My former foster child was recently adopted, and it wasn’t by me. I never thought I’d say those words. My primary goal of becoming a foster parent was to commit to being one child’s permanent foster home for the entire 18 years of his or her life. I had always heard of children being bounced from foster home to foster home. I assumed the problem was the foster parents–I was wrong.
When my first foster son was returned to his mom at only 2 months old, I made sure everyone knew I would stay ready, willing, and licensed to take him back for the next 18 years. I thought I could prevent him from experiencing the trauma of ever being sent to a stranger’s home again. Everyone at the foster agency knew I would remain as his advocate and I was determined not to let him get lost in the system. I had forged a hard-earned relationship with his mom, the kind I was taught to develop during the foster parent training, Model Approach to Partnership and Parenting (MAPP). I read through all of the “Family to Family” resources by one of the most impressive authorities in child welfare, The Annie E. Casey Foundation. I followed every guide I could find.
It worked. Just one week after completing and leaving 15 months in a mother-child residential substance treatment facility (oftentimes called “Mommy and me rehab”), she called. At 1 in the morning. I missed the call but she left a message:
“Rebecca, something happened and they’ve taken him. Please go get him.”
The next morning, I called the foster agency and was reassured that he would be placed back with me the moment the state called them. Days passed, weeks passed. I never heard back from his mom and could only assume she was back on the streets using drugs. The foster agency sent the state an official email (and cc:ed me) indicating my interest and good standing. It wasn’t until 6 months later that they found him at another foster agency. He was living less than two miles from my home all that time.
I decided that 6 months of his short life meant that he was surely more bonded to his current foster mom than me. I was able to pass my foster son’s Lifebook (i.e. scrapbook taught in MAPP class) to his new foster mom and she called me immediately. She was touched and wanted us all to meet. Fortunately, she’s an amazing mom and I’m so glad she was able to adopt him.
Recently, a professional related to my first foster son’s case said, “It’s too bad they thought you were too close to the mom to return him to you.” My anger and hurt consumed me for weeks. Is that really what happened? Was he purposefully bounced to new foster home? Who made that decision? Can that person even say what MAPP stands for? Do they know what we’re taught in foster parent training? And what do they mean, “too close??” We didn’t hang out. We didn’t meet up for drinks. She didn’t know where I lived (and, so what if she did?). I only visited, at her request, on family days at the treatment facility once a month. I was her only visitor ever. Another time I met her in the community, at the pediatrician’s office (again, per her request). Her son was going to have surgery and her treatment program wasn’t going to allow her to stay overnight with him in the hospital. She asked me if I would, and of course I said yes. Isn’t that an example of the whole purpose of the millions of tax dollars spent on building up community supports for her son – to support the whole family?
I’m still outraged. I hope safeguards will be put into foster care systems whereby former foster parents are considered just like a family resource and asked directly about their willingness to take back a previous foster child. Maybe someone reading can make that happen somewhere, even if it’s just in one town?
On a happier note, here are some baby photos his adoptive mom is happy for me to share:
Also from Rebecca: