His information came to me in an email. I opened it up, read the narrative, clicked on a video and my heart sank. The 9-year old, Harry Potter look-a-like little boy, who my husband and I met at a birthday party over the summer, is in need of a family.
“Watch me do this!”, he said to my husband. He giggled and played and just soaked up my husband’s attention. We were there for another boy who was in foster care and now has his forever family. We met this little guy by chance.
I called my husband and said, “Remember that little boy at the birthday party? The one with the glasses?” My husband knew immediately who I was talking about. “He needs an adoptive family. He absolutely adored you.”
“You are making me sad. It’s just one of those days”, my husband said.
My husband also works in child welfare. “One of those days” is a phrase that we have often said to each other. I wish I could give you an exact count of the number of profiles of children in need of an adoptive family that I’ve read through the years. A profile is a synopsis about a child in need of adoption. One part of my job is to send out adoption profiles to my staff who, in turn, send them out to foster and adoptive families.
It breaks my heart to see repeat profiles – ones of kids whose profile is sent out multiple times in hopes of just one family that might show interest. The majority of these kids are over the age of five, have significant trauma, and are a handful, to say the least. However, behind their age, their behaviors and their histories, they are children. They play dress-up. They love Lego’s. They still believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.
They yearn for a Mommy and Daddy who won’t leave.
I have worked in child welfare for over seventeen years now and I still fight back tears when I fully ponder what is going on with children. I get angry. I threaten to walk away. I fight cynicism. Yet, I remain.
Having worked in the system for so long, I have heard “the system is broken” more times than I can count. Yes, there are many things about the system that needs to be fixed. Yes, we have a lot of work to do. I agree with all of this. However, when I sign people up for foster care classes knowing that they really just want a baby or I see profiles of kids in need of a family sent out over and over again, I find myself wondering if it really is the system that is broken, or if it is just us. Maybe what is broken is our perception of child abuse and neglect, our vision of how good we think adoption should feel and our systematic way of turning our heads away from the problems at hand. It’s easy for us to say, “Someone will step up or someone might adopt that child.” It’s much harder for us to say, “We will step up. We will adopt that child.”
First, let me state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to foster a baby. My husband and I did this and we are glad that we did. We got to experience the precious love of babies. We watched them as they walked for the first time, called us “Mommy and Daddy” and began to explore the world. We were also blessed to be able to adopt them.
Now that my kids are older and I walk every day in the struggles of their lives, I recognize that if they were in need of an adoptive home right now, their chances of getting adopted would be slim. That reality breaks my heart.
Is the system broken? Sure, in some way it is. Are we broken? Yes. I wish that every single child and youth in need of a permanent family would find one. I wish that more people would step up and say “yes”. I so wish that people understood trauma better, age didn’t make a difference, adoption was understood as being hard and not rosy, and that each kid was given a chance at experiencing what it truly means to belong.
If we want to fix the broken system, then we need to take a hard look at our expectations and desires. The kids in it are not perfect (no kid is). They have experienced things that a lot of us haven’t. Their brains have literally been changed by trauma (scientific fact). They can’t change overnight. They can’t undo what’s been done to them. They cope the best they can. They are often in survival mode. They may not even realize any of this. We can, though.
We can accept non-perfect kids. We can learn how trauma changes the brain. We can change our expectations of adoption. We can empathize with children who have been forgotten and given back by too many people who promised forever.
We can understand that it won’t feel good all of the time and that a child’s history matters, but their futures matter more.
Their futures matter more.
I don’t believe for one second that God intends for children to be without families; not for one minute. This is why after all of these years I still have days like this. I know that Jesus leaves the ninety-nine to seek out the one. I pray that we do this as well. I still have hope, though. I know that nothing is impossible and as long as there are children who need families, there are those of us who wake up day in and day out and do our best to end the scourge of abuse, neglect and children without families.
It’s been one of those days, but it will pass…until it happens again.