“I think we’re on opposite sides when it comes to reunification.”
My new friend is a seasoned foster mom. We got together recently for coffee and she spoke to something I’ve been wrestling with.
While reunification is the stated goal of foster care, sometimes it is not in the best interest of the child and the system places the goal above the child’s needs. At least from a foster parent’s perspective, you just can’t support it.
I’ve been a foster mom for 17 months, she was a foster mom for nine years. She has seen far more than I have, and sometimes what she’s seen has been painful.
I’ve been vocal about supporting reunification and I probably have not been sensitive enough to the hearts of foster parents who express negative feelings toward it. When I dig deep and become really honest, this comes from a few places.
1. First/Birth Mom: I’m a first/birth mom; in the adoption world (even international adoption) relationships with first families are a huge priority for me. The difference with foster care is that sometimes (not always) children have been severely harmed by their first families and need protection from them. The idea of a child returning to their care is very frightening to the foster parents who have come to love the child.
2. Foster Youth: As a former foster youth and the foster mom of a teen, birth family relationships are very important no matter what has happened in the family resulting in the children being removed from the home. The thought of severing those bonds, especially through adoption, is difficult to consider.
3. Fear: And this is perhaps the most significant one of all – I’m not afraid for my foster daughter because I’m reasonably sure she will call me if she needs me. She knows we love her. I know her family and I believe in them. They relocated and live less than two miles from us. This gives me a lot of hope and peace about reunification. If she were a young child, the situation was unstable, and I feared for her safety and well being, I would feel differently. A vulnerable toddler is much different from a teen with a cell phone.
I know a young foster mama who lives in another state. She has had her foster daughter for seventeen months, straight from the hospital. She loves this baby girl with all her heart. The plan seemed to be moving toward adoption, and knowing what I do, it seems that any wise person would move that plan forward. But despite the caseworker’s recommendation, the judge changed the goal to reunification, so on it goes month after month, and this little one lives without permanence.
Her foster mama adores her and gives her heart away more and more, all the while knowing she could lose her in a moment should a judge say so. From time to time she tells herself to hold back, but she is too far gone and in love with this baby.
What is in the best interest of the child? How do we fix this system that holds children in uncertainty for months and years? Children deserve permanence, whether it’s reunification with their parents, or through adoption by family members, foster parents, or other adoptive parents. It should not drag on for years.
I don’t have answers, but I want to be sensitive to the realities of reunification. We have a beautiful thing happening in our family with Zoe*, but it doesn’t always work this way.
Foster moms, I need you to know that I hear you and God sent my friend with a cup of coffee today to remind me of some hard realities. More than once, she apologized for her strong words and opinions, and more than once, I thanked her.
We must remain open-hearted toward one another as we walk through the hard stories of foster care, loving with as much grace as possible while holding our hands wide open.
It’s no easy task. I honor you for the hard work you do every day, friends.
What are your experiences with reunification – the good and the hard? Please share them with us.
encourage one another,