“You’re an angel from heaven…” “You’re such a strong woman…” “I could never do what you do…” “There’s a special place in heaven for people like you…”
Just a few of the flattering remarks I’ve heard. Ever since we said, “I DO”, to becoming foster parents. Honestly? I thought, at the very least, I was a strong woman. Maybe, even a strong Christian. Until I became a foster parent.
I’m fairly certain that in our first three years of being foster parents, Scott and I have already experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Aside from getting accolades I fear I don’t deserve, I’m often asked many questions about being a foster mommy. Never before have I laid it all out there, like I will, here. To say this is difficult to write is an understatement…
Why did you become a Foster Parent?
Not sure where to start, so I’ll go back a bit.
Scott and I have been married for nine years. We live in southern New Jersey. We bought a 200-year old fixer-upper home in 2013. Shortly after I had to leave my career as a school administrator, due to several autoimmune disorders. It was kinda like a new start for us. The house was closer to our families and it screamed, “Fill me up with lots of children!” as it stood three stories high with seven potential bedrooms. You can read all about The House on High Street, here.
Up until then, Scott and I were dabbling with infertility treatments (required because of my “conditions”). But, we decided to pull the plug before getting too aggressive, and try something extraordinary. My theory was, “Maybe God wants us to be foster parents.” I know quite a few people who have adopted their children (or miraculously got pregnant) after going down this alternative path.
In the winter of 2015, Scott and I took the leap, with the hopes in mind that someday, God would bless us with a forever family.
Someone told me that after you apply to become a foster parent, it’s almost as if you’re pregnant. The process takes about nine months from start to finish. Scott and I celebrated with a long Mediterranean cruise in late summer, 2015. We knew that as soon as we got back, our simple, romantic, and carefree lives would never be the same.
Sure enough, I got a call two weeks after our return. I was told that there was a five week old baby girl that was left at the hospital and had a “very good chance” of being adopted. I can’t tell you why.
Tangent: I won’t disclose personal information regarding foster babies or Bio Families. However, I will share my experience – through my lenses- with these children, the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP formerly DYFYS), and the biological families.
I wrote a post, soon after this beautiful baby girl came into our lives. I nicknamed her Banana.
Of course, we fell in love with her. If I’m being completely honest, something in my heart confirmed that Banana was the child I had been waiting for and praying for. She was even given the name I had planned to name my own daughter. Of course, I felt this was a sign from God. But, please don’t think I was naive. Scott and I knew what we signed up for.
We knew the Division’s main goal is to “reunify” the child with the Bio Family. What we didn’t know is just how far some will go to get that child back to their biological parents.
Banana’s first birthday came and went with little inclination that she was being reunified (for reasons I cannot share). Our theory was, if there was one family member that really wanted her, they had plenty of time and support to make that happen. Not to mention, Banana’s case worker had assured us that “bonding” was a serious piece of the equation, and occurs after seven months.
In addition to the amount of time that had gone by, Banana was blossoming just beautifully! She went from a struggling newborn to an extraordinarily happy and thriving baby girl. Every milestone was hit with flying colors. She was physically strong and made it through her first year with nothing more than a runny nose.
A part of me feared that it was all too good to be true.
“What is taking so long? If there is at least one biological parent that loves this child, why aren’t they moving heaven and high water to see her as much as they can and get her back, ASAP?”
Of course, there was only so much we could be told. In hindsight, I only wish we had more experience so we could have kept better watch over the entire process. We were kept out of the loop, from the start. Not to mention, Banana had over five case workers, in two years. Communication was an obstacle, at best. (We found out later that the particular office/area that Banana came from had a poor reputation. For doing things their way. Making up rules as they go. And, sidestepping obligations. But, we gave them the benefit of the doubt. Of course we met a few extraordinary workers, from that office, along the way.)
With every passing day, we grew more in love with Banana. Our friends and family loved her. And, Banana fell in love with us. Her home. Her secure little world. Scott’s and my relationship with Banana was extraordinary. It’s difficult to put it in words. I believed it, in my heart, that we were soul mates, as we lit up one-another’s world. I recall, so vividly, this precious angel singing and giggling, even in her sleep. And, watching her peaceful expression while resting her sleepy head on Scott’s massive shoulders. She was just so happy. So safe. So content. And, so confident.
You never quite understand what happiness means until you see it on your child’s face. ~Rachel Maria
Our little world was perfect, and I had never been so happy in my entire adult life.
Once Banana turned fifteen months, the goal was changed from reunification to adoption. You’d think this meant that the Division’s efforts would be towards preparing her and us to become a forever family. Banana deserved to be settled, even long before this. But it was after that goal was changed to adoption that reunification became a driving force.
First, came long distance visitations. At fifteen months old, throughout the winter months, Banana was sent to visit her Biological Mom, weekly. It was a two hour car ride, each way. She was hysterical leaving and it crushed me, every week, to stand idle while watching her, sometimes getting restrained, to leave.
Imagine having the child you love and raised and taught to trust you, cry out to you, “Mommy!?”
But. You’re. Paralyzed.
That’s what I had to go through, every week. And, that’s when I first started questioning God, “WHY?” “Why now, when she’s old enough to have emotions, but too young to understand?”
Within two weeks of this vigorous schedule, Banana got sick. I remember on one occasion, when she was feeling under the weather, that she was kept out until ten at night. At sixteen months old! She was transported home in a car, with strangers, for two hours. Nobody thought about or cared how difficult this was on her. I was so worried about her. She was brought to the door cying like never before. Shaking. Then, screaming crying. Words can’t even describe. And, I cried that night, with her.
This was only the beginning.
Bonding Evaluations were scheduled at the nineteen month mark. By now, we’ve learned that it’s a formality. It really doesn’t matter if the child is bonded with her foster family. Everyone, under the umbrella of DCPP (which even includes the child’s law guardian), will say that a child can re-bond. I know I’m no expert in this area. I just know children, innately. Coping, in my opinion, is not the same as bonding. But, who cares what a foster parent thinks or feels, right?
By 20 months old, Banana was having unsupervised overnights with her biological father. She was returned in poor condition. We were taking her to an urgent care, on a weekly basis. Banana’s Bio family refused to communicate with us regarding her health. We practically begged for them to meet with us, work with us, communicate with us mainly about her well being. But, we were patronized with, “She had a great time! Don’t forget to send back the clothes she’s now wearing.”
The more she was leaving us, the sicker she became. Hair loss. Loss of appetite. No weight gain for several months. Fevers. Allergies. Severe manifestations of stress. Ripping at her hair. Throwing herself on the floor. Putting her entire fist in her mouth. She stopped allowing me to change her diaper, give her a bath, or put her in a car seat without screaming crying. The Division and the bio family dismissed this as “tantrums” and “terrible twos”, or perhaps a negative response to an additional foster baby.
But, they didn’t even know her. We knew her.
We had to watch everything we put into that child be torn apart. To add insult to injury. She couldn’t speak. She had no voice.
Scott and I did everything we could to form a team with the Division and bio family as well as advocate for Banana. We made about 3 dozen suggestions that would have considered her best interest. By this point, the Division not only got tired of hearing from us, but soon they were against us. I’ll never forget having one (of the five) case workers tell me once, “I feel like it’s always something.” Eluding that we were either making things up or creating the problem.
Eventually, Banana’s law guardian stopped responding to our concerns. Her position became “shady”, and she even had her supervisor involved who at one point told me, “You don’t want to upset the Division.” The most we’d get was from her (as well as the Division) was, “Your concerns are being heard. Your concerns are being addressed.”
Three doctors (a total of four, by the end) put it in writing that Banana’s health was of concern. At one point, our pediatrician, who had been Banana’s doctor from Day One, advised that she needed 2 weeks to recuperate following several weeks of illness. But we were told by the Division, that unless she had a 104 temperature, AND she was throwing up, AND had diarrhea, that they could not interrupt a court ordered visitation. Even if it was a 2-hour commute, and her own doctor advised against it.
They were on the fast track to getting this child back to her biological family. And, by 21 months, the judge approved reunification. (Yes. We retained a lawyer to advocate for Banana, knowing it would take a miracle for anything to change.)
The judge did appoint a CASA worker several weeks before reunification was granted. CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocate. We had hoped, that maybe and finally, Banana would have had her rights and her needs advocated.
The woman assigned to Banana was extraordinary. She came out to the house almost weekly and compiled a novel of information from everyone involved in Banana’s case. Go figure. This was a volunteer worker who spent more time with Banana in the course of several weeks than Banana’s five case workers and law guardian did, over two years, combined. The CASA report wasn’t even acknowledged.
By Banana’s 22nd month, we knew the reality of what we were facing.
Not many will believe this, but my prayer at that point, was that Banana would adjust to this reunification by the time it happened. In spite of all that was going wrong for her, I wanted it to be right. I requested a meeting with the Division, and Scott and I left thinking that maybe, they would consider Banana’s needs during those final nine weeks.
We requested for an objective, professional to evaluate her manifestations and behaviors. That never happened. We were sent to the division’s doctors. And when they didn’t like even their own doctors’ recommendations, they would show up at follow up appointments and strong-arm their own doctors!
We requested that Banana be given therapeutic-type services (like her Bio parents had been given dozens of paid-services) to help HER with the psychological end of what was happening. Before she would just wake-up, one day, to an entirely different life. That never happened.
I requested that we be included in family team meetings. Nope.
Even from early on, I had asked for the Division to help us form a team rapport with the Biological Family. They caused more “division” in order to make their jobs a lot easier.
I asked to escort Banana to her Bio Family’s house one day, just so she could make a connection to see that she wasn’t being ripped and displaced. I figured, if she saw her Bio parents with us, she’d feel more comfortable. We were met with responses eluding that we couldn’t be trusted. Wait. What? But, we can care for your child for two years?
I asked if we could take her to say goodbye to friends, just 30 minutes away, before leaving us. Friends that were a greater part of her life, at that point, than any other family member. But, we were told, NO, because it was crossing the state line.
Come to think of it, Banana’s best interest and well-being was second fiddle to the biological family, from day one. Even when Banana was just a few months old, if I asked for a visit to be coordinated around her nap schedule, I was met with, “Unfortunately, that’s not convenient for the Bio Family’s schedule”. If we had a vacation planned, they preferred their own child to go to a vacation placement, rather than come along with us.
There’s so much more. But, this is all I can muster up, to share.
We never got to say goodbye to Banana. We were tricked. She was tricked. One day she was picked up, and in spite of us having her 2nd birthday celebration planned with our families, she was never returned. And, we haven’t seen her since.
Ok, so there you have it. I know there are a lot of foster stories like this. Some much, much, worse. I don’t feel like a victim, by any means. I’m grieving, still. And, I may never understand it. Life goes on, and believe it or not, we are still foster parents. Thankfully experiencing the better side of foster care. (I’ll share the good stuff, next time.)
But, in response to the “Why did you become a Foster Parent?”
Because I thought that’s what God wanted. I still have a glimmer of hope that something good will come/has come from this. But, that’s not the only reason. I also believed that God would give me the desires of my heart. A child to have and to hold. Never in my worst nightmare did I imagine it being this bad.
But, my story is not over.
To be continued…