The Rocky Road of Foster Care

i-love-you-too-buddy_1243“You should call it “Return Abused or Neglected Child to Their Parent Services” instead of “Child Protective Services” if that’s your real intention,” my husband said to the caseworker who told us for the hundredth time that the goal was to return the foster child to his parents. I always thought that the goal was to protect the child, but I guess I’m wrong.

I’ll back up a bit. I’ve wanted to be a foster parent for quite a while now. My paternal grandparents fostered children, I had a friend in high school who was a foster child, and my mom was adopted, so I thought fostering would be a good thing to do. Also, I knew that having a child on my own was going to be difficult, so this might be a good alternative.

In case you don’t know, there are a lot of hoops to jump threw. They don’t just give you a foster kid because you sign up for one, which I guess used to be the norm back in the 70’s, but the state has gotten much more strict since then. You have to get a background check, fingerprinting, have a social history done, a home inspection, fire & lead inspection, interviews, references, etc. in addition to taking the 12 weeks of classes. Well, believe it or not, all that is the easy part.

My husband and I already had one foster child that was really difficult. He was a 12 year old who peed and pooped all over, lied incessantly and tried to pit my husband and I against each other. He was with us for about 2 1/2 months before he was put into a group home. It was such a stressful ordeal, that I said I didn’t want to be a foster parent again. Then in August I got a phone call. There was a an 11 week old baby available. Would I be interested in fostering him? Yes!!

We said we won the baby lottery with this little peanut. At 2 months old he slept through the night, barely cried and was always smiley and happy. It was a perfect fit from the beginning. He looked just like us with my blonde hair and my husband’s green eyes. He had an infectious laugh and a smile that melted the hearts of men and women alike. We just adored everything he did.

The baby was picked up for hour long supervised visits with his mom once a week. Then they added Mommy and Me classes. Then mom and dad got visits together a third day during the week. I thought this was a lot, but the caseworker said the parents were doing very well. They had both successfully completed rehab treatment, they went to parenting classes and counseling, they were doing everything they were required to do. Yes, that is all it takes to be a parent. Take some classes and if you show up to most of them or show up to most of the visits, then you can get your kid back. The caseworker said they have many drug addicts who successfully raise their children. So I guess that makes it okay.

Now, my husband and I are Mandated Reporters with jobs as a nurse and teacher respectively. So, I’ve seen and heard the stories first hand: a child who had a bruised imprint of a ring on his chest because his dad had beaten him so badly, a young girl who had cigarette burns on her inner thigh, a girl who was beaten for dating outside of her religion, and a young autistic boy who was running down the middle of the street for the second time while his parents slept. None of those children were removed from their homes. It takes repeated abuse and neglect, reported on several occasions with no attempt at fixing the situation for a child to be removed. Our foster baby’s parents were from Pennsylvania. The caseworker said that if they still lived there, the child probably would not be returned to them because they don’t have the same kind of supports we have in New York state. Their one child already lives with and is being adopted by the maternal grandmother.

Then came the Service Plan Review Meeting. Now I understand confidentiality, but all the details about the parents came out in that meeting, so I don’t know why the caseworker couldn’t have been upfront with us in the first place. The whole meeting was about the child returning to the parents. They also wanted to have him for Christmas. Well, we wanted to have him for Christmas too. It doesn’t matter what foster parents want, think or feel. They’re just supposed to do everything for the child as if it were their own and then give them back as if they were a book or some other object. It didn’t matter that we had already made plans and that we would have to work out an arrangement with the parents for drop off and pick up because it would not be during regular business hours. Don’t make a fuss about it either or they will “red flag” you. Yes, this is a real thing where they mark your folder saying that you’re not a good foster parent (because you don’t let them walk all over you). The mom wrote me a note saying that the baby kept crying, so he must have been really hungry because she fed him 4 out of the 5 hours he was awake. He also wreaked of smoke. Overfeeding your child and smoking around them is not against the law however, so it doesn’t matter.

The baby went back to his parents on Monday. It was the worst day of my life, having to hand over this smiley little guy who called us Mama and Dada and now has to go live with some people he’s seen for about 3 hours or so a week. I made up a photo album and wrote a letter and I hope some day that he knows that we did the best we could to make his world as happy and loving as possible. I hope that his parents do right by him and he grows up to be an amazing person. I will never be a foster parent again and any person who does it is a saint.

Photo credit: creative1the / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

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