The Case That Broke Me (Foster Siblings Leaving)

A previous version of this story was published in The Foster Care Survival Guide by Dr. John DeGarmo. I revised the story to share with you here. If you have read it before, I hope you will read this to get a fuller sense of the story.

The world of foster care can never be fully comprehended outside of diving headfirst into it. Nevertheless, my parents did their best to give me an understanding of what becoming a foster family would be like. They had often talked about people in need, including children in foster care. My tween siblings and I were fascinated with the idea of foster care.

Nothing could prepare me for the reality of two little sisters who arrived at our door. The toddler had eyes of wonder and confusion. Though she was wary of my parents, she warmed up to my siblings and me as we brought her toys and played with her.

That worked out well because my parents were busy with her infant sister. The baby was suffering the effects of drug withdrawals. She would tremor, break out into sweats, squirm, scream, and bat away her pacifier. We tried literally dozens of different pacifiers to help comfort her. It took weeks and weeks for her to finally overcome the withdrawals and gain a healthy weight.

Though my parents did not share all of the details of the girls’ case, they would try to prepare us for the changes that might happen. As the girls began more visits with their parents, my parents told me that the girls might be reunited with their parents soon. If the girls were returning from a difficult visit, my parents would remind my siblings and me that the girls might act out because of the tough stuff they had to deal with.

As time passed, different people dropped out of the girls’ lives. It was a messy situation. After a particularly rocky month, the county asked if our family would be willing to adopt the girls.

Although my parents prefaced this new revelation with caution and “this is only an option and not for sure,” my heart was dancing with the possibility. These girls, my sisters forever? Yes, please!

The more I looked at it, the more I thought it was perfect. We knew the girls’ likes, dislikes, and unique personalities better than anyone it seemed. They had been living with us for over a year. They seemed to fit into our family completely.

Then one evening, we got a call. With only hours of warning, my family had to pack up all the girls’ belongings. A social worker arrived in the morning and took them to live with a relative. I haven’t seen them since.

After all of that love, with one call, my sisters were gone.

It was hard. The grief was lonely. Not many people understood what we were going through. Even within our family, each of us coped differently.

Then another call came.

My parents sat our family down and explained that there was another set of siblings that needed somewhere to stay. These new children needed a temporary family just as much as the shy toddler and screaming infant had. Just like the girls, these children could not control how long they would stay with us, but they needed a family in that moment who would love them even if it hurt in the end.

So we loved them too.
Even when they were set to move home, we loved them.
And even when it seemed they would move to relatives, we loved them.

Though I was broken by what had happened before, I learned something as I moved forward. When you choose to love again, you are truly thinking beyond yourself and beyond your own pain to meet the needs of someone else. That is love. And love, even when it costs us, is exactly what children in foster care need. When we love children, despite the costs, we are showing them that they are worth the cost of love.

Next time you think “I would get too attached” or “I would be devastated when they leave;” ask yourself also:

“Do I believe children in foster care are worth the cost of love?”

Families, Not Legos

“Oh, you got a new foster kid?…You’re going to adopt him, right?”

“I can’t believe that little girl still has to visit her parents. I’m sure they are awful. I wish I could just adopt her!”

“My friend and her husband are trying to adopt from foster care. I just don’t understand why kids get left with parents who can’t afford it when couples like my friend could provide a wonderful home and family. I mean, they have a pool, a 5,000 square foot home, horses, jet skis…wouldn’t that be better for the kids?”

Okay, let’s stop right there. These statements have all missed the point of foster care!

(By the way, if you have said anything like that, keep reading. You are not the only one!)

Foster care is complicated and messy. Families are complicated and messy. People are complicated and messy.

It would be so much easier if families were like Legos.


With Legos, each individual piece can be pulled away from its original structure and still be intact itself. The piece can even neatly fit into a new Lego creation.

It is easy to fall into viewing foster care like that. Pull kids out from the original home and expect them to be perfectly fine and intact. Then, if it doesn’t work out for them to return to their original family, just plug them into a new one. With a little pressure, they will fit right in.

But people are not like Legos. A family cannot be neatly disassembled with each individual remaining intact. Instead of being quick to disassemble families, we need to rethink how we treat families.


Remembering the point of foster care is a good thing to do during National Foster Care Month. May is a month dedicated to foster care awareness in the United States. For 2019, the theme is “Foster care as a support to families, not a substitute for parents.”

Looking at foster care as a substitute for parents is far too easy. When we think of families and children like Legos, it appears that a child’s parents should be able to be neatly substituted by others, with no interruption. However, as long as we view people in this way, families and children will not get the support they desperately need.


I recently graduated with my Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education. I choose the child development field of study because of my heart for children in foster care. Over the past few years of study, I have learned more and more that secure families are at the center of secure children. Families are important because children do their deepest learning and growing in the context of their family- for better or for worse.

With that in mind, I am committed to advocating for children in foster care and supporting families.

Foster families need to be supported, not just the foster parents. Families involved with child welfare need to be supported, not just children in foster care.

Foster care is not about taking a child from a family. Foster care is about helping the child’s family be its best. Adoption is not about giving a child to a family. Adoption is about providing a family for a child; a family who will be there and help a child as the child comes to grips with the loss of his or her first family.

Families and foster care are complicated and messy. And yeah, it would be easier to keep treating people like Legos.

But people are not Legos. Families are not buildable creations that can be formed or dismantled the way you want. It does children an injustice to keep treating them like plastic toys.

Healing the families as a whole, even if it takes more resources, is the best option for children in the long run. Of course, not every family will heal or be able to care for their child, but we should never wish that on anyone. Instead, we should look at the families around us (foster, adoptive, biological, or otherwise) and start supporting them long before they begin to fall apart.

Maybe it starts by giving them a tub of Legos, and treating people like actual people.

Two stormtrooper action figures watch over lego minifigures, one tettering on a bike.
Hey, every family is unique…

The Role of Social Workers

March is National Social Work Month in the United States. In honor of this, here is a brief look at the role of a social worker in child welfare.

Caseworker, adoption worker, case manager, licensing agent— social workers in the field of child welfare have various titles. Though the focuses of their jobs might be different, the role of the social worker remains the same: to “protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance” (Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.).

2 Women meeting and planning, social worker

Continue reading “The Role of Social Workers”