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.

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.

Foster Kids Are Not Unwanted Kids {Adoption.com Article}

Foster Care Awareness month has come and gone but the need for a better understanding of the foster care system, and the children in it, never goes away. There are lots of misperceptions and myths circling around about kids in the foster care system; troubled, unwanted.

While some kids in the system struggle with emotional and behavioral issues (given the impact of trauma on a developing child), it is extremely rare to find a foster child that is not wanted by someone. Here’s the link to an article I wrote about this subject:  Foster Kids are not Unwanted Kids

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

Blessings,

Caroline

Dave Thomas Foundation

You may know of the name Dave Thomas from the fast-food chain Wendy’s, but you may not be aware of the work Dave did to promote the plight of children in the US foster care system who need adoption.  Dave was the owner of Wendy’s and was extremely passionate about adoption.

Dave was adopted when he was 6 months old.  He spent a lot of time with his adoptive grandmother who was an incredible support and influence in his life.  He never knew his birth mother.

Dave founded the Dave Thomas Foundation.  This foundation promotes the adoption of children out of the foster care system.  The foundation also has influenced many initiatives and promoted adoption benefits for employees.  At one point, Dave was a national spoke person for adoption.  Dave passed away in 2002, but his care for children in the foster care system is not forgotten.

The website Dave Thomas Foundation has a variety of information on it regarding the great need for adoption of children out of the US foster care system.  Check it out!

Legacy of Adoption

Here’s another story of adoption!

Sheridan and Julian

In love He destined us for adoption to Himself – Ephesians 1:5

It was inevitable that Kenny and Allison would end up being adoptive parents.  Both were adopted as little ones, and it just seemed that adoption was the path their lives would take.  After struggling with infertility (they did eventually give birth to a baby girl), they decided together that they would pursue becoming foster/adoptive parents.  They believed strongly that they had much love to give to a child in need.

They decided to adopt out of the foster care system after researching the financial aspects of adoption.  In most cases, there are no legal fees attached to the adoption of children out of the system in the United States.  Some of their concerns about adopting out of foster care were not knowing all the information regarding a child’s background and medical history.  Also, the child’s history of abuse and neglect should always be taken into consideration when exploring foster care adoption.  Their daughter, Sheridan, was only 3-years-old at the time and was very excited about becoming a big sister.  Kenny and Allison had to keep her in mind when considering children in the system who were in need of adoption.

They were licensed in 2005 and matched with Julian in April of 2006.  He was 18-months-old at the time of placement into their home.  They had considered other children, but decided not to pursue them.  This, according to Allison, was one of the hardest parts of the process.  She found herself thinking, “Who was I to decide which children to pursue or not due to their family history?”

Julian, now 8-years-old, is described as being a “rough and tumble” Momma’s boy. He is happy, loving, and very inquisitive about how things work in the world.  His background leans to him being impulsive and having some challenging behaviors.  Allison is a special education teacher and admits that it is hard to parent a child with special needs.

They have learned though that advocating for Julian’s needs is a priority and not to compare him to their daughter.  Sheridan is a gifted, respectful, and well-mannered young lady.  Others may expect Julian to be just like his sister, but Kenny and Allison recognize that their children had very different starts to life.  With that being said, their children have many similarities and are brother and sister through and through.

Their family joke is that their daughter Sheridan is the only living being in the house who is not adopted.  They even adopted their dog!  It is evident that the Lord ordained adoption for the lives of Kenny and Allison from the very beginning as babies who were adopted to their journey as parents now.  They too are passing along the blessed legacy of adoption to their children and have played a vital role in giving one little boy a family and love that will last a lifetime.

Orphan Sunday

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. -James 1:27

Today is Orphan Sunday.  When I read and think about the Scripture verse above, the key words that jump out at me are pure and faultless.  When I consider the efforts made to care for and take notice of orphans, I believe wholeheartedly that there is authentic pureness in the energy put forth.  I do not know of anyone who sets out to care for children orphaned and abandoned on the streets in a far-off country that does it for money, glamour, or anything else really.  They are motivated by pure love, genuine passion, and an eternal calling.

The words pure and faultless are absolutely right on in describing these actions.

So, today, will you join the cause for orphans?  Will you reach out to a widow?  Will you pray for the millions of orphans in the world and the 100,000+ in the US foster care system who are in need of adoption?

Here are a couple of websites regarding children in need of adoption and orphans around the world.  Perhaps, the first step to understanding the plight of so many children is to gain knowledge of them.  I hope you find these website informative. (Of course, there are many more on the web!)

Christian Alliance for Orphans

Show Hope

AdoptUSKids

May the Lord bless your day!