The Tuesday following our Friday afternoon visit, we finally got to take Marcus “off campus” for a visit to our house and to meet our dog, Millie! It was WONDERFUL! If it wasn’t for the fact that I would have certainly been charged with kidnapping, I never would have brought him back to the shelter. (Like seriously though….I really didn’t want to give him back).
Funny enough, we almost didn’t get to visit Marcus that night because, after three days, the caseworker at the Shelter had not returned any of my many calls to schedule the next visit. Soooooo…..I decided to just “drop by on my way home from work.” You know….”just to see if I could take Marcus out tonight.” Before I left work, I told everyone my plan and my a coworker pointed out that the shelter was not actually on my way home but, as I told him, “they don’t know that.” 🙂 (I did jokingly introduce myself to the receptionist as the caseworker’s “stalker.”) If there is one thing I’ve learned in foster care its that initiative might seem discouraged, but it’s necessary. Ultimately, the caseworker gave me her cell phone so that I could text her rather than going through the phone / voicemail system at the shelter. She wasn’t negligent or lazy – she just didn’t spend a lot of time in her office and didn’t have remote access to voicemail. (Honestly, I think that’s a good thing).
Marcus had gotten in a little trouble at the shelter that day because (as it was reported to me by the caseworker) when a bigger kid shoved one of the other kids, he punched him in the face. For someone who, as a child (okay, also as an adult) was no stranger to confrontation, I didn’t see this is a big problem. (I really could have used my husband, the more peaceful parent, at that moment). But, overall, the shelter case manager described him as a wonderful kid. “You’re not going to have any problems with him,” she said.
In the car, Marcus asked if we “were foster parents that wanted to be his foster parents.” I responded by asking if him if he wanted us to be his foster parents and he sheepishly said, “yes.” He wanted to know the plan specifically (i.e. when he would get to see us again; how this whole thing works). I asked him if he wanted to visit us overnight on the weekend. He said he did want to do an overnight visit. Then he went silent for a few minutes and said that he “wishes he could do an overnight visit with his mom.” I told him I wished he could too. He asked me if he would ever get to do an overnight visit with his mom and I told him “maybe” but that I “didn’t know when that might be.” He went silent a little longer and then told me that a boy named “Ronald” had lived in the shelter for two years.
We talked about the shelter for a little bit after that before realizing that we have the same taste in music. He really likes Imagine Dragons.
We took Marcus to the park with our dog Millie where Millie had the best night of her life playing frisbee with Marcus. Our neighbors were there with their cocker spaniel puppy and younger son – so that was fun too. Marcus and Millie then chased each other around the park until they were both exhausted – which was super cute. We had planned to take Marcus to McDonald’s but, while I was convincing the caseworker to let me take him out for the evening, he ate dinner at the Shelter (they serve dinner so early there). So instead we showed him the house and played board games and had a couple of healthy snacks. (My husband’s plot to get nutritious food into Marcus was already well underway).
Marcus asked some important questions. Like if he lived with us if he could put “one of those basketball hoop things on the back of his bedroom door” (that could be arranged) and “where does Millie sleep?” (we showed him) before we took him back to the shelter for the night. He was most excited though to find out that we lived very close to the public library where he had supervised visits with his mom twice a week.
As if you couldn’t tell, we were already completely in love with him and want to move him in as soon as possible.
We scheduled with Marcus’ case worker that we would pick him up that Friday evening for a weekend visit. We were literally counting down the days.
Then, on Thursday, I got a call on my cell phone while I was driving home from work and I picked up. If there’s one thing foster parenting changes about you it’s your propensity to screen calls – so many randos call you but they’re the type of randos you actually want to talk to.
The woman on the other end wasted no time in revealing the purpose for her call.
“I found out you are matching with Marcus,” she said.
I tentatively confirmed her suspicion.
She told me her name was Ivette and that she was a child behavior specialist who had worked with Marcus and his prior foster family. Her job, she explained, was to stabilize “at-risk” placements. When a foster family felt they just couldn’t do it anymore, she came in to work with the family to prevent a “disruption.” And she was concerned about Marcus. I asked her about those concerns. First she wanted to hear about me and my husband. I gave her the elevator speech and she asked a few follow-up questions.
Then, she took a deep breath, “Okay – I feel better about this.”
I didn’t feel better and was becoming more uneasy every second that she didn’t share these specific “concerns.”
But I decided I had a more pressing question: “What about what I said makes you feel better?”
“You’ve seen the reality.” She said. It was true, I had done a lot of research. I work as an attorney in child welfare. I did know. But I wanted to know what she knew. And she told me, very candidly about the challenges Marcus had with his first foster family.
She was concerned that Marcus may have undiagnosed psychiatric issues. She thought he needed a number of services and she wanted his case to be designated as “high needs.” However, his case manager said it was too early to make that call. Marcus had only been in care in our state for 5 weeks. But, Ivette suspected he was no stranger to the system.
After he was removed from his first foster home, Ivette had visited Marcus in the shelter and it didn’t go well. She suspected that he associated her with the rejection he felt from his first foster parents. While Ivette was there, Marcus’ behavior had escalated and he had torn apart the visitation room. She had some words of wisdom for us. She reiterated the standard advice we had received so many times for parenting children with attachment disorders: set firm and clear boundaries; do not give into demands to earn his trust; remain calm; and attempt to redirect him if he escalates. Ultimately, she wished us luck and asked us to follow-up with her after the weekend.
“He’ll be on his best behavior this weekend.” She predicted, “The first month is usually the easiest.”
The entire conversation was emotionally exhausting. I felt like I’d run a marathon. Naturally, I immediately called my best friend, Jessica, for emotional support. And after I had vented all my anxiety to Jess (thanks, bestie), I talked with my husband.
It was a lot to take in and information that would have been useful at the outset, but we appreciated Ivette reaching out. Her words were a red flag, but Marcus was due at our house in less than 24 hours. We had met him and we were committed. We were going to see this through. We wanted to be good foster parents – and dealing with challenging behaviors from kids who were hurting was all part of the game. We were all in.