The fear of losing someone you love can petrify you.
People have claimed this as a reason they do not take in foster children; because it would be heart breaking to have a child leave. They are completely right. It is horribly painful, but not always the hardest part. Sometimes the most difficult thing is knowing that the child may be returning to a bad situation.
I turned to some of my foster parent friends and asked them how they deal with foster children leaving and possibly moving to bad situations. Here is a summary of what they said:
• Foster care is not about saving the world. As much as you may try, one person cannot fix everything. It is not the foster parent’s job to decide if the biological parents are good enough. It is not the foster family’s job to go check up on the child after reunification. Foster families’ job is to love the child and advocate for them while they are in our care.
• No matter what happens after they leave our care, we know that we have made a difference in their lives for that time. They may not remember our names, but they will know what love is. In the back of their minds there will be some memory of what a family is supposed to be. The love we poured out on them will carry them farther than they could go before.
• And when they go, foster families must let go to an extent. Worrying about the child does nothing for them, but it does prevent you from caring for the next child who desperately needs you. Any bitterness has to go too, along with longing for the situation to be different. Both will eat you alive. Cry over the grief that the child will not be with you. Pray for them as they go to a situation less than ideal (prayer is the only thing that does any good anyway). Find the people who support you; lean on them during this time.
Ultimately, most foster families have this in common: they do it for the kids, not for themselves. They know they will be hurt, risk burn out, witness heart-wrenching things they can never forget. But they choose to do it anyway for kids who have no choice.
Something that gives me hope is Philippians 1:6. My grandma, a foster parent to over 150 children, shared that verse from the Bible with me when my family first began taking in foster children. It goes like this: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you [read: foster child] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
The first bits feel like a bucket of ice dumped on your head.
So it wasn’t all what I thought it was.
As the story continues to unfold, a nagging feeling creeps up the back of your neck.
Maybe they aren’t complete monsters.
The abuse they suffered. The chains and cycles and addictions they are stuck in. The beatings they deal with right now in the midst of striving to get their children back. How they never got a good chance in life.
It is hard in our noisy world to find someone willing to listen. It is hard to be that person, listening. And when you spend so much of your time listening to hard stories from little lips, you find yourself needing someone to listen to YOU for once.
Earlier this year I realized how much I longed to talk to someone who “got it”. I joined a couple of foster care support groups on facebook.* What a difference! In my feed I now had real questions and issues to be addressed. There were foster parents sharing encouraging stories about a kiddo’s progress. To be honest, I was just proud of the fact that I knew their abbreviations. It was like I fit right in to a secret club. 🙂
After introducing myself to the group, I got a message. It was from an editor of a foster care magazine. The editor asked if I would be willing to write an article for the magazine from the perspective of a biological child of foster parents. I jumped from my seat. Someone actually wanted to hear what I had to say? Someone was asking me to talk more about foster care???
On Friday a worker for the Department of Children and Families in Vermont was fatally shot. The shooter appears to be a mother who was angry about losing custody of her child. The social worker left behind her own two daughters and husband.
It is a tragedy, happening in a parking lot near the state courthouse. It is also a reality social workers and other family workers face everyday. They often have no idea what they are stepping into when they go to a home to check on a child.
…Just keeping in mind that social workers have a hard job; but a job that is needed and changes many people’s lives for the better.