When You Know Their Names

My supervisor walked over with a large file stuffed full of documents, set it down on my desk and said, “Here’s your first case. Make sure to read it and let me know if you have any questions.” I looked at it with apprehension; fearful of what I would see. Slowly, opening the binder, I saw her name. It’s odd how personal and raw it becomes when you know their names.

Like the beginning of a new book, I didn’t know quite what to expect but was eager to read it. Graphic details chronicling the abuse that occurred caused my heart to speed up a bit. I pushed the file away, sat back in my chair and took a deep breath; fighting tears.

Reading an account of a child’s life; one that included sexual abuse and neglect, gutted me. Word by word. Sentence by sentence – the unraveling of what should’ve been a happy and safe childhood. Placement disruption and behavioral issues – all of which added to the texture of trauma in this child’s life. Her life carries the weight of those first few years, even after adoption.

Coming from a safe and stable childhood free of maltreatment, I was unaware of the depth of abuse that occurs in our neighborhoods. As a caseworker, I delved into darkness to which has never really left me. Because of it, I’ve changed. Perhaps, for the better.

When you know their names, everything changes.

May is National Foster Care Month in the U.S. The goal is to bring awareness to the needs of children and the system. It’s easy to look at child abuse statistics and think, “What a shame.” It’s much harder to look away when you know the child’s name.

As we close out this month, my hope is that awareness will stir the hearts of people to dig deep and reach out to at-risk families, children and others involved in the system. It isn’t pretty. It won’t feel good (not very often, at least), but I’d like to think every footstep made toward hurting children and families will cause walls to fall. (Think Jericho and the walls tumbling down.)

And from the crumbled up remains of broken down walls, a movement of hope and resilience will grow causing a better future for all of us. It’s more than a “like to think” thing. Actually, I cling on to that hope.

Idealistic? Maybe. Unrealistic? Perhaps.

But as I said earlier, when you know their names, everything changes.

The Summer of ’76

It was the summer of ’76 when my dad drove our family to California for a vacation. I was four-years-old in the backseat of a sweaty, hot car as we made our way to the Golden State – approximately 1,900 miles from my hometown. When we arrived, we checked in at the hotel and then headed straight to the beach. Warm sand hitting my toes. Sun setting across the distant ocean. Taking in the glory in front of us.

I cautiously approached the water with my green flip-flops on. Dipped my toes in and then took a few steps. The tide came up, pulled my flip-flops right off of my feet and swept them out to sea. Dad exclaimed, “Jaws got them!” as he tried to cheer up his sad little girl. (The original movie just came out the summer before our trip. Plus, about a mile from our beach, someone caught the largest Great White in California history, at that time.)

The rest of the beach vacation consisted of me digging holes in the sand, running close enough to the water to fill a small bucket, and pouring it in the sand; my attempt at building my own little ocean so that I didn’t have to go where Jaws lived.

Ocean animals have terrified me ever since. I love looking at the ocean, but you won’t ever catch me swimming in open water. I won’t book cruises and can barely watch movies that contain deep water/giant creatures that could eat me for lunch.

My four-year-old brain heard my Dad say, “Jaws got them!” My brain signaled that the ocean and sharks are something to avoid. Digging a hole to create my own little ocean was a way for me to build a safe place where I knew I could survive without the giant monsters looming in the water.

This is similar to what we see with children who have experienced trauma. (For the record, I’m absolutely not saying that my experience at the ocean is as serious as traumatic events of abuse.) This experience instantaneously changed my view of the ocean and it has stayed that way ever since the summer of ’76. The holes I dug really didn’t create more safety for me even though my brain convinced me otherwise.

Just as happy experiences alter development of the brain (in a positive way), trauma does so as well. But not in a good way. Instead, the brain develops patterns for survival. For some kids, it may look like hoarding food even though there is plenty to eat. For others, it could be locking every door they enter just in case someone tries to come in.

Some kids run away from their caregivers (even ones who are safe) and keep running to avoid any type of attachment or relationship. Kids may lie to avoid a beating, although they are no longer in an environment where beating occurs. For others, it looks like claiming control of everybody and everything they can (even animals) because they could not control what happened to them in the past.

Changing the landscape to which kids from hard places view life includes us changing our perceptions of trauma. The brain controls our action – even when we don’t understand it. From fear to elation, everything that happens all comes to down to brain chemistry, connectivity and development.

When I revealed that his words forever altered my view of the ocean and aquatic life, my dad was quite surprised. He had no idea that experience in the summer of ’76 had an impact on me. Families who care for traumatized children mustn’t be surprised when the child pulls away from nurturing or hides food in their sock drawer. Or, runs away from the home. They need to know that it isn’t the child’s response to them but to trauma.

As we end National Child Abuse Prevention Month and move into Foster Care Awareness Month in the US, let’s strive to truly and deeply understand trauma and the subsequent life-long impact it has on the developing brain.

A Caseworker’s View of Removals

Author’s note: This is a guest post from a child welfare professional. It is necessary to seek out the perspectives of everyone involved in the foster care system, and to learn a caseworker’s view of removals.

Removals. There are many definitions of the word. Sometimes, removals can be good things; such as the removal of a brain tumor, or a pesky rodent in your crawl space, or the removal of an unwanted weed in your garden. Other removals can be tragic; such as the removal of a parent from the home due to death, or the removal of a pet from a home due to neglect, or of a teenager’s cellphone due to poor grades (tragic to the cellphone-dependent teen).

But what about the removal of children from their homes? Some may say tragic. Others may say good. I would like to share a story about the removal of children from their home, and let you decide. 

I worked a case recently where our office was sent orders to remove three teenagers from an unsafe situation. Upon arriving to the home to carry out the removal of these youth, it was sudden, pure, chaos. Myself and my co-worker arrived at the home with law enforcement where all three youth were inside the home, supposedly planning their escape.

Lots of pleading and knocking on the door. Kids were in shock, screaming, crying and shaking uncontrollably. Eventually, we were able to get the kids placed. It was 2:00 am when placement was made. I got back to the office at 3:30 am. All together, the removal and placement of the kids took six hours – basically, an entire night.

The following day was a holiday, so our office was closed. I tossed and turned as I tried to sleep. I kept thinking about how traumatic the experience had been for those youth, and for myself and the other worker. During our 6 hours with them, we were called “monsters”, we “stripped them of any self-respect and dignity” they had, that we take kids for a paycheck, we didn’t care about them, we made their lives a living hell, and that we were useless workers.

Six hours of belittling and degrading. Six hours of holding back tears. Six hours of feeling so sorry for what they were experiencing, that we couldn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We were hungry, tired, and trying to make trauma-informed decisions for youth who could’ve cared less what we felt. 

I laid in bed awake the next day worried sick. From adrenaline rush to total exhaustion, I wondered if they were okay. I thought about them being dropped off with strangers, going to a new school, and how they were visibly shaking walking into their foster home.

I couldn’t sleep. I laid awake for hours thinking about how I could’ve better handled the removal. If I had said enough encouraging words…if I fed them enough…what my next encounter with them would look like. If I felt all of this…. what were they feeling? This is a caseworker’s view of removals.

I drove to work the following day; into the parking lot so slow you would’ve thought it was ice covered. I hesitated to turn my car off. I sat there in the parking lot and cried. I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t want to be a “monster” as those youth had put it. I didn’t want to participate anymore. It was very clear that I had secondary trauma from that removal. Some would give us accolades for removing those youth from a neglectful and abusing home life, but I have some questions to pose. 

What could we as a society do to prevent removals from happening? What could we do to provide proactive services to at-risk families? What could we do to provide supports to youth in crisis? What could we as a society do to assist workers who do have to work with childhood trauma, thus often incurring secondary trauma?

What extensive damage may we unintentionally cause that could possibly be worse than remaining in the natural home with supports? Did we really provide all preventative efforts?

Please pray for these youth, and any other youth who are at-risk. Please pray for workers who have to work with these families on the daily basis who see and hear more than one could typically stomach. Please pray that doctor, juvenile officers and law enforcement officers can see the whole picture and the lasting impact that may come from signing those papers.

A caseworker’s view of removals is often heartbreaking, and I ask that you please pray for guidance on how you might help this broken system. 

a hope for the future

Have you ever met a kiddo without a hope for the future? I have. After having been in foster care for several years, a 12-yr-old boy was assigned to my caseload. One day, I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He looked me straight in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Eh…I figure I’ll either be in jail or dead by the age of twenty-one, so does it really matter?”

Speechless. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts.

“Don’t put that out there! There are all kinds of things to be and do when you grow up!” (I said this to encourage him but to no avail.) Shrugging his shoulders again, he said, “Well, it’s probably true.” Conversation ended.

Years later, I found out that after he aged out of foster care (because he was never able to be matched with a family), he ended up committing a non-violent crime and was sentenced to prison…right around the age of twenty-one. I have no idea if he is out or not, but even after all of these years, I wonder if he ever found his place, or better yet, found himself, in this world.

Trauma defined his life and identity. It filled in the lines between his growing years. It slapped a label on him that was nearly impossible to peel off. Had he been able to connect with one consistent adult (other than child welfare professionals), would his life have turned out different?

YES. I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE SO.

How can we, as a society, help kids like him?

We need:

  • Families interested in fostering kids over the age of twelve, including sibling groups with mixed ages.
  • More funding for programs designed to target at-risk youth and provide them life skills, opportunities to explore jobs and support.
  • Trauma-informed base of knowledge into any program, school or other sites who provide care, in any capacity, to youth.
  • Churches to educate themselves and get engaged with systems that might make them uncomfortable. (Jesus doesn’t ask us to be comfortable, anyway. Can I get an ‘Amen’?!)
  • Purpose-driven resourcing for at-risk youth. Meaning, behind every action that is taken with this population, make sure there is a purpose that will drive them towards a better future.
  • Mentors!! We absolutely need adults to step up and seek out ways to get involved. I’m not going to lie. It isn’t pretty all of the time and you may not think you are making a difference, but every small action can lead to big leaps for these kids.

If there isn’t a mentoring program in your community, find out how you can start one. Talk with various agencies who work with at-risk kids and ones in foster care. Consider if your small group at church could provide support. Speak to your schools about what they might need. I am a firm believer that when at-risk youth (in or out of foster care) find connection with at least one adult, their chances of success greatly improve.

Kids deserve to have a hope for the future. We can help get them there. I believe that!

a broken girl

Sitting across from her, our eyes met. A broken girl. One with potential, but a past so heavy that it weighed her down. Familiar pain, with a hint of resistance filtered the air. Soon, tears, rich with sorrow, rolled down her cheeks. Have you ever felt grief? I don’t mean going through the emotions of it, but actually feeling it as it permeates the air? It was our companion on that day; a bitter, suffocating ghost of what should have been.

Inhale. Exhale. Deep breath. I said, “Okay. We need to discuss what happens from here. The case is coming up very soon for permanency so the Judge will want to know what we are going to recommend.” As her case manager, I had worked with her for over nine months. We both desperately wanted success. She loved her baby, that was never in question.

“Where you are at right now and the way the case is going, I believe the team is going to ask the Judge to change the goal to adoption.” She nodded, then said, “I know. It’s what’s best for him and I want that. I can’t do this. I can’t parent. I love him so much but he deserves more.”

Tears tried to push their way down my cheeks, but I held them back. Not now. I had to remain professional. A broken girl she was but in that moment, her resilience shone bright. “Okay, let’s talk about the type of family you would want for him.”

Pausing for a moment, our eyes met again, “I trust you to pick them. I’d like for him to have a dad and a mom, ones that will always treat him like he deserves to be treated…to love him.”

Before I could get another word out, she lost it. Her body collapsed a bit. She tried to wipe away the tears but she couldn’t. They were her messengers of grief being released into the world. “Caroline, thank you. You have been so kind to me and treated me better than anyone ever has in my life, including my own family.”

This was almost too much for me to take in. Gut-punch. Twinge of ache in my heart. As her case manager, I played a huge role in determining her fitness to be a parent. The termination of parental rights summary would be penned by my hands. I would testify to it, search for an adoptive family and eventually place her little boy there.

“Oh, you’re welcome. I’ve really enjoyed working with you and wish things would’ve turned out different. I want you to get help. You deserve a better life.”

Wiping away tears, she reached out for a hug. I gave her a long one; perhaps, the most genuine one she ever had. We said our good-bye’s and she left. I never saw her again but held onto her words as I searched for and placed her precious son with a loving family who lived out her hopes for her son.

The system failed her. Her parents failed her. Perhaps, in many ways, I failed her. This world did, as well. Trauma. Addiction. Homelessness. Chaos. These things were her constant companions since childhood; the only way of life that she had ever lived. Even as an adult, her companions never left her side. Always there. Like an unwanted shadow.

It is easy for us to look at people like her and question why they just don’t work hard enough to get their kids back. Would we be capable of doing so? How would we feel if trauma was our only childhood friend? What if addiction slithered its way into our soul? Or, homelessness and chaos walked alongside us throughout our lives? Could we manage? Would we?

I think of her, often; that broken girl whose life symbolizes sadness. Did she ever receive help? Is she is out there alone fighting her demons? Will trauma, addiction, homelessness and chaos remain her constant companions?

Years ago, a broken girl sat in front of me. In many ways, she never left.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child (letter #8)

You sat across from me; worry and sorrow dripping from your pores. Your mind wracking with concern. Your heart aching for an answer. You said, “I was told this is how the system works. This is what I should expect.” For a brief moment, I froze in my seat; my own heart plunging into despair. Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, the least comforting words you can hear are “This is how the system works.”

People say that to you, don’t they? They seem to just let it out without a care in the world. In the upside down that you are experiencing, there really are no care-free words. What you walk through each day is far from that.

I refuse to be someone who reminds you of how the system works. I won’t let you feel less validated or that you are in the wrong for having strong emotions. Actually, on the contrary, I welcome your feelings.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to wonder when you will have to let go or when you can finally rest in permanence. It’s completely well with me for you to be human.

If anyone knows “how the system works”, it is you. Sitting through weeks (maybe even months) of training about how to care for strangers’ children, your own childhood is being explored. Your financial statements are viewed, fingerprints logged, and friends are called upon to give a reference. You are studied over and over again – watching each and every move.

You show up at meetings and speak the truth that needs to be shared – how the stranger’s child you are loving on is doing. Court hearings, therapy sessions, and visits with anyone who is related to the child are just a part of your new normal. Case managers, licensing workers, attorneys and therapists knock at your door. You prep the child for what is to come of the day, wipe away the tears, comfort the wounds, take the wrath of trauma and whisper hope to the Heavens.

As you sit back and listen to everyone discussing a child whose future is unknown, you want so much to voice your opinion and in doing so, you tremble with fear that someone might think you are “sabotaging” this whole thing. You gain the courage to speak but with anticipation of hearing “this is how the system works”.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you deserve to be heard.

The reality is that you want so very much to see success. You are gutted at the thought of anyone living in despair. If you could, you would wrap the stranger, that has come into your life through a child, and nourish him or her with just enough healing and love to break the cycle and carry on. You desire to do this, even if it means a total loss for you.

There really is no other scenario in life where raw feelings of loss would be met with callous words. Would we say, “well, you knew it was coming”, to someone experiencing the death of a loved one? Gosh, I certainly hope not. Yet, in foster care, this is said a lot. These words do nothing to comfort. They fall flat on anguished hearts.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that while the rest of the world might be judging you, the child you are caring for is growing and changing BECAUSE of you.

It’s okay to get attached – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Without attachment, there is emptiness. On the outside of love, there is stillness. When hope is left out, there is no future. This is how love works. It is unreasonable to expect anything less.

To love a child you may let go, is something that most people would not do. If this were easy, everyone would do it. Sure, all of this may be how the system works, but you know how resilience works, don’t you?

Stay strong, (foster) Momma. Never forget the impact you are making in this world. It has ripples. Those ripples become streams that soon turn into waves. It is more than just a “system”. It is our future.

For you, this is life. This is how you mark your place in the timestamp of history. Your love is changing generations.

Dear (foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child, don’t forget that.

the “broken” system – it’s been one of those days

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. My heart dropped as I thought, “The broken system…it’s been one of those days.”

“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.

The broken system… It’s been one of those days,

but it will pass…until it happens again.

Six Years Away

Six years away.  This is all I can think about right now.  As you turn twelve, the thought that we only have six more years until you are a (legal) adult keeps coursing through my mind.  Oh, my.  Time fleets and flutters its way through our lives, especially when we are not paying attention.

We fought hard for you.  I want you to know that.  I don’t mean in physical words spoken out loud for others to hear.  I mean in words whispered and cried out to our Father in Heaven.  It wasn’t that our fight was just about you.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it was also about us, about our own desires to become your forever parents, for an answer to the barrenness in our lives and for the abundant clarity of it all that only the Lord can bring.  We also spoke those words for your birth mother.  Please believe this.

Six years away.  In this short amount of time, we will face obstacles.  We will deal with middle school angst, puberty (I know….SO embarrassing), first loves and high school antics.  As your parents, we will worry and fret about you becoming a driver.  We will always worry a bit about you.  Sorry.  That’s just how it is.

Son, only six more years until we release you into the world.  There are moments when my heart just can’t take it.  I think fondly back to our early days.  Sweetness seemed to follow you everywhere you went.  Your curiosity about the world, whimsical expressions and overall silliness absolutely captured the hearts of many.

IMG_0078

In so many ways, I still think of you as that little Mamma’s Boy that you once were.  I know.  I know.  You are growing up.  You don’t need me as much as you once did.  You grimace and get embarrassed at me…often.  Here’s the deal, though.  I may embarrass you at times or get on to you about things, but I will never not love you.  Ever.

Six years from now, you are declared an adult.  Where has the time gone?  What happened to yesterday and the day before that and the day before that?  I used to believe that fostering you and not knowing what was going to happen was the hardest part.  I now know that witnessing you grow up, dealing with the issues we have faced, and watching you crawl closer and closer to leaving is the hardest part.

I never understood the idea of half of my heart living outside of my body until I wrapped my arms around you.

If able to, I would go back and repeat each and every single day just to hold you and capture those moments one more time.

There is a lot of life to be lived between now and then.  I know this.  I also know that even though you will be an adult sooner than we are prepared for, you will always be our little boy, our first baby and one of the most important parts of our lives.

Son, on your 12th birthday, I want to say that I love you more each day.  I am proud of you.  I adore your quirks (even when they drive me crazy).  I appreciate how you methodically think about Every. Single. Thing.  I crack up at your goofy laugh and the many excuses you can come up with to not clean your room.  It pleases my soul to see your gentleness with animals.

It both breaks my heart and fills it with joy to watch you grow into the person you are.  For you, kiddo, are a good human being.  You, son, are a blessing.

Happy Birthday, Bubby.  Love you forever.

Only six years away…

“You Can Catch More Flies With Honey.”

While at one of my children’s meetings for services through the schools, I kept these words close to heart: “You can catch more flies with honey.” I had to be firm; however, I also needed to remind myself that the teachers sitting in front of me have their own families, own insecurities, struggles, wishes and dreams.  They have a gazillion other students to care about and teach.

If I had chosen to walk into the meeting room with the expectation and attitude that they had to drop anything and everything else they were doing for other students and only give their attention to my child, then I would have failed in advocating for my child.  In other words, I would have not gained any ground with these teachers if I had approached them in a hostile manner.  Instead, I was gentle, kind and understanding of their own schedules and expectations.  By doing this, I was able to successfully advocate for my child’s needs.

In nearly every aspect of life, the ability to advocate for oneself and/or for someone else is an awesome opportunity and responsibility.  Becoming an advocate through your profession or personal life requires conviction, steadfastness, and the unwavering hope that what you are saying or doing will make an incredible difference in your life or the lives of others.

When people become foster parents, they learn about the difficult and diverse parts of the role they play in the lives of children.  They are parents but asked to be professionals; to work as a member of a team but also to never sway from their advocacy for children placed in their home.  This can be a challenge, but my goodness, what a remarkable experience in life; to care and advocate for abused and neglected children.

It really is a God-oriented role; applying the words of Scripture in caring for orphans and the least of these, doing so in the name of Jesus and being a living example of what it is to follow through on a calling in life.  

However, in the area of advocacy that foster parents must navigate, emotions can be all-consuming.  At times, they can be overwhelming.  Foster families are the ones wiping away tears, cleaning up messes, showing up at the school and doctor’s appointments, and speaking words of wisdom and encouragement into the ears of children.  It may be easy to think, “It should be simpler than this” or “It’s obvious what needs to happen” or even, “That case manager or attorney or therapist (insert any role) just doesn’t care about children.”

The reality is foster care cases are NOT simple. Professionals are required to do what the law and statutes dictate.  They have to show reasonable efforts in reunification even if these efforts drag the cases out.  By not making effort and not documenting it, the entire case can crumble.

In the seventeen years that I have worked in child welfare, I have yet to find one professional in the field who doesn’t CARE for children – not one.  Smart and often multi-talented, they could be making more of an income in another field.  Yet, they have CHOSEN to work in child welfare.  They have chosen the long hours, late nights, and missed time with their families.  Their wages do not at all represent that sheer amount of work and responsibility handed to them.  However, they continue to carry on with the audacity of believing they are making a difference one life at a time.

If you are a foster parent or find yourself in a position that you are advocating for a child, please remember that you can catch more flies with honey. Here are a few other things to remember:

  • If your advocacy includes demeaning or disrespecting other people, it is not advocacy, it is bullying.
  • If your advocacy doesn’t take into consideration all of the legalities, then educate yourself. 
  • If you are advocating for a change in the law, policies, or processes, keep in mind the responsibilities and rights of persons affected by what you are pushing for.
  • If your advocacy is focused more on your own feelings and less on the role of being a foster parent, then do a “heart-check”.
  • If your advocacy is done in way that makes others question your motives, then perhaps, you should be questioning them as well.
  • If you are a Christian and stating that foster parenting is a ministry in your life, then by all means, act like it.  Pray about your upcoming meetings.  Consider how Jesus would treat others if in the same position.

I have found that in advocating for my own needs, my family and the clients I have served through my years in child welfare, more often than not, the “sweeter” I approach the task at hand, the better I am to “catch” the attention and respect of others.

Looking back on my own foster parenting experience, decisions were made that I didn’t always agree with, but I am able to tell my children that we (my husband and I) treated everyone on the team with respect. Kindness was shown to their birth parents. Respect for the law was in place.

If you find yourself full of fury at things happening or not happening in your (foster) child’s case, please, take a deep breath and remember the words of my Mamma.

“You can catch more flies with honey.”

Love Is Not (always) Enough

As someone who works in the field of child welfare (and as an adoptive parent), I have been afforded many opportunities to train folks just coming into the foster care arena.  It is really inspiring to see people, from all kinds of walks of life, choose to step towards children in need.  It continues to convince me that despite a lot of junk in the world, there are still amazing people out there.

During the initial foster parent training, I have heard people say things like, “I’ll just love it out of them” or “All they need is love”.  This is in reference to trauma and behavior related issues.  In my head, I’m thinking, “Well, bless your heart.”  And, I mean it.

Seriously.

Bless your heart for wanting to love on children.

is not (always) enoough) (5)However, love is not always enough.  This is where rubber meets the road and is a hard pill to swallow.  I know that goes against just about everything that most of us have been raised to believe and even what we teach our children.  But, it is true.  Love is not enough to erase years of abuse and neglect or genetic issues or any other struggle a child has.  If love were enough, I suspect there would be a decline in child abuse and neglect cases as well as a decline in substance abuse or any other issue that causes turmoil in one’s life.  We all know people whose love was unwavering; yet, their child succumbed to bad choices.

This post is not meant to be disheartening.  Of course, love is powerful and feeling loved is crucial.  However, if one enters into child welfare and expecting all the feels of goodness and sweetness, it will be a very disappointing and bumpy ride.  It is child abuse and neglect that lands children in the system – not warm, fuzzy, feel-good rainbow kind of moments.  Don’t forget that.

We must stand up and speak out for children.  We must wrap our minds around the fact that while love is powerful, alone, it cannot solve the issues at hand.  It takes resilience and courage.  It takes flexibility, sacrifice and humility.  It takes the willingness to recognize that we have a lot more to learn than we believe we do.  It also takes a whole heck of a lot of humor.

In caring for abused and neglected children, love (in itself) may not always be enough.  It can, however, set the wheel in motion towards a journey that meets the pain and hardship of others head-on.  It can stir hearts and minds in the rendering of waking up each day with a passion to seek and serve children in need.

 

Loving children means meeting them where they are at; RIGHT where they are at.

There isn’t a better example of this than Jesus.  He met people where they were at; the outcasts, the lost, the sick, the hungry, the dead, and us.  With love, He chose to discipline and in love, He chose the Cross.  He chose to stay where He was supposed to and He did it out of love, but He also did it because He know what He needed to do.  (Thank you, Lord!)

It may not feel good to say that love is not always enough, but let me tell you, this Momma has lived this truth.  Right now as I’m typing this, my thoughts are to where I had planned on being.  I had been scheduled to be in the Ukraine.  Yes, you read that right.  I was asked to travel to the Ukraine to train Ukrainian foster families who have taken in children with very little to no resources.  However, I had to cancel those plans.

One of my children has been struggling with anxiety and a variety of emotional and behavioral issues.  Loving this child is not enough to keep this child stable.  I had to ask myself some hard questions.  Do I leave for a two-week trip to another part of the world knowing that my child is struggling?  How would my absence affect this kiddo (who does struggle with some attachment stuff)?  What would happen if, in my absence, everything breaks apart and my child ends up suffering because of it?  

I really wanted to go, but just simply loving my child regardless of where I was on the planet would not have helped.  I chose to say “no”.  I have found that when it comes to parenting children whose beginnings of life were not exactly ideal, it has taken more than love.  Love is obvious, but what seems to overrule my life as a parent is fortitude, understanding, the willingness to learn, the desire to change my own parenting style, and whole lot of grace and empathy.

For those who are seeking to become foster or adoptive parents, set your love aside for a moment.  Take all that energy bound up in desiring to love a child and put it to use.  Use it to build up a pool of resources.  Use it to open your mind about what works for children who come from difficult circumstance.  Use it to persuade yourself to tweak and adjust your expectations and parenting style (which will evolve as time goes on).  Don’t set love aside, of course, but take the same intensity and use it to seek knowledge about how to help children heal.

Love is not (always) enough.  LOVE IN ACTION, well, that has no measure.  It will look different for you and I.  If you truly want to love a child who comes from a hard place, then you must understand that LOVE is a VERB.

It has to be.

 

For any future foster or adoptive parent reading this, I’d love to hear from you.  Ask me anything.  I can be brutally honest, but I think that is what you probably need to hear.