When my daughter came to live with me as a 10-year-old foster child, a common sentiment came from friends and colleagues, even strangers sometimes. People would say things like “wow, I could never do that.” Or, “I have thought of doing that but I couldn’t.” There was a sort of reverence for my being a foster parent in the way people would talk about it. Sometimes it felt nice, but it wasn’t necessarily deserved.
I would think, “I’m no saint.” I do not have any super-biological ability to care for children, nor do I have an innate, intuitive grasp on how to support a traumatized child. I do not have any special training or background, they too could be a foster parent.
While there was nothing in my past or upbringing that made me any more or less likely to become a successful foster parent, I did have one quality that came in handy: tenacity. My stick-to-itiveness meant that I was determined to keep my child safe and in one placement during her time in care if it killed me, and it almost did.
By the end of high school, my girl was causing so much trouble that she was not considered safe in most youth settings including respite care, youth groups, group therapy, or recreational groups for peers. She required “eyes and ears on” parenting 24/7, and when her behavior started jeopardizing the safety of others, I was put in an impossible situation.
Parenting my kiddo had come to mean that I could hardly have a moment without her. Even school days were marked by a near daily call or email. Despite the fact that our little family had individual and family therapy, help at school, and support services, it wasn’t getting better.
Keeping her safe meant also keeping her from committing the type of incident that would land her in the justice system. Unfortunately, because our system is one of punitive reaction and not prevention, my tenacious parenting prevented us from contracting with judicial services. Including programs that may have helped her do the inner work, as well as the behavioral work, that I believe could have made it possible for her to remain safely in my care – possibly even through college. But, that was not to be.
Spring of her junior year, on her second visit to a respite provider we had finally found to take her in for an entire weekend once a month, she committed such an egregious error that it became impossible for her to safely return to my house without jeopardizing the safety of the other members of our family. After 6 years as her mama I had to call DHS and report that my girl could not return to my home and my care, unless she had clinical help addressing these behaviors at once. I was devastated.
I began advocating for her care – I sought therapeutic foster care options, rallied the wrap team, looked high and low for inpatient and outpatient services, in and out of state. I racked my brain day and night. I lost sleep, my job, my sense of self, and became physically unwell. And nothing. “No therapeutic foster care options,” they told me. “She can’t qualify for that program because her behavior has not escalated to a sufficient level.” “That program is only for kids in the judicial system.”
They might as well have told me – there is no help for you to maintain her placement. You have to do the one thing you have learned over and over results in devastation for kids in foster care. You have to displace her. In fact, we are going to do it for you.
But it was not the end. The utterly inadequate solutions that DHS came up with and employed meant my girl would move three more times and become homeless by the time she was three months out of high school. Now she’s pregnant. No income. No programmatic support. Living with a man who is not much better off than she is, in skill and ability, and all I can do is pray.
I pray, and I work, and I advocate so that other families have what they need to remain intact. So that other people who aren’t saints can feel that they could become a foster parent too, and so that foster kids might remain in one placement for their time in care.
Join me. Advocate for foster families to have what they actually need to care for kids in dependent care.