When Foster Care Works

I was asked to write about Jay’s story this week.  This is another post about a kid leaving my home; my last was about a disruption and how that change ended up being positive.  So sorry not sorry to keep writing about kids leaving-I’ll do my best to change the subject for next time.

Most of the boys in my home have been old enough that when they were done here, they were also done with foster care.  I’ve had quite a few young men turn 18 and graduate from both high school and foster care, and move on to the real world from my home.  However, I’ve also had the privilege of fostering a couple younger boys (13-14ish) who, instead of aging out, were able to return home.

Way back when I was taking the foster care classes (here in Kansas, it is generally 10 weeks of 2-3 hours per week) I remember hearing horror stories about upset bio families causing all sorts of havoc for the foster family and the child.  Probably they also talked about success stories too, but I must have been daydreaming during that time.

Because of that, I was naturally nervous when I was first asked to be in contact with the parents directly.  Some of you may be aghast at this, so I’ll tell you that I honestly don’t remember who it was that asked this-whether a worker, or the parent, or kid.  Or I just realized it would be a lot simpler than going through workers!  Anyway, I was nervous about them calling me relentlessly or tracking down my house or who knows what other sorts of nonsense I initially imagined.

Here’s what happened.

(SPOILER ALERT: The next sentence is the end of the story.  Feel free to skip it if you don’t want to ruin the surprise.)

It has been really great getting to know the children’s parents and family!

I remember talking on the phone to Jay’s mother shortly after he came to my home.  He’d been placed with a relative for a few months prior to my home and there was a week or two of bouncing around before he landed, and with all of that (because transportation became very difficult to work out) a couple visits had been missed.  The mother was (very naturally) upset because of this but permission was given to talk on the phone between the two of them, so I was working on arranging this.

In that first phone call between the two of us, I was able to talk to her about how I knew that as a foster parent, my job was to help each kid get to where they are supposed to be-whether it was moving out and into independence or back home with their parents or some other place.  I reassured her that I was on her team in wanting the best thing for her child. I do remember selecting my words carefully at this point in the conversation because I wasn’t yet sure what the best thing might be for him. I can only assume she was unsure about my intentions at that point.

Along the way, I got to know her more and more.  I helped coordinate visits once she was allowed to have unsupervised visits on a more open, loose schedule.  I helped her understand why it wasn’t appropriate to allow him to have a vape pen and why I confiscated it.  (It does not matter if there is nicotine in the “juice” or not if you’re under 18!) I advocated for her and him when I felt that the agency workers were being too strict on her and making her requirements be a bit of a moving target.  I did my best to model having appropriate consequences for actions, and encouraged her to set and keep boundaries.

There were times that, as longer visits were allowed, his mom was able to help out by scheduling the visits for times I needed to be out of town for one reason or another, or she changed her schedule to get him when he got suspended from school.  In some ways, it turned into a kind of co-parenting setup for a while but in the end, that worked out well by showing she was able to meet his needs.

The end of Jay’s story with me is that he got to go home with his mom a couple weeks ago, for good.  All the boxes on her “to do” list in the case plan had been checked, things were safe, and everyone was ready.  As we were discussing the court hearing where everyone (case workers, his mom, myself) anticipated that the Judge would agree it was time, she texted me, “I really do appreciate what you did for him.”  So simple, but so fulfilling.

Jay wasn’t much for having his picture taken, but agreed to do a goodbye pic.  He insisted on it being a high five pic, because I was always offering high fives as joking rewards for whatever sort of silly thing we may have been doing at any given time.  It isn’t really well composed; his mom took it with my phone in the driveway moments before they left.  We were standing in front of my old VW with a bunch of bumper stickers on the back, the garage door is open (and it’s always messy) and it is clear the lawn could use a mowing.  But it is a photo full of happiness, because I know they were ready for this moment, and I had done my job.  [Sorry I had to crop it. Confidentiality you know.]

There are surely many times where the way things are done in the bio family’s home are not the way I would do things.  But that doesn’t mean that the bio family is not the best placement for the child more often than not, as soon as it is safe for them to be there.  (Not to say there shouldn’t be things to show that it is safe for them to be there and they’ll be taken care of.)   I got into the fostering thing knowing that this was a part of the job, and I’m very glad it is.


One thought on “When Foster Care Works

  1. Pingback: The Foster Dads

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