Foster Care Licensing Step Three: Foster Parent University
School. Can you hear us breathing a sigh of relief? Between the two of us, we have clocked more than twenty years of higher education so this was an area in which we felt right at home. Six hour PS-Mapp Class for six Saturdays? No problem. Reasonable and Prudent Parenting seminar? You got it. Homework? Busch League. CPR / First Aide Certification? We’re there! I mean, really, what parent hasn’t wished there was someone who could tell them how to do this whole “guiding a small human to adult-hood,” thing? But more than the lessons, and worksheets, and videos, and role-playing exercises, I learned the most from the Kinship Families.
The first day of our first foster parenting class, everyone in the room was crying within 10 minutes. I mean it – not a dry eye in the house. While we had painstakingly planned and gone through a pretty intense vetting process to get to foster-parenting class, most foster parents in our state simply answered the phone. When a child is taken into care, the Department of Child Safety (DCS) asks the child’s parent/guardian if there is a friend or relative that can care for them. If the person named meets certain standards of safety, they get a phone call. If they say yes – they immediately become foster parents. These people are called “Kinship Placements” or “Kinship Families.”
Only 5 people (two couples, one single women) in our class of 26 were seeking licensing as a “community placement” (i.e. a non-kinship foster placement). The remainder were Kinship Families. They were friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. One woman and her husband had taken in all five of her grandchildren. The oldest was nine. Another couple had taken in an eight year old grandchild that they didn’t even know existed until DCS called them looking for their son – who the child’s mother had named as the father after she was arrested. Our youngest classmate was a 21 year old woman. She had taken in her 18 month old nephew.
As we took turns sharing our stories, very few could make it through without breaking down. My heart ached to hear a father speak of how the most difficult thing he ever had to do was testify against his daughter in an initial dependency hearing – helping the state prove that her child must be taken from her. He tearfully apologized to his wife (not his daughter’s mother) who, as he put it, was “bearing the burden of his daughter’s mistakes” – which he felt were due to his own failings when he was a young father. The man sitting to his left embraced him. We passed around tissues.
Another couple in our class remain my true inspiration. They had one nine year old biological daughter. He worked as a boxing coach in a gym in their neighborhood and drove around after the schools let out to bring kids to to gym and get them off the streets. One night, he got a call from a 16 year old girl that had been coming to the gym. Her older sister had been picked up by the police. She was heroin addicted and homeless with five children – the oldest was an eight year old girl. They needed a place for the children – but her parents couldn’t take them into their small apartment. DCS had asked if they knew anyone else who might be able to take all five of her nieces and nephews. She called him – her boxing coach.
“How can you not say yes?” He asked. They dropped off the five children only hours later. But after only weeks, they knew something was wrong with the eight year old girl. She was fearful at night, and would scream out in panic. He would run to her bedroom to comfort her and sitting on her bed, he would try to hold her. It made it worse – she would scream louder and urinate on herself. She would hyperventilate and at times become violent.
As he told us what happened, he struggled to form words. We all waited in paralyzed silence for him to finish. “I didn’t know.” He kept repeating, “I made it worse because I didn’t know.”
The eight year old had been raped by multiple different men, including men who had fathered her siblings. Ultimately, her caseworker and therapist determined she was not ready to live in a house with a man. They moved her to a facility where she would get the help she needed.
“We failed.” He said, “We wanted to keep them together – and we already failed.”
Our instructors, a social worker and an adoptive mom, interrupted to speak for one of the first times since we began sharing our journeys.
“No!” They both said – almost simultaneously. “You got her to where she needs to be. You got her help.”
He answered to say, “I hope she come can come back.”
By the time we had all shared, we were emotionally exhausted and the instructors suggested we take a break. The suggestion was first met with only silent acquiescence. The weight of the pain in the room was too heavy to shake off right away.
Then, one woman spoke in reply. “God is in this room today,” she said.
Prior to becoming foster parents, my husband and I had a congenial if not distant relationship with God (which could be the subject of another post altogether). Walking into the classroom that day, I would say we shared a trust in a higher power and a distrust of religion.
But I couldn’t help but wholeheartedly agree that God, in fact, was in the room with us that day.