“Will you still love me if I’m annoying? What about if I smelled bad?” This is from 8-year-old Mary. She is staring at me intently as we play the “Would you still love me” game. The point of the game is to show her that, yes, moms love their babies even “if”…
Some other questions that have come up with our chickens include;
“Why do we have a bedtime?”
“Why don’t you guys hit each other?”
“Why don’t you guys get drunk?”
“Why do you care if we get hurt?”
And the clincher, “Do you really love us or are you just lying?”
It’s simply too much time in the system. Too much time in the in-between places. Too much time without a family. Mary and Carl are learning about what a family means. They are learning about how a healthy family functions, and how to be a part of that. For Carl, it can be more difficult. He has had more placements. He has experienced moving homes due to his own behaviors being unsafe for other children in the home.
The clincher question is always Carl’s question. he really wants to know if we are lying about loving him. Despite my reassurances that I love him, he doubts this concept.”I even love your boogers! I love your stinky farts!” I proclaim. He collapses in giggles, but still, that doubt remains.
The little chickens are learning. They are beginning to trust in the concept of a “forever home.” Even Carl and his boogers. His many, many boogers that all end up in the shower for some reason! He has had rages in our home. He has been unsafe. But he is still here. Sometimes it’s a bit of a trial by fire because he will try and do this to sabotage his own placement or sabotage our love for him. It never works. We love him still.
The teen boys were not so lucky. The Littles are home with us. Forever. The teens are still in the system. Marcus came into care at age 13. He is now 18 years old. He has gone through 6 placements, including a stint in Juvenile Hall. He has learned to rotate in and out of peoples lives. He has learned to survive in “the system.” He has not learned enough about being in a family unit. He ultimately did not want to be in our family unit. Sometimes foster care only teaches teens about how to be in foster care. We still have contact with him, but it’s sporadic. My hope is that he always knows he has a place to go, people to turn to, if he needs us.
Sean, at 14, is not functioning so well. He too, did not wish to remain with our family. He’s now “in the wind,” after running away from his current placement. The department hasn’t done much for him. In all honesty, a government agency is not equipped to raise a child. Sean has been plagued with medical concerns as well as mental health concerns. When he chose to leave our family, and take his chances in foster care, he left behind his only advocates. Even if he were so inclined to complain about a complete lack of medical care for his asthma, it’s unlikely his concerns would be heard. He hasn’t had any therapy since leaving our home.
Since going into his current foster home, he has exhibited the same “behavioral problems” he had with us (a term used by the department.) The thing is, he is a 14-year-old boy. These aren’t his “behaviors” so much as they are his survival skills. He refuses to leave his bedroom and go to school. He refuses to shower. He doesn’t sleep at night. Probably, no one is loving his boogers.
In my opinion, he’s scared. In my opinion, he’s only a boy. In the opinion of the department, he is obstinate and “non-compliant.” All of the siblings have been scared of the shower, scared to go to school, and scared of the nighttime. He needs understanding and unconditional love. Unfortunately for Sean, unconditional love was the one thing he didn’t understand, the one thing he couldn’t get used to.
When he left our home, he was requesting to live with his biological father. After 4 years, bio-dad’s rights had not been terminated. The Department of Children and Families had something called “permanent guardianship” of Sean. When Sean became adamant about going to his biological father, we supported it. Although there is a long history of concerns with this man, none of them appeared to pose a direct threat to Sean. Also, Sean was 14 and this was his biological parent! If reunification was possible, if that’s what Sean wanted, we should absolutely support it. Right? At the very least, we shouldn’t stand in his way.
The lengths that Sean went to in order to sever ties with our family still astound me. We would’ve always supported his choices. He just didn’t know how to tell us what he wanted. The only skills he has learned in his 4 (now 5) years in foster care amount to manipulating the system in order to meet his needs. Who could blame him? He is surviving.He is the product of the “system.”
Now, his biological father has done something unknown to get into trouble, again. All we know is that the visits were stopped and the reunification process halted. The social worker didn’t even tell Sean. Being part of this system means never having access to the details that affect your life. His new foster mother was put in the position of telling him that the process had been stopped, visits were over, and she had no idea why. As far as plans for permanency for Sean? Now the department has none.
It isn’t OK that he tantrumed at his foster mom for a week. I’m not excusing the fights he had with Marcus in her home. It isn’t OK that he ran away and has been missing for 2 weeks, only communicating with his older biological sisters. It isn’t OK, but it isn’t surprising, either.
4 years? 5 years for the teens? It’s too long. I’m not sure what the answer is. In an ideal world, biological parents would get services and support. They would reunify quickly. In an ideal world, if this wasn’t possible, kinship placements would be found quickly. In an ideal world, even is this wasn’t possible, an adoptive home would be found quickly. We don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where 5 years go by and no decisions about permanency are made. We live in a world where childhoods are too often lost to a large bureaucracy. We live in a world where teenagers are too often lost to repeat this cycle of trauma and broken families.
All I can do is hold the little ones tight and count my blessings. All I can do is hope that Sean’s biological father can overcome whatever he is facing and parent this child. Because Sean needs a parent. Every child needs a parent. A government agency cannot be a parent. After all, what government agency would ever love a child’s boogers?
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.