of where we were at in the adoption process, explaining the appeals process and overburdened court schedule full of delays and dates scheduled months out, and my older sister looked at me incredulously and commented, “Geez, Tara… and we wonder why more people don’t foster or adopt?”
Her comment shook my world because I knew it was true. And she could see the reality from six states away. Here I was, trying to set the world on fire for foster care awareness and adoption through foster care, and my very own journey was showing a harsh reality that I could not imagine anyone would want to sign up for.
The longer the kids stay in the system, the harder it is to heal. The kids (as well as the adoptive family) need permanency, closure and peace.
The monthly home visits from the caseworker can’t stop. The bi-monthly visits from the Family Consultants from our agency can’t stop. The weekly reports of trauma behaviors can’t stop. The monthly reports of Medicine Logs and Money Disbursement can’t stop. The counseling, therapies and paperwork on those can’t stop.
So you see, our newly created family is not excused for the next leg of the journey and cannot turn the corner until the madness stops.
My eight year old daughter arrived in our home knowing she would be adopted and here “forever.” She knew it would take time for the paperwork, though we never gave her specifics, and months after she continued to struggle with calling us “Mom” and “Dad,” she explained flatly: “When I see the paperwork, then I will call you Mom and Dad.”
She wasn’t being rude. She wasn’t being unreasonable. That was her established mile marker of trust that she was using to acclimate herself.
Ten months officially in our home and at least six more to go before any sign of paperwork is complete, and we are in a log jam. How can we move on when her mile marker is nowhere to be found on the road signs???
The tension of the Unknown is unbearable in our home these days. We are in the waiting time for more appeals and the kids cannot know or process what they are standing in. They are longing for finality and permanency and the chance to be kids without appointments or visits or different last names. My biological children want their mother back, because they see that she is so immersed in it all that her shoulders are aching from keeping such a widespread family together.
I imagine that the Master Gardener had to negotiate for more strength in his body as his aching back tried to make him give in and quit as he grafted that branch in to a tree that had never been placed together before. If he gave up on the branch, it would die, the healthy cut tree would be forever damaged and scarred, and the world would never know what the hybrid of adoption and what could be created when you graft one in to another.
I know that I know that I know that God has called us to run this race and finish this course. I know then that He will grace me, equip me and strengthen me to do the very thing that He has called me to do.
The walking it out part, the longer than twelve months part, the unusual circumstances of our situation… all of the hard stuff, that is the faith part.
And that is why I say, plan on three years.
Because truth be told, it is a lifetime journey, but stepping out of a broken system into a new lease on hybrid life is a gift that only the Master Gardener can give someone.
I am believing for your hybrid journey today.