*I had to write this letter for our lawyer when we hired him to intervene in our case, so he could get a sense of who we were. It is a pretty clear outline of what we went through, and why we made the choices we made. I don’t need any flames or judgement. I heap plenty of that on myself, as I am always questioning the choices we make. Obviously, names have been changed, and we did go on to adopt our son.
Written February 2012
I’ve wanted to be a foster mom ever since I was 15. I watched my friend’s mother nurture abused and abandoned children all through high school, and I knew that at some point, when the time was right, this was what God was calling me to do. John and I attended our first informational meeting in 2003, after the birth of our son. We decided at that time that our children were too young, and put fostering on the back burner. Around 2008, I began to feel the call again. I devoured books and websites on the subject and was anxious to get started. John wasn’t quite ready, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2010 that we finally felt ready, and in the right place to foster in what we felt was the right way. Our children were older, stable, and our marriage was strong and healthy. We had a beautiful, large home, and I was a stay at home mom. We now had the time and focus, and the agreement of the whole family, to open our home to children. We chose an agency, filled out the forms, and were accepted to begin the process. I have to admit the process was daunting and scary, and I began to waver about whether or not I was ready to take on such a huge responsibility.
One week before our training classes were due to start, my dad called me and asked me if I was available to go on a two week humanitarian trip with his business. (He owns a socially responsible chocolate company that sponsors a youth entrepreneurship program. This program of 17 high school students was traveling to Tanzania to meet the farmers who grew their cocoa beans, and to install a water well to serve the farming village.) He needed an emergency chaperone, and the next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Tanzania. While in Africa, it is impossible to not be struck by the poverty, and the lack of basic necessities we as Americans take for granted. Seeing hungry children, meeting women who offered you their children because they knew they’d have a better life in America, and learning how people die from not having clean water makes an impact on a girl! The defining moment in my life, however, was when we attended the village church. The expectation in this church is that people offer to God whatever they have, and they give until it hurts. So, watching a woman place a small basket, containing three eggs in it, brought me literally to my knees. I knew that those eggs were likely her food source for the day, perhaps the week. It was then that I knew I had to be a foster mom. I had to give, even when it hurt, and there was no turning back.
I knew that being a foster family was going to turn my life on its ear. I knew it would be a hard transition. But I also knew that as hard as it was for me, it was harder for the parents who had their children removed. My mother has always taught me that when you know better, you do better. I felt that most biological families who were involved with CPS lacked many of the same things the people of the village in Africa lacked. Education, money, stability, to name a few. John and I then resolved to foster not just the child, but the whole family. We wanted to offer the same love and support to birth moms and dads that we did to their kids. We wanted to see them as Jesus saw them, and do whatever we could to mentor and help them on their way to becoming better parents, and create wholeness in their families. We knew that working a service plan with CPS, getting clean and sober, maintaining employment, and all of the other things that CPS requires is more than a full time job, and we wanted to support these parents through their struggle.
We became licensed just before Christmas of 2010. On Valentine’s Day, 2011, we received a call about a methadone addicted baby boy that needed placement. Our home was chosen for this child, and I drove that evening to the hospital to spend the night with him, get to know his medication schedule, and bring him home. T came home with us on February 15, 2011. He was 56 days old when he was released from the NICU and had never been outside until I carried him from the hospital into the sunshine. He was a very angry, very sick baby. He cried all the time and rarely slept. He suffered from muscle tremors and seizure like activity. He refused eye contact, and did not smile. Our family did what was natural to us. We loved him. T was kept in arms or strapped to my body except when he was sleeping. I felt instinctively that what T needed was to be held, since he had missed so much bonding time in the NICU, and had been so horribly, horribly sick throughout his withdrawal process. I set out to heal his body and his heart. He became my mission. Within a week, T smiled and made eye contact. By four months, he began to blossom. He became more settled, more content, and screamed less. He still never slept, but we powered through it. John and I and the kids were a team, and the goal was the same- heal T. My son, who was the baby, and the only boy, struggle to find his footing and palce in the family, and was very angry and resentful for a time. Soon though, the little baby in our midst won him over as well, and he readily helped care for T.
During these first few months of placement, T’s parents struggled with their marital problems and their addictions, going in and out of jail, and breaking up and getting back together. I sent weekly, detailed letters to them to each visit. I prayed for them, and encouraged S, T’s mom, to get help. S went to rehab in July of 2011. I was touched when she said I was the reason she decided to get help. S was released and I set out to get her the support that she needed if she was ever going to be able to parent T. The CASA worker and I found her program after program. Life skills, halfway houses, sober living homes. I worked hours sending emails and making phone calls, trying to find programs that could help S turn her life around and enable her to parent her child.
During the month of July, we accepted short term placement of two brothers, ages 3 and 4, who needed a home for the month while waiting to be placed with their forever family. It was hectic, and I was busier than I have ever been, but they were darling sweet boys, and we all bonded with them and enjoyed the month we had them. We all cried when it was time to send them on to their new home. In August, it began to look like T would be sent to live with his maternal aunt in East Texas. Everyone was skeptical about this plan, since T’s aunt, A, had a brand new baby, and a very small house, and a husband who traveled for work all week. However, we knew children usually did best with family, so we prepared to pack T up and send him on. After one weekend visit, 24 hours into the visit, A texted me and told me she wanted to still see T, but would we give her access to him if she decided she couldn’t care for both babies. We agreed, and welcomed T back into our home. At this point, T was a happy, fat eight month old who had grown a place in all our hearts.
Shortly after being released from jail, S was rearrested for failure to appear in court earlier in the year. I visited her in jail once a week. Jail was a shock to me, and I hated going, but I knew no one else was coming to see her very much. I put some money on her books after finding out that she was without a bra, and needed one. I knew her family, including her sister, was not going to put money on her account or write her letters. So, I visited, and I wrote, and I send pictures. My mother wrote S. We all wanted to offer her a place in our family, since we felt like what S lacked most was love and acceptance. It took a few more months for us to realise some people are broken beyond repair.
After her release from jail, Mandy, the CASA, and I started pushing S to get into her programs. She still needed to do her Intensive Outpaitent Program and find work, and housing. S drug her feet. She kept saying she would do it in her own time, and she had to do it her own way. The problem was, time was running out, and as October bled into November, we started to think she wasn’t going to make it. Mandy had helped S get a lawyer while she was in jail, but the lawyer wasn’t really making any progress getting her to do the work either. S began to talk about relinquishing T to us, and we started making an open adoption plan. She also started to lash out at me on occasion, and verbally abuse me when things weren’t going her way. I began to see the side of S people had warned me I might see. It wasn’t pretty. It became evident that S was more concerned about a relationship with me, than she was with her son. As hard as I would try, I could not make S understand that I was her mentor, and not her friend. She began to play a tug of war with her son. I would place limits on her behavior, she would apologize and offer to relinquish. We would get on an even keel, and she would change her mind. It took just a couple instances of this for me to understand that S was using her son as a pawn in her relationship with me. This didn’t sit well. Every day during the winter months it became more apparent that S wasn’t going to ever put her son first, and that she wasn’t going to be able to raise him. For instance, she wanted to throw T a party for his first birthday, but didn’t have much money, since she was only working ten hours a week at a fast food restaurant. I told her, step by step, how to have a party for him for under ten dollars. When the day came, she showed up with an old stuffed animal and nothing else. Christmas was the same. No gifts. No card, even though she sent me a Thanksgiving card, she didn’t ever send one for her son. S just wasn’t going to do what she needed to do for T, and as T’s protector, I started to focus more on what he needed, and left S to her own devices. I was tired of trying to lead the horse to water.
In early December, three weeks before Christmas, I got a call. It was the caseworker for the two boys we’d had back in July. Their adoptive parents had changed their minds, and were sending them back. She wanted to know if we would take them. We talked as a family and agreed. We knew that it would be very, very hard. The boys were likely coming back with some behaviors, and it was the holidays, but they needed us, and we vowed to make any necessary sacrifices to keep them safe as long as they needed us. The boys did come back wounded. They had trust issues, behavior issues, and we found that the previous family had been very, very mean to the boys. They were very punitive parents who did awful things in the name of discipline. We ended up with a child who pooped on the floor when angry. We never planned on dealing with poop issues, but we were faced with them, and overcame them with time and patience. It took four weeks of very intensive one on one from the whole family to get the boys back settled into a routine. They again became the sweet boys we knew and loved, and we were proud once again of the work our family was able to do with hurt children. We celebrated a busy, crazy Christmas with six kids, and it was glorious. The smiles and joy of that morning will stay with all of us forever. We are so grateful that we were able to heal these children, and happy to know that they are planned to move to a new forever family in March. We make a lifelong commitment to the children we foster to stay in their lives, and a family is being found for them who will commit to keeping us close and maintain the bonds we’ve built over the last year.
As the new year came in, S’s termination trial date of February 6 began to creep closer. At the end of January, T went for a visit with Aunt A. (A had called the caseworker again asking for placement even though she had sent him back several months prior, saying she couldn’t properly care for him.) He came back shut down, dirty, and sick. It surprised me that A wouldn’t even notice a child having a fever in the low hundreds, as she was a mother. It took me one look at T to know he was pretty sick, and she never mentioned it. John and I began to think that maybe A wasn’t ever going to be able to care for T properly. At a mediation on February 2, 2012, A asked for placement, and was denied by CPS. We offered bi-monthly visits with S at A’s house, with A supervising, and S declined and left the mediation. The trail was the following week. The morning of the trial, S drug in Justin, T’s supposed biological father. Justin came forward, and John and I were shocked. S had brought him into the mix the previous November, but he then disappeared, and S had told all of us how unfit he and his family would be for T. It was clear to EVERYONE in the case that S manipulated Justin into coming forward in order to buy herself more time. CPS, CASA, the DA, and ad litem were furious. How dare she bring Justin forward, when she had told us all he was unfit, in an effort to buy herself more time, when she had WASTED what time she had? This was the moment that I knew that S was clearly unable to put T first. That for her, this was about winning, at any cost, even her son’s. This was when John and I decided to hire a lawyer. It was very clear at that moment that T’s best chance at a whole life was going to be with us. It’s a scary, but necessary step, in protecting the baby that had been placed with us a year prior.
This has been a long year. It has grown my relationship with God, and with my husband, and with my children. It has stretched us in ways we could not have imagined. It has been the hardest year, and the most rewarding, of my life. I have watched my husband and children step up to the plate time and again to meet the needs of children who so badly need it. The moments of pure joy, and of complete love and Grace that abound in our home, are daily treasures. I’m not sure where I stand about working with birth parents again. Heck, I’m not sure I ever want to be a foster mom again after all this hot mess! (I say this, but I also know that we do good work, and I am not done serving the children that need me.) I guess I do believe that there are some moms and dads out there that truly want, and need, a leg up. There have to be some families involved with this system that want and will use the help I want to offer. Just because I couldn’t help this one, doesn’t mean I will stop trying. I hope to some day start an intensive program for mothers who have open CPS cases. I am in the process of starting a support group. I still believe that I can reach people, and heal families, and get children back a healthier family of origin. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but I don’t think so. I do know that our family does good work for these children. We can heal, and we can love, and maybe this is enough. I don’t know yet. People always say that we are a blessing to the children in our home. I don’t agree. They are a blessing to us. They are our teachers. They smooth our rough edges, soften our hearts, and bring us closer to our faith. They are little survivors, and heroes, and I am forever humbled by this journey we are traveling, together.
UPDATE April 2012: We are currently in an expensive legal battle to try and keep T in our home. Justin relinquished within weeks of coming forward. Aunt A is pregnant again, and has rescinded her request for placement. S still does not have suitable housing or transportation, but she is continuing to somewhat work her services. In a recent court hearing, the judge urged her to consider relinquishment. There is a trial in July to determine placement of T. The brothers are being placed in a wonderful foster home with our agency, a family with whom we have become close. Their future looks bright. We continue to wait, and sit in faith, and do what we do, which is to love on baby T.