After a few months of wrestling with the idea of open adoption, we reluctantly decided it could not be afforded right now. I sent an email to my friend, Mindy, who recommended the Adoption Center of San Diego and told her about our decision.
“I understand,” she wrote back. “But there are other ways. There’s Angels. I know its tough, but let me know how I can help.”
Fast forward six months, and here we are – eight weeks of classes completed and just a couple more steps to take before we foster a baby.
At first, we could not see ourselves providing care to a child we may not adopt. You love a baby, feed, cloth, change its diapers for possibly up to 18 months and then may relinquish your obligation. On one hand, that could feel good knowing the parents did right by their child. On the other hand, you will hurt and miss a baby you grew to love.
Oh, so many months ago, I wrote back to Mindy and told her I wanted to know more. We agreed to talk and before we met up, I called the Angels office to sign us up for the next orientation.
What could it hurt?
I remember back to the orientation where Angels’ founder Cathy Richman gave us an honest, full explanation of the program and answered our questions in about an hour.
Cathy worked in foster care for years and saw two things: babies residing in three living situations before their first birthday and a system that didn’t support the foster parents enough to succeed for the children. As a result, those children failed to attach to any one caregiver and learn empathy or trust. At worst, the child develops reactive attachment disorder, which can lead to sociopath-like behavior.
Today, nearly 80 percent of those incarcerated were at one time in foster care.
“So what’s different about us?” she asked rhetorically. “Well, we do a lot of hand holding to make sure you and the babies you care for have the best experience possible. You will not go through this alone.”
Angels provides one caseworker to just a handful of families, provides the parental training and other arrangements to qualify as a licensed foster family, helps fascilitate the sometimes tense visitations with the birthparents, offers counseling and support for the families, and works through all the court-related matters.
What do they ask for in return?
You must submit to a mental health evaluation, background check, commit to only taking one foster child at a time possibly from birth to 18 months, and – the biggie – one parent must stay home during the length of the fostering.
In her 11th year, Cathy has placed more than 460 babies. When the county calls her with a referral, she goes down her list of waiting families and starts making calls. Sadly, there’s more babies than families.
During our classes from the wonderful Angels caseworkers, we learned about the power of human bonding and what breaks those bonds. It’s not always the physical abuse that leaves the most damage, but the neglect leading to failure to thrive. It’s hard to imagine leaving a child alone for hours at a time unattended, but it happens.
In basic, the system works like this: Angels receives a call, they place the child with a family, and then follow the orders of the court on reunification. If the judge determines the child was removed hastily, it will be reunified within a couple months. Otherwise, the judge sets a list of requirements that parents must abide by in order to regain custody and the case is reassessed every six months up to 18 months.
Roughly 50 percent of the Angels foster children are adopted.
Before she let us go at the orientation, she told us her last of many stories.
A 20-year-old drug addict gave birth, the baby tested positive for drugs in the hospital and was removed from her care. An Angels family fostered and eventually adopted the baby. Less than two years later, the same woman had another child that tested positive for drugs and the same family adopted that child to keep the siblings together.
Eight years later, that Angels family had adopted all six of that woman’s children when Cathy received a call that the woman delivered her seventh child, which tested positive for drugs. The Angels family finally said no more – they had already moved twice into bigger homes.
“What we say around here is ‘be careful what you wish for,’ ” she said, half kidding. “Of the many struggles our biological parents have, fertility does not seem to be one of them.”
Our sweet caseworker, Emma, set our appointment to walk through our home in a couple weeks to make sure we have knives, chemicals, prescription drugs, and lighters under lock-and-key. We’ve nailed down a few options to install locks throughout the home. From all the mind-numbing paperwork to all the classes, plus a 4-hour CPR/ First Aide class, a 2-hour water-safety class, to the walk-through – we’re only just beginning.
Once we’re placed, we’ll see Emma, the County caseworker and the biological parents each at least once each week. We must document every clothing item purchased with a minimum expense required, register for WIC formula, take and file court notes from our bio-parent visits, take regular pictures and keep a memory book to go home with the child, run and log regular fire drills, maintain all our safety certifications and above all – make the child’s safety and care our top priority.
It’s a heck of a lot to keep track of and just thinking about what we’re in for sometimes gives me anxiety. But I try to take it one day at a time and reassure myself that it’s all going to be worth it.
Of all the emotions our Angels workers said foster parents experience, it’s anger and frustration. Anger at a system that puts so much pressure on us knowing the child came from an unsafe environment.
A friend recently told me he considered fostering, but he said all the paper work made him and his wife feel like criminals.
“What the heck does the County care what my home floor plan looks like?” he asked rhetorically. “These babies come from terrible conditions and somehow, what my lawn shrubbery looks like is a concern.”
It does feel silly, even downright aggravating. Especially when you find out that joblessness and homelessness are not reasons a child cannot be reunified with their parents. The standards are a bit askew. But you can’t fight city hall, I guess.
I visited my darling friend and new mommy, Tanya, this week to see her little man. She doesn’t have the space for a nursery at the moment. I instantly thought of all that would keep her from fostering, simply because of her home environment, and yet you couldn’t find a more doting mom.
It’s a damn shame; the world’s all topsy-turvy and a kid’s just lucky to survive.
But I’m going to jump these hurdles and keep jumping because somewhere out there, my little prince or princess needs me to keep going.