My husband and I became licensed foster-to-adopt parents in April 2015. We had a mission trip planned for that summer, so our agency wanted to hold off on giving us a placement until we returned from out of the country. In the meantime, they wanted us to provide respite for different sets of foster children, to give us some practice. We provided respite three separate times; one of those times was for a set of brothers, ages 6 and 7. The boys have some delays, and when we kept them for that week, we really weren’t able to communicate with them much at all. But by the end of the week – I can’t really explain this – I felt an unbelievably strong urge to mother those boys. I asked our case manager if there was any way the boys could be moved to our home, or if that was even a “thing”; she told me that the boys’ case plan was adoption, but they were not currently in an adoptive home, so yes they could be placed with us! Our agency downgraded the boys from therapeutic foster care to family foster care so we could have them placed in our home in time for school to start that fall. We asked my brother-in-law and his fiancée to be the boys’ godparents in case anything happened to us after an adoption. We asked my cousin and her husband to be our back-up godparents.
Our honeymoon period lasted only a week. The boys had some severe behaviors, but we still just knew that this was right. Their case was to go back to court in September for a TPR, but the night before court, their social worker called me – bio mom was doing just enough, she said, that they didn’t think they’d get the TPR. Their new plan was to change the boys’ case plan back to reunification, with the thought that in the six months to come, bio mom would fail miserably. Of course I don’t want any human to fail, but I understood what she was saying. Well, bio mom progressively did more and more of what was asked of her. It looked like reunification would happen.
Let me tell you a little more about some of the characters. Our boys – T and C, now 8 and 7, respectively – have of course PTSD and ADHD, but they also have autism, anxiety disorder, ODD, RAD, and the little one has seizure disorder. The oldest is mildly intellectually/developmentally delayed (he’s more like a 6 or 7 year old), but the youngest is severely delayed. He is about like a 3 year old and likely will remain that way. I get cursed at very frequently, the art on my walls gets thrown down and torn up, my walls get punched and kicked (as do I), and I get slapped, bitten, and spat upon. Regularly. Still, I know that though their actions are their choice, the emotions/history that cause them to act out that way are not their fault. It deeply saddens me. Bio mom is intellectually delayed herself, with lots of the same issues most bio parents in this situation have. And maybe this is also par for the course, but she doesn’t accept that her boys have anything “wrong” with them; she thinks they are completely “normal” and healthy. For two boys who will need lifelong care, this is huge.
I can’t name one specific thing that brought us to the point of disrupting this placement – it’s more like the combination of everything. In September, when their plan was changed back to reunification, we suddenly had to begin shared parenting. Which had never been done with this bio mom because from the beginning, everyone “knew” it would end with a TPR. Because we are foster-to-adopt, it was never our intention to have a placement whose plan was reunification. This was completely unexpected. Also in September, visits were increased from once a month to every other week. So now, for the boys, not only were they scheduled to see bio mom more, but she was showing up every time. With tons of candy and happy meals and candy and toys and candy. Bio mom told the social worker in December 2015 that she wanted to ask the boys where they wanted to live; she could see a huge improvement in them, she said, and social worker thought for sure that bio mom was thinking about relinquishing her rights. So in a poorly planned set-up, the social worker joined us at a therapy session (neither bio mom nor my husband and I were in the room), and showed the boys a picture of me, and a picture of bio mom, and asked with whom they wanted to live. Both boys said us, then C changed his mind. Social worker later reported the answers to bio mom, and her response: “Oh good, I just wanted to make sure they didn’t freak out at the thought of coming to live with me.” So now the boys, who had been away from bio mom for over 2 years at that point, were introduced to the idea that going back with her was a possibility. Behaviors that had just recently become manageable were soon out of control again – and they’ve remained that way.
In the meantime, I started getting sick a lot. At first I assumed it’s because I was being exposed to the school germs the boys were bringing home. It quickly became apparent that I was sick abnormally frequently. I started out by getting regular massages to help with my stress level. My massage therapist grunts as she’s working on me and tells me every time how tense I am. I know it, and my reactions to the boys show it. People in our lives began to comment on how bad I look, and I am exhausted all of the time, every day, without fail.
During this time, my husband and I began to talk. We talked about all of the problems we were dealing with and about what we thought were the best solutions to these problems.
...to be continued
Taylor and her husband Jake Henry live in the foothills of North Carolina with their two foster sons. She is a former ESL teacher turned stay-at-home mom, and loves spending her days savoring the simple moments.