I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ever since Marcus left our house, at 17, I’ve been waiting. For awhile he seemed to soldier on as a foster kid in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. He was almost 18. Would he voluntarily sign himself in to DCF care at 18? Would he stay in his foster home and finish high school? Would he drop out and leave? Would he finally stabilize emotionally and make good decisions?
In the world of DCF teenagers are often on the “independent living” track. And it sucks. Sorry, but this is true. Without a family, navigating in the world is difficult. Period. After the termination of parental rights, a teen can get adopted, enter into a guardianship arrangement, or enter into this track.
The independent track even comes with a brochure. It promises to help teens work on things like getting a driver’s license, getting a job, and maintaining health insurance. The brochure never clearly states who will be helping the teen do all of these things. Is it the social worker? The foster parent? A mentor? Sometimes these promises just fall through the cracks.
For Marcus, none of this was happening when we met him. In fact, due to overburdened caseworkers, his health insurance wasn’t in place for almost a year. We spent the next 2 years trying to catch up. We got him his driver’s permit and taught him to drive. I taught him all about his rights in school and what his IEP meant. Luke practiced his interview skills and got him job applications. We opened up his first bank account and taught him how to deposit and withdraw money. In short, we tried to do all of the things that the state would not or could not do for him.
And then we tried to adopt him. Getting too close was our mistake.
In October he turned 18. We had only heard from him sporadically since he had left our home. His foster mother reported that he was still in school. He got into a few fist fights, but he was getting good grades. He had a girlfriend. No arrests so far. November came and went. Then December and then January. I still waited for the other shoe to drop.
After his biological mother rejected his attempts at contact last month, he began calling us frequently. He said he knew we would always be there for him. He mailed us a beautiful letter about much we meant to him. He explained that getting too close to me made it feel like he had to give up on that first mom. Marcus struggled with conflicting loyalty. He couldn’t reconcile himself to loving more than one mom. No matter what he did or said, we still love him. Of course we do.
I got a call at work from Marcus this week. The secretary told me that I had a call from “my son.” I almost cried. He explained that he had already dis-enrolled from school and signed out of DCF care. He had packed his bags and was setting out to move away with his girlfriend. He didn’t yet have a place to live or a plan about enrolling in a high school. He wasn’t sure about a job yet. He promised to keep in touch. He texted me a picture of his report card (all Bs! Wow!) and he let me say, “I love you kid.”
Now I’m left staring at the pair of shoes he left behind. I just hope he knows that we will always be here to catch him if he falls. I’m honestly proud of what he’s accomplished so far. I wish he’d never had to do it all on his own. Now, he is out of our care. He is out of the state’s care. He must truly stand on his own two feet.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
*If you have ever considered foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to start your own adventure or to mentor a teen in care.