Fostering a Newborn When You Work Full-Time {Adoption.com article}

Hello, friends!

I know many of you are either currently fostering or considering it.  You might be thinking, “How can I foster when I work full-time?”  Well, let me tell you, it is not easy; especially if you are placed with a newborn.  However, it is possible!

Here is a link to an article I wrote regarding my experience fostering a newborn while working full-time:  Fostering a Newborn When You Work Full-Time

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again.  The hardest things you will do in life rarely are the easiest.  For all of you who are considering foster parenting but not sure due to your work schedule, I hope this article helps.  For those who are currently fostering babies and working full-time, hang in there.  It does get better.  You will (eventually) get some sleep.

Never forget that it is ALWAYS worth it.  Every single ounce.

Blessings,

Caroline

Four Things Every Child in Foster Care Needs This Christmas {Adoption.com article}

I recently wrote an article for Adoption.com regarding things that every foster child needs this Christmas.  Honestly, it was hard to narrow down to just four things as children in the system need so much.

“The fact that foster care is needed and necessary in our communities should not fall lightly on anyone’s heart.”

To read the article, follow this link: 4 Things Every Foster Child Needs This Christmas

Blessings!

Caroline

the blog post I never had to write

Recently, I read and cried over a blog post by a foster mom who ran into the boys she fostered several years ago.  Time went by, and the boys failed to recognize her, but something instinctual in her knew that the boys she saw in a store were the precious two-year-old twins she once held in the deep hours of the night.

My heart felt heavy for her while reading.  The post quickly brought me back to the first time we stepped into the world of fostering a child who really was not our’s.  Our son, then a newborn, was on borrowed time in our hearts and lives.  He was just an innocent babe, yet caught up in the downfall of poor choices and a legal system.

With every milestone he made, I felt joy, yet strife because I knew the time was drawing near when some very hard decisions were going to be made by the professional team.  I remember thinking that if he did indeed leave our home to go with a family member or reunite with his birth parents, then I would try my best to find out where he lived throughout his life so that I could watch him play in the front yard.  I would forever love and wonder about the little one that captured my heart. 

The thoughts of losing him totally collided with that part of my being that has always rooted for the underdog.

I wanted his birth family to succeed, yet I didn’t.  

Is that even fair?  Is that even right?  Confusion.

I have spoken with many Christian foster parents who struggle with this.  On the one hand, they completely and wholeheartedly desire to raise the child who meandered his or her way into their lives.  On the other, they also want the birth parents to get clean, get their lives together, and live a good life.  Praying for success of birth families, while also recognizing our own selfish desires, is a struggle.

I remember saying to God, “I know You know that I am in love with this child.  I know that You know my heart is forever changed by the gift of loving him.  God, I do not want his birth mother to fail.  I just want things to be abundantly clear, and for You to intervene when necessary.”

The blog post I never had to write is one about grief and loss.  Each child that entered our home stayed.  They stayed.  Somehow, in the miraculous answering of prayer and the desperate tragedy of someone else’s loss, our children became “our’s”.

Forever.

Instead, the blog posts I have written embrace the fact that our experience as foster parents resulted in lifelong parenting.  Our experience ended with glorious days when the Judge’s gavel fell, and the children we stayed up late nights with, held while crying, disciplined, and celebrated milestones with, were declared to be our children.  We are now several years out from our foster parenting journey, and yet, it still kind of feels like it all happened yesterday.

Know this.  Foster parenting changes you.  Long after the meetings are over, the court hearings are no more, the visits cease, and the children either stay or go, being a foster parent leaves an imprint.

It stamps your heart with knowledge that if you grew up in a safe home with loving parents, then you are truly blessed.  

It reveals to you that if somehow, despite your choices, you walked into adulthood without addiction, then you are truly blessed.  

It humbles you to realize that the battles you face are minimal compared to the wars some are battling, and for that, you are truly blessed.

The blog post I never had to write is one that I will carry with me through the years. I never had to let go and wonder what happened to the babes to which I loved.

 For this, I thank God.  For this, I am truly blessed.

 

for my fellow child welfare professionals and foster families

I watched out the window as one foster family loaded three little ones into their car, spent time talking to the other foster family, and eventually drove off.  I thought to myself, “I bet those children have no idea that the family who has tucked them in bed the last few months of their lives will no longer be tucking them in.”

I do not blame the foster family – life happens, situations lean themselves to not being a good match, often trauma is so intense that it does not create a safe situation, and after all, we are all just human.  Sometimes, foster families have to let go of children they are attached to.

I watched the foster-mother wipe away tears from behind her sunglasses, and made a mental note to check on her after the weekend.  I listened to the case worker cry in the lonely confines of the bathroom, and then checked on her after she planted herself at her desk.

During all of this, my mind escaped back to when I was a new soldier in the awfully disgusting, seemingly inhumane, and never-ending war of child abuse.

My first “case” was a six-year-old girl with brown eyes, blonde hair, tomboyish temperament, and an infinity to act older than her age.

I received her file, which happened to be a very thick binder, on my desk the very first week I started my job.  “Here’s your first case.  She’s disrupting from her adoptive home”, my supervisor said.  “You need to find her another foster home that might be interested in adopting.”

In situations like this, case workers are left to scramble and search for a new family to be found.  I remember calling county offices asking…essentially pleading for a new foster family for the little girl to whom I had not even met.

Shortly after my frantic calls, I drove to her foster home..the one that promised forever…introduced myself to her…stacked her belongings in my truck…buckled her in…and drove her to the next foster family.

I literally remember every moment of this experience.  I can see the pictures on the walls of the family who gave her up, and I remember the awkwardly silent ride to her next home.

I also remember reading her file, and the many others that crossed my desk through the years.

I recall the initial trauma I felt when learning about the extent of abuse that had occurred in the lives of the children who had just started their own walk in the world.

I got angry.  I cried.  I wondered where the heck God was while all of this was going on.  I became motivated.  I worked a little harder than I thought I would.  I became passionate about the field that chose me.  I prayed.

The little girl whom I bared the responsibility of finding a family did get adopted by her new family. Even after she became comfortable with her new family, she would run and hide when she saw my white truck pull in the driveway.

I’ve been reading about the impact of child welfare work on social worker’s lives. Poor sleep, stressed relationships, depression, nutritional issues, weight gain, nightmares, and secondary trauma all seem to creep up in the lives of workers in the front lines of child welfare.  And, let’s be honest…social workers do not make a lot of money…at all.

Having been in child welfare as a professional for thirteen years, and a former foster-mother (now mother through adoption), I find myself with the ability to tuck away the painful reality of it all into a corner that I very rarely enter anymore.

I do not know if it is possible to process all of the information of tragic life stories that I have read through the years.  Sure, there are the moments of grief and anger that are witnessed as they unfold in the lobby of the office before my very eyes.  I still cry from time to time about the very nature of what is truly going on in the underbelly of our seemingly idealistic and happy communities.

Although I am weathered by the years, it really does not get easier.  It just becomes less traumatic, more expected, and a seemingly natural part of life.

That seems awful, doesn’t it?  Why in the world would child abuse and neglect become a part of life?

To be honest, if I dwell too much on it all – the sounds of children asking why they can’t go home with mommy, babies crying from feeling stressed during visits, and mixed up, lonely children being bounced from home to home – I end up getting angry.

I get angry that God would allow any of this.  I am reminded and aware of freewill, but it does not make me less outraged, less saddened, and less frustrated.

There are many opinions about children’s protective social service workers.  If there is media attention, it is usually centered around the one case of hundreds where something went wrong.  Attention is very rarely spotlighted on the day-to-day choices that case workers, juvenile court officials, child welfare attorneys, and foster parents have to make.

It does not capture the tender moments of social workers picking out gifts (often from their own money) for “their kids”.  It does not show the hours of work spent by workers in the field.  

Attention does not get up in the middle of the night to answer the “on-call” phone, travel to a meth lab in the middle of the night to pick up children who are confused and weary from the unknowns, or visit with adults trying their best to turn their lives around.  

It does not celebrate when permanency is achieved through adoption, or when children, whom desperately love their parents, are able to return to them. 

It does not hold a raging or sobbing child who seeks comfort from the stranger who just took her in.  It also does not lend an ear to listen to older youth as they wonder about their future.

Media attention definitely does not highlight the words of encouragement case workers, juvenile court officials, child welfare attorneys, and foster parents speak to the families and children who find themselves caught up in the system.

I have listened as people (whom did not know that I work in child welfare) slam foster families, children service workers, and the system as a whole.  I have been shocked by their opinions of how easily this war could be fixed.  I have also found myself wondering, “What are you, opinionated one, doing about it?   When have you called a child welfare agency to offer your time and talent?  Have you taken the time to care enough to bring a child into your home, support a family who is struggling, or advocate for change?”

For my fellow child welfare professionals and foster families in this unending plague of child abuse, remember this, everything you do matters…a lot.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” –Robert F. Kennedy

 

Dear Future Adoptive Parents

Dear Future Adoptive Parents,

Hello.  I’m not sure what to say except that I hope you want me as bad as I want you.  I need you to need me.  I know that sounds silly, coming from a kid and all, but if I were to be completely honest, I would tell you how desperately I long for a family, a mother, a father….anyone….anyone who will stick with me.

It’s hard, you know…growing up in foster care.  I’ve been through so many foster homes that I have lost count.  Honestly, I barely remember what my birth parents were like.  I remember their struggles, and I remember their ignorance of me, but I scour my mind over and over in an attempt to remember the parts of them that were loving, kind, and made me feel special.

Dear future Mamma, I wish that one day I will find myself twirling my fingers through your hair, laughing until our bellies hurt, shopping until we drop, and feeling the softness of your gentle hug when you tuck me into bed at night.  I need a mother who will teach me to respect my body, tell me I am beautiful, and grow me into a loving person.

Dear future Dad, I’ve never had a dad who stayed around for too long.  I hope that when you say you are going to be there for me, you really mean it.  I want, so badly, for you to protect me, stick up for me, compliment me, and show me what it means to be a father.  I need more than just someone who helps to pay the bills, and watches sports with me.  I need a father who will nurture my talents, admonish my poor choices, and make me feel like the most special person on Earth.

I desperately need to feel a love without condition.  I desperately need to know that I belong to someone…anyone…. 

Dear Future Adoptive Parents,

What is it about me that makes you want to stay?  Is it my smile, that look in my eyes, or that special talent I claim as my own?  Help me to understand it.  Help me to feel the very reason why you have chosen me.  I need to know that this is not a gimmick, a popular thing to do, and a persuasion from anything outside of your own heart.

Help me to see God through you.

The truth is, I have a list of things I want in parents.  You might be surprised to know that it is the simple things in life that I yearn for.  I need parents who do not do drugs, or put their habits ahead of me.  I want a family who can have fun, laugh…a lot…and enjoy life.

I like to watch movies, and dream of family movie nights with popcorn, late hours, and lasting memories.  I would love to travel.  I’ve never been anywhere, really, except the small towns and big cities I have been passed around in while in foster care.

I know this sounds odd coming from a young person, but I really hope for a home with food in it.  I don’t want to have to worry about when or if I’m going to eat.  I want to be able to enjoy junk food, but would love a mom or dad who can cook healthy meals, and one who truly cares about my health and nutrition.

I have been disappointed so often through the years that it is hard to believe that I still cling on to the hope of a being loved…by a family…by anyone….

I still love my birth parents.  You need to know that.  I still think about them, wonder if they are okay, hope that maybe, just maybe, they are thinking about me, and question if I will ever get to see them again.

I need for you to be okay with my thoughts about my birth family.  I want you to listen to my questions, my own often misguided answers, and my longings to understand why I am living separate from them.  You need to tell me truth in a way that nurtures my growth.

This is hard, you know.  I am just a child, and yet, I have gone through, witnessed, survived, and have been pulled from a life that you and your picture-perfect friends could not even imagine.

Dear Future Adoptive Parents,

I’m not perfect, but neither are you.  Can you hold me when I rage against all that has been?  Will you stick around when I skip school, question your authority, tell you that I want to move to another family, or completely reject you?

What will it feel like when I make you feel the pain I’ve been feeling through the years?

The truth is while I have desired for a family to call my own, I have also felt afraid of one.  The “what-if’s” seem so overwhelming at times that I can hardly stand it.

What if I am rejected?  What if I am never chosen?  Why do I have this life?  What if this is as good as it gets?

Promise me one thing.  Promise me that when you will not promise forever.  I know that sounds odd, but the truth is, I have been promised forever so often that I don’t believe it anymore.

What does forever mean?  Two weeks, two months, or two years….

Instead, tell me that you will do your very best to meet my needs.  Help me to understand that I need to tell you how I am feeling.  I need a LOT of patience.  Do you have that in you?  Can you help me learn patience as well?  Really?  I mean it when I say it.  It is make-or-break for me, you know.

I am nearing the end of my childhood, and I have nothing to stand upon as I enter adulthood….Do you understand that?

Dear Future Adoptive Parents,

In so many ways, I am just like other kids.  I want to be fashionable, hang out at the local hang-outs for kids my age, participate in sports, listen to the music I want to listen to, and learn to drive when the time comes.

In other words, I want….better yet….I need a life minus all of this foster care stuff.  

If I could tell you one thing it would be this, I don’t care if you are tall, small, rich, or poor.  I don’t care if you have a mansion, a small home, a sports car, or a car that barely makes it down the road.

It doesn’t bother me if you have a few bad habits (so do I), or if you are the perfect depiction of health.  I don’t care if you are married, single, what race you are, or if you fill my list of what I want in a family.

I just cling on to the hope that you are out there searching for me just like I am longing for you.  I hope and pray that you will find yourself needing me, as much as I need you.

I know that sounds silly, coming from a kid and all, but if I were to be completely honest, I would tell you how desperately I long for a family, a mother, a father….anyone….anyone who would stick with me.

I need to feel hope for the future. 

I need you to need me.  

Author’s Note:  This post was inspired by the years I spent listening to children in foster care (of all ages) describe what they desire in adoptive families.  Moreover, it was especially inspired by a hand-written list of wants that a teenager in foster care handed her social worker when asked what she wants in a family.  I hope this post inspires you to truly consider the needs of orphans in our world, and especially, the incredible opportunity to lead youth in foster care to a life “minus all of the foster care stuff”.

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 

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child

Dear (Foster) Momma of a Stranger’s Child,

I talk to you often in the work I do.  I hear you say, “We want to hang in there”, or “We are doing the best we can”, and even, “I don’t know if I am up for this.”  I hear these words through your shaky, weakened voices.  But, what I really hear is you saying, “I don’t want to be another mother who disregards this child”, or “If I could, I would provide this child with every ounce of my being in order to heal him or her.”

You are walking in very heavy shoes.  You are feeling as though your efforts are disregarded, don’t matter, don’t work, and will be forgotten about in the fleeting moments of a day.  I’m here to tell you, they are not disregarded.  They do matter.  They work, and they will never be forgotten.

Dear Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you are one of the bravest mothers of all.  You’ve ventured into the murky waters of loving a child whose hurts seem like they could go on for an eternity.

You, dear Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you are a broken-hearted warrior.

You hear from others, “You are doing a good thing”, “I could never do what you do”, or “Your faith is bigger than this.”  While you hear these words of comfort and affirmation, your heart is screaming in that silent, lonely place of wondering if you really are doing a good thing, if you really should be doing what you are doing, and if your faith really is bigger than this.  You, dear Momma of a Stranger’s Child, you wonder where God is in all of the hurts put on children in His world.

You…dear Momma of a Stranger’s Child…you long for rest.  You grasp for answers, and you pray for healing.  You get angry.  You wonder why any mother would neglect, be absent, abuse, or completely disregard her child.  You wonder why you are left to pick up the pieces.

You want the Lord to step in, heal, and completely restore the broken child in your arms.  You cry and pray for this so often that it feels as though you can no longer find the words, or muster up the tears.

Dear Momma of a Stranger’s child, you were once a broken child, too.  At one time, you were lost in a world of despair.  You needed to be picked up, cleaned off, and captured by a love so strong that the greatest army could not break it.

You were worth it. You were not forgotten.  You were brought out of the darkness, and into the cleansing light.  

YOU were meant to make a difference in the world.

Dear Momma of a Stranger’s Child,  please do not give up.  You are the backbone to so many forgotten children.  You are a living example of an unconditional, incomparable type of love that is a rarity in the world we find ourselves in.

You will get hurt.  You will have many sleepless nights.  You will have some doubts, regrets, and desires for do-overs.  You will be exhausted.  You will get angry.  You may even be ignored.

But….

Your Father in Heaven sees your actions.  He sits with you in the midnight hours when the stranger’s child is raging.  He is with you when you walk out of court rooms or meetings still not knowing what the future holds for the child in your care.  He hears your pleas.  He sings over you in your fretful night’s sleep.

Dear Momma of a Stranger’s Child, do you want to know why you are probably the most important mother in this world?

Perhaps someday, the little one you are loving on, praying for, staying up all night with, advocating for, crying over, taking in or letting go, will grow up to be a Momma (or even a Daddy) of a Stranger’s Child.

Isn’t that worth it all?

God in the Midst

The LORD your God is in your midst; he is a warrior who can deliver. He takes great delight in you; he renews you by his love; he shouts for joy over you.     – Zephaniah 3:17

Recently, a foster-mother came into my office, shut the door, sat down, and started weeping over a decision, or lack thereof, regarding her foster child with-whom she has had since the child was a newborn.  This foster-mother has experience with the system and usually “rolls with the punches”, but this time, she was absolutely wiped out emotionally.

With puffy eyes and thick tears, she told me how the upcoming court case was going to be continued and very important decisions; perhaps the most important decisions made throughout the duration of the case, were not going to be made.  “How can they do this?”, she asked.  “What do I tell my family?”  I just listened to her, and tried to encourage her the best way I could at the time.

If the truth were told, sometimes, I really don’t know what the right thing is to say to foster parents who are grieving.  I’ve been there in that place of confusion and grief when fostering my children, but my babies did not leave my home.  They were not reunified and my life was tremendously altered by adoption.  I’ve learned in this field that sometimes the best thing to do is to say very little and just let people speak openly about their lives, situations  sadness, anger, and loss.  Most of the time, the answer or wisdom they are seeking can be found in their own thoughts if they are allowed to process them.

I agree with and understand the federal law that protects the birth parents rights to be reunified with their children. I too would want the opportunity to rectify my life situation so that I could have my children back.  I get that, but, I don’t understand sometimes why court decisions get delayed.  It frustrates me that children linger in the system for seemingly no reason; except that they are not able to reunified with birth family, or they are never adopted by families.  In this foster parent’s situation, the birth parents really have not been involved, and the little one that is so loved really only knows the foster family who has been caring for her every needs.

This side of me that wears skin, this piece of my heart that gets torn apart, the salt in my tears, and this gravity of the weight of the world we live in, wears on me.  It causes me to question where He is when children are being abused and neglected.  It forces me to wonder if He is near the grieving foster parents, afflicted birth parents, and parent-less children.  It challenges me to want to turn away from the field I’m in and wipe myself clean of it, and yet, how can I walk away from this?  How can any of us turn our backs when we live with the knowledge that children are being abused in our own backyards, and around the world?

I know the Lord is in control.  I know He loves these children more than any foster parent, adoptive parent, or birth parent could ever comprehend.  I know all of them really belong to Him, not us.  Our Heavenly Father holds our tears, whispers reassurance, and visually reminds us of His presence through His word, each other, and the wonders of the world.

The foster-mother who shed quiet tears in my office also knows that the Lord she prays to, lives for, and believes in, was sitting next to her when she got the phone call of the news she didn’t want to hear.  He was present with her when she sat in her car crying and wondering what she was going to tell her family.  He walked in with her to my office and listened while she proclaimed her grief.

The belief that causes my heart to feel less burdened by the sadness around is the idea that the God who breathed life into our lungs, is the same God who was present in my office that day a heart-broken woman entered my room.  He is also the same God who will be standing with us all when our lives come to an end.  He knows the end of our stories, for He has already written them.  He has claimed us as His own.

If there is anything we could all do for foster parents, birth parents, and children who are in the child welfare system, it is to reassure them that they are mightily loved by a Father who is present in each moment; each court date, each phone call, each sleepless night, each embrace, each joy, each hour of despair, and every moment they feel they cannot go on.  God is not absent.

God Is In The Midst