Our very first placement put that into perspective. Not only did he not leave for 7 months, but his birth mom was never healthy enough to recognize me as foster mom. She would always ask if I was the caseworker or the judge at court. Then, our next 2 placements became Norman's and all preconceived notions officially went out the window. Our next 15-20 placements did eventually leave and most were success stories. I couldn't imagine not being a foster parent.
Until now. It's a new feeling. The feeling of being at my limit for the time being. I honesty never understood when people said that before. I should've had more sympathy. Maybe it's the fact that I still can't seem to get Henry's insurance needs sorted out. Maybe it's the fact that he is still not as healthy as I hoped. Maybe it's the fact that I only keep getting older. Maybe I am just making excuses? Who knows.
I do know this. If our house is going to close, someone else needs to open. I still get texts and calls, so the need has not gone away.
And here is what you need to know:
- Caseworkers will always be late to pick up or bring home from visits. Why? Because they are timing lots of transportation requests and often giving the parents a little extra time so they can finish up some work before leaving. It's a part of it. Go on about your day and try not to sit at home and complain. It won't help.
- There will never be a perfect outcome. Never. Kids going home? It will be the best of a bad situation. Kids staying in care longer? It will be hard on everyone involved. Kids going up for adoption? This is the least desirable outcome in an already bad situation. It means parents couldn't get healthy and family didn't feel safe, or capable, of coming forward.
- The system is hard for birth parents to navigate. Like it or not, the system is much easier to navigate for foster parents than birth parents. Parents want to get their kids back quickly? We give them 3 visits a week while expecting them to hold down a job. Hard to do for anyone, near impossible if you just got a minimum wage job and are scheduled certain hours.
- You will be required to have a decent home, open it at a moments notice, prove square footage, practice evacuation plans, keep a fire extinguisher on hand and provide a safety plan for a bird bath. Kids however, can return home to mattresses on the floor. File this one under, you may not understand it nor like it, but it is part of it.
- Your friend group will look different. You will retain some of your old friends and you guys will be closer because they get it. But some will fade away and that's okay too. You will also make new friends who are your "foster peeps." These friends will be on hand for rants, raves, and irrational thoughts. Such as running to the border with your newest placement because you suddenly can't imagine life without them. Even though you just met them 10 minutes ago. These same friends will also pick up said child, when in another 10 minutes you can't wait for them to leave.
- You will become an expert on everything. Literally everything. Kid crying too much? They must not have been sung to in utero. Kid hits too much? Attention seeking. Every other behavior? RAD
- You suddenly have a wardrobe of t-shirts with catchy sayings. "Just Say Yes," "Yes. They Are All Mine," "Foster, Adopt, Mentor,".....you get the picture.
- You mourn when some kids leave. Like, really mourn. It often feels like a heavy brick on your chest that you can't get off. You can't help but imagine how life might be different for them if they stayed.
- Some kids you mourn their situation, but not them leaving.
- You may think their birth parents shouldn't smoke before their visit. You may think they shouldn't feed their child Takis or Fire Cheetos. You will be so tempted to send out any and every email you can think of giving your reasons why. Refrain from that. Be the child's advocate but pick your battles. Continue to pack healthy snacks for visits and let the mom choose. Everything is out of her control right now. Let the child eat Takis.
- This is not God's plan for the family. In a perfect world we wouldn't have foster care, adoption, caseworkers, juvenile judges, etc. But we do. When you are tempted to quit because it's hard or different than you thought....remember that. This can't be "good" because it's out of God's will for the family.
- You can do it. You will succeed. You will change lives.
We can only close because others open. We are committing ourselves to navigating these waters for Henry. We've switched from the broken world of foster care, to the hard world of adoption. We will fight for him and make sure he has every opportunity possible. Maybe we will re-enter the other side one day, but for now we are passing the torch. And we wouldn't trade our journey for the world.