Angels Foster Family Network classes really take you on an emotional ride.
One session, we talked about our first experiences with grief and loss. Thankfully, I was the last one to talk and I breezed through the suicide of the brother’s friend quickly because everyone was drained.
In another session, we talked about actual foster baby cases that dealt with everything from physical and emotional abuse to basic care neglect and failure to thrive.
Thankfully, most of the faces in the room went blank when the words “spica cast” were used, which is a cast on an infant from ankle to under the nipple area due to a femur break. Breaking an infants femur, due to it’s relative flexibility, is pretty tough.
The reason for these emotionally-charged classes: we will indeed experience grief in knowing how these children came to be in the system, loss when they go back to their birth parents and perhaps the worst – anger. Anger at a system that sometimes fails these kids, who we will most assuredly love.
We are not fostering babies with the express intention of adoption and knowing how we’ll deal with that sadness becomes vital to how well we do as foster parents.
Our most recent session a couple nights ago brought us face-to-face with foster parents, their foster babies and a birth mom whose baby is currently in foster care.
The first couple had tried to get pregnant for seven years – seven! They finally decided to check out being foster mommies and the orientation sealed the deal. Their cases ran the gamet from having a baby for a couple weeks to more than a year before reunification. In one case, the reunification failed and they’re now adopting him and a second baby, whose reunification also failed.
The child they reunified with was born with severe heart defects, which they were unaware of at the time they first picked him up. A system loophole allowed him to reunify with his father, a known drug user, and the baby somehow ended up in the care of another family member. He was taken to Children’s Hospital when he became very ill. That’s when Angels called the foster parents to meet him at the hospital and found him “grey, almost blue.”
The other mom said, while holding her 10-month-old: “You have all these thoughts in your mind what these bio-parents are going to be like. It’s nothing like what you think; sometimes you end up feeling like you want to foster them too. They came from the same circumstances their own kids are coming from when we get them.”
The second couple foster just to help out families in trouble with no intention of adopting. They’re on their 9th placement with a baby girl, whose mom was there. Mom currently resides in a rehabilitation facility. Her first child lives in Mexico with his grandparents.
“Fostering fills a place in our family, our hearts,” said the foster mom. Referring to two of her present foster children: “This is my baby, this is my baby. They’re all my babies.”
The young mom, who shed a few tears, said: “The first foster family who cared for her was really mean to me. They would sit at visitations, arms crossed and look at me like I was a monster. I’m not a bad person. We all make mistakes; some of us just more than others. I’m so glad I have this new family for my baby until I’m ready.”
Overall, she’s making excellent progress in her program and could be reunified as early as the six-month trial. She’s hopeful, saying: “It’s all on me to do this and I want to succeed. I don’t have any family of my own. She’s all I’ve got.”
Our caseworkers cautioned us: she’s not a typical birth mom.
The last couple still has their one and only placement. At 10 months, the little boy has seen his mother very little since he was born positive for drugs. At the six month trial, the judge rendered what he considered a generous offer to continue offering county rehabilitation services. She’s spent less than a week in any one program.
The foster mom expressed as much sadness as confusion about the birth mom, who had her first child at 15. She comes from a family of nine siblings, and from what she can tell, all but one suffers from some form of drug or alcohol problem.
“She’s made an attempt at visitations maybe two or three times in 10 months,” the foster mom said. “During a second round of visits, she suddenly showed up with a brand new baby blanket saying it’s his favorite. He was six months old at the time.”
Their county caseworker recently changed the recommendation to terminate services for the birth mother, which is a step toward termination of parental rights. Despite what might seem like a possible path toward adoption could easily take a turn, depending on the judgement of the court.
I asked the couple how their friends and family react to their being foster parents and their situation.
“No one will understand what you’re going through,” she said. “They just assume he’s staying because they look at the case as black-and-white. We know that nothing means anything unless the courts decides it’s so. We have to keep telling ourselves he could go back tomorrow.”
I asked them all the same question: “Would you do this again?”
All gave a resounding “yes,” saying that the satisfaction you feel in helping a child in need outweighs any amount of grief you feel in the separation.
As we left, I realized this isn’t just be about us being foster parents. It will affect everyone in our lives and in ways we cannot know.
Unlike coming from the hospital after a nine-month pregnancy, we could be sitting at dinner with friends when we get an emergency call to fetch a child from a variety of situations in a multitude of conditions.
Prospects seem as exciting as scary and all the while, you hope you might do some good.
The first couple took in one 9-month-old girl for a few months who experienced severe neglect. She was so stiff from lack of physical interaction and activity that she couldn’t crawl. In just a couple months, she went from crawling to standing and eventually, tried to walk.
“You’re so overwhelmed sometimes and then you have one of those moments,” one foster mom said. “It’s hard to imagine life without these kids.”
It’s the closest to saving the world we may ever come close to.