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?”

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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.

LEGO FAMILIES

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.

NATIONAL FOSTER CARE MONTH

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.

ADVOCATING FOR FAMILIES

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…

Top 5 ways to show love to foster families (according to foster parents)

Ah, Valentine’s day. When mushy sentiments and puppy love fill the air. The time of year middle schoolers think they have found their one true love…and have to post about it all over social media…multiple times a day…for weeks…

But seriously, Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love and relationships of all kinds. The day is a reminder that relationships don’t just happen; they require thought and effort and time. Love shows itself in tangible ways, whether it be a box of chocolates or a bouquet of flowers. It is a reminder that you have to intentionally put something into a relationship and love doesn’t just sit around doing nothing.

Foster families know this all too well.

Continue reading “Top 5 ways to show love to foster families (according to foster parents)”

ReMoved #3

At the end of the day, foster care is about the children in care.

Or at least it is supposed to be.

Through the noise, rhetoric, media spotlights (and ignorance), opinions, horror stories, rose-glasses stories, and all the other noise about foster care comes the ReMoved videos. Each of the short films brings the narrative back to focus on the children in foster care. The storylines revolve around the child’s perspective and experiences, which are so often forgotten or overlooked.

ReMoved #3

The third and most recent film centers around a young boy, Kevi, who enters foster care. The story shows the emotions and struggles of a single mom trying to take care of her son, a foster family taking in a child, but mostly on the boy himself as he struggles to reconcile these two situations and the competing emotions that come with being a part of two worlds.

Full disclosure: It took me like 4 days to watch the whole video. I kept having to pause it because I was crying. I had been one of those little girls- foster sister to children in my home- and then watched those children leave. I cried because I had loved, they had left, but love is never wasted.

Are you a new foster family? Have you been a foster family for a while? Do you wonder why anyone would be a foster family when the child will leave? Check out the video.

Just a warning: you may need tissues…

No sponsored post here– just wanted to share a resource I found useful!

4 Verses that Prepare Your Children for Being a Foster Family

I was barely a teenager when my family began taking in foster children— and it changed my life. I had a front-row seat to the foster care system in all of its successes, failures, and realities. During my teen years, I rocked many babies to sleep, helped toddlers take their first steps, and played board games with my foster siblings.

While being a foster family had positive aspects, it also had difficult parts. Children came from tough situations and had sad stories. Our family sacrificed many of our own wants in order to provide for foster children’s needs. It was hard.

Continue reading “4 Verses that Prepare Your Children for Being a Foster Family”

Not Grieving in Words

A coupon for 20% off a certain brand of lotion has been pinned to the wall above my desk. I just pulled it down to check when it expires.

The coupon expired January 31, 2016.

My desk has been in a similar state of neglect. Under textbooks, scattered post-it notes, three mechanical pencils I have been looking for, and receipts (some from Wal-Mart, others from the library), I found a picture of two little girls I dearly love. Their faces poke out from a blanket as they smile, together. One of the little girls is now my sister. The other…I miss.

NotGrievingInWordsPic

Continue reading “Not Grieving in Words”

The Only Reason I Make My Bed

My little sister made my bed the other day. I came in and there she was, propping up the pillows.

“Oh, wow. Thanks Sweetie,” I said. She nodded.

“Yeah, when I see your bed not made, I make it ’cause maybe a social worker will come today and I don’t want our room a mess.”

“Good point. I’ll remember to make it tomorrow…”