After a two week break, we went back on “the list.” But it didn’t take long for us to notice something was different this time around. We repeatedly received referral calls for children with “high needs case management” – whether or not they fit our profile. One inquiry was from Ivette, the child behavior specialist who had worked with Marcus when he was with his first foster family. She was now working with an eight year old girl who had been sexually abused and was living at the children’s shelter. She was traumatized, needed structure and help processing her trauma. She particularly struggled night and struggled with bed-wetting. She feared men.
My heart ached. We were only licensed for boys – for a reason. My husband is the primary caregiver in our home. As a lawyer, I often work long hours and travel out state. Any child that lived with us would be home alone with him much of the time. It hit home the high number of girls in foster care who have been sexually abused – 81% according this 2009 study. I explained the circumstances to Ivette. She agreed that, understanding this, our home would not be the right fit for this little girl.
Later, we would take placement of a boy who had lived with this little girl at the same shelter. He had a picture of them together at a petting zoo during a shelter field trip. When he showed me the picture, I asked about her. “What do you remember about her? What was she like?” He eyed me suspiciously. “She liked the goats,” he said.
I started to wonder if, as a foster family, we were just a band-aid covering a wound that really needed a tourniquet and that by masquerading as doctors, we were keeping the patient from getting real help and leaving them to die.
But the calls became more difficult. One was for a boy who was found in a hotel room with his mother’s boyfriend. They knew he went by “Colby,” but weren’t sure of his age or real legal name. “He’s a gypsy,” our placement worker explained. “They’re not sure if there’s a birth certificate. He’s in a placement right now but he’s struggling.” The words were so familiar that they started floating through my head like thought bubbles: “mental health issues;” “high needs;” “violence;” “self-harm;” “not safe around other children or animals.” I said no. And I started to wonder if, as a foster family, we were just a band-aid covering a wound that really needed a tourniquet and that by masquerading as doctors, we were keeping the patient from getting real help and leaving them to die.
“Has DCS considered psychiatric treatment or a therapeutic foster home?” I asked.
“They want to give another traditional placement a try first.” She went on about hopes that with a different environment, more structure, no other children in the home that could be victimized. But I wasn’t listening. The answer was no.
This culminated on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We got a call for two boys, an 8 year old and a 6 year old, who, long story short, had exhibited extreme violent behavior with signs of emotional disturbance. They had been placed with their grandmother, but they had attacked her and she was now hospitalized as a result of her injuries.
“They just need a place to stay for the weekend.” The placement worker explained.
If they physically attacked their own grandmother to the point of putting her in the hospital, I sincerely questioned whether we could keep them and ourselves safe for four holiday weekend days – days where my only support would be whatever our local police department would have time for between the perfunctory holiday weekend domestic violence calls), she was very frustrated with me.
She told me that I was being unreasonable and that I would need to “jump in at some point.” She gaslighted me, saying that “every child in our age range would have these issues and if I didn’t say ‘yes’ to this, we may not get a placement.” She didn’t let me say no and told me to talk to my husband and call her back. My husband was teaching, and, as a rule, I don’t call him about a child unless I’m thinking it’s a “yes.” (It’s extremely stressful to take these calls and at least one of us needs to be spared that frankly….) 😞. I didn’t call him.
Instead, I called her back an hour later. I told her that the answer is ‘no.’ I then told her that my Licensing Worker, Frances, was coming for a pre-scheduled monthly visit on Monday and I would talk to her about re-evaluating where my husband and I fit into the ‘system’ — because if what she said was true; and that we were being unreasonable by refusing to take emergency placement of severely violent, emotionally, or behaviorally disturbed children, then we would need to re-evaluate whether we should be foster parents. I was so lost.