They had me at hello. There were no warnings, no flashing red lights, no red flags to indicate any type of danger ahead. What there were were small, beautiful, children’s faces looking up at me, asking me to help.
How did I get there from here? I’m the type of person who gawks at babies, who smiles at the children in the car next to me, who would give a child my last dollar so he could have an ice cream cone. That’s me. I basically will do anything for children to make them happy for that brief amount of time. I’m also the one in the grocery store who sees a child cowering away from his parents because they’re screaming at him. I’m the one who wants to walk up to that parent and simply say, “Isn’t there another way this situation could be resolved?” or, “Do you really think screaming at him does anything other than make him more afraid of you?”
It all started innocently enough. All I wanted to do was to change my career path, and in doing so, I applied for a job that has forever changed my and my family’s lives. The job was simple: visitation specialist. All I had to do was pick up foster children from their foster homes and take them to their biological families for a visit, and then take them back to their foster home. Seems simple, doesn’t it? In the beginning (first week or so) it was simple, because I was just getting my feet wet and at that point had no idea what I had gotten myself into. It was less than a week when I realized what I had gotten myself into, while realizing that there was no turning back now.
My first case load was rather light; I think I had two cases at that time. One family of six children (I shared this case with another worker) and an innocent enough case of one small newborn born addicted to meth. The first case was a case that I knew from the beginning that wasn’t ever going to be a “reunification” case; these six children would never be a family again, at least not with their biological mother or father. As I write this article, I did some checking on the family situation and sure enough, there are still four of the six children waiting to be adopted. The other two children simply aged out of the system, which is sad, because our foster care system is failing these children. I do know the oldest one who aged out of the system at nineteen, also has her own child now. I sure hope history doesn’t repeat itself for her.
The other case was a small (low birth weight) newborn, born to a meth-addicted mother at the tender age of nineteen. I had a lot of hope for this parent. She seemed like she had the skills and smarts about her to make the change if she really wanted to. I was rooting for her. I was coaching her, trying to get her to see that her son needs to come first, and that she can be a productive citizen, and that it was truly not too late.
But this case and this child are not what this story is about. This case and this child are, however, what led me into foster parenting. This child was one of four foster children at this foster home that I went to each week. I became friends with the foster parents throughout my time as a visitation specialist. In their home, they had this one foster child named Brandon who was also born addicted to methamphetamine. However, Brandon was the sixth out of eight children born to this mother. He is also the child that the foster parents state they weren’t able to deal with and they wanted him to be moved to another home. All it took was one look at Brandon, and I knew that he would forever change my life.
Instead of having Brandon moved to another foster home, I asked the case worker to see if we would qualify as an approved home, to have him live with us until we were licensed as foster parents. Even though it took the state a few weeks to approve this, we pretty much took him into our home with a schedule of overnights during the week and then he was with us all weekend. By Memorial Day, he was officially our foster child.
I know my husband didn’t sign up for this. My husband and I weren’t even married a year when I hit him with the idea of being foster parents. I hadn’t ever thought about being a foster parent, it had never crossed my mind until I took this job as a visitation specialist. When I asked my husband what he thought about this, he stated that he would have to “warm up to the idea,” and indeed he did.
Initially, everyone was thrilled with the new arrival to our clan. Everyone, except my five-year-old son. My son had already been through some pretty major life changes in his young age: he lost his father that same year, and I got married, which threw the whole dynamic of life as he once knew it, into a tailspin. I didn’t realize the effect that this would have on him until about six months later when he began to regress into soiling his pants. That was the wake-up call that I had been needing from him, and from that point on, he was always in my line of vision, never to be part of the background again.
Issues with Brandon started early and fast. We had issues regarding his visitation schedule not being adhered to; we had issues that he would come back from visits smelling like he had been in a bar all day (despite the claims that his aunt’s house was “no smoking” home). While we may have thought that those issues were of great importance ... not so much, what came after that is really not for the faint of heart.
The second case manager called to tell us that she is moving Brandon to go live with his aunt, who is a convicted drunk driver, and who is currently on the central registry for child abuse. Of course, we opposed the move, and had to hire an attorney to fight the move. You see, foster parents do not have any legal rights. I know, crazy isn’t it? Foster parents spend the most time with the child, day in, day out, 24/7. We know those children better than their parents do and certainly better than a case manager without a doubt. We should be thought of as assets to the state, as a source of inside knowledge that none of the other parties in the case could possibly know, but it doesn’t work that way.
The trouble started by us opposing the move and from there on, the case manager did not like us at all. This is no exaggeration, she had it out for us from that moment on—Game On! We hired an attorney and he filed a opposition to the move, which delayed the move until after the trial. Ironically, the trial got pushed back and back, a good six months. We didn’t go to trial until October 2005 and we filed in April 2005, but the mystery was soon solved as we were regulars at Brandon’s mother’s review hearings. There wasn’t just the time between filing and trial that grew larger and larger, there was also the more obvious everyday look of Brandon’s mother’s belly as time went on. Yes, you guessed it, she was pregnant again with her seventh child—no wait, she had twins on Halloween 2005, so that makes it baby seven and eight. Long story short, we went to trial, testified on the stand, the case manager perjured herself (its true, I have the transcripts), the judge took it under advisement, and on November 5, 2005, the judge made his decision. The judge decided against us as we had no legal standing to make a placement objection, and he therefore ordered Brandon to be moved.
Now, one would think that a transition period would be beneficial to everyone involved, as our whole family was very vested in this child and we made him one of our family. But the case manager was able to make her last move the one that cut the deepest: she had him removed from the day care he was at that fateful Tuesday afternoon, and we have never seen him again. We called the day care hour after hour, hoping against all odds that Brandon would be returned, but to no avail. We received a notice in the mail a few days later notifying us that our services were no longer needed—ouch, that one hurt! At this point, we had media attention, and, much to the dismay of the state, they did have to address our questions regarding procedure in this case. They met with us and they apologized, but there is no way an apology was ever going to mend our broken hearts.
We were able to give the state gifts to give to Brandon for Christmas, and in that box of gifts was my son’s most favorite bear, one that Brandon loved too. My son attached a note to the bear for Brandon which read, “Brandon we will miss you, please remember us.”