According to an article in The New York Times, reunions of migrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border are not all smiles, hugs and joy. There is sadness and screaming. There are tears. There is trauma.
Similarly, when a child is placed in foster care – THERE IS TRAUMA. Every time.
There are countless reasons why children are placed in foster homes. Every reason brings with it loss, and thus trauma.
Last night in our foster care certification course, our group facilitator guided us through an “imaginary journey.” She let us know that we were going to be doing this at the beginning of class and she gave us the heads up that it is an emotional experience for some and that we’d be going through the night’s curriculum and then ending with this exercise. She said that not many people can retain too much information after going through the exercise…
So, here I am sitting there, thinking, “Oh yeah, how emotional can it be? I bet we’re going to visualize something related to placements, and yeah, I get it, it’s hard.”
I had no idea.
As our group facilitator narrated a story where we were main characters, things started to get a little heavy. Then, a little sad. Then, downright emotionally painful. By the end, I was tearful, I had that feeling of despair in my throat that comes at the most mournful of moments, I had a serious headache in the middle of my forehead.
To imagine the loss of being taken away from Jonathan. To think about not knowing why it was happening or when I could see him again. To continue imagining that I was with another family for 12 whole months and then all of a sudden I could go back. But, then, did Jonathan want me to come back? Did I want to go back to Jonathan? Did Jonathan move on?
Wow, that really kind of rocked my world. And it was just a tiny glimpse into the emotional struggle of kids who have been introduced to the foster care system.
Jonathan and I want to welcome children into our family. Our family members and friends think we’d be good parents. But, here’s some quick points you need to know about foster care:
• Number One:The goal of foster care is reunification. No more, no less. Becoming foster parent certified will not mean that the agency we’re working with will help us find a child to adopt. The agency’s role is to educate us and to support the children coming in to care.
• Number Two: If through this mutual selection process (genius phrasing), we become certified foster parents, we will have accepted the above. If we have a placement, DO NOT ask us if/when we will be adopting the child placed with us.
• Number Three: Birth families are precious. This one goes for domestic infant adoption, too. It’s safe to say that you don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes. How could you, we are all different and we all have different reactions to even what we see as similar experiences. We will certainly fall in love with a child placed with us within hours, so please know that the birth family is an extension of this child, so we love them, too. Just as you wouldn’t say something nasty about one of our family members, please do not say anything nasty about the birth family.
Now that we’ve got that out there, please consider learning more about the foster care system yourself. Ask that friend or family member of yours who adopted their child(ren) after providing a foster home for them a few questions. How long did the process take from foster care placement through adoption finalization? How many nights did they cry because the placement could end? How many hearings did they attend? How many visitations did they bring the child(ren) to? Did they ever feel unskilled at parenting because they couldn’t console the little one in their care? Did they ever doubt themselves about the decision they made to become foster parents?
If you know me at all, you know that I think things through. However, up until last night, I hadn’t visualized so deeply what it’s like for foster children when they are removed from their homes. I don’t know the absolute best way to welcome a foster child into our home, but I’ll tell you this much, I will not be smiling from ear to ear and I will not be thinking, “This is my baby.” Because – families belong together. At the time of placement these children’s families are their birth families. We will be strangers…kind strangers who will do our absolute best for them. But, families are not built by the movement of human beings from one home to another.