November is National Adoption Awareness Month. This month is designated each year to raise awareness about the adoption of children and youth from foster care. Currently there are an estimated 115,000 (as of Oct. 2010) children in foster care waiting for homes. 115,000 is also the population of Charleston, South Carolina.
Jacob and I are currently designated as “fostering to adopt.” That means we are contacted if there is a child in need that may be a possible adoptive option. The key word here is may. That means you could get a placement that they think is going to be an adoption option only to determine months later that the child can go back to their bio-family.
Welcome to our current situation. We are foster-to-adopt our baby girl, but there is no guarantee. And of course we would love her bio-parents to get it together for her. BUT. We have recently found out we could have the baby for 18 months and she could go back. A year and a half of her knowing us as her parents and she will then leave us.
Let me tell you this, Fostering-to-Adopt will break your heart. It will break your heart on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. It is a long, hard, and tedious process and in the end you may or may not adopt. It will entail you getting calls for immediate adoption options. That sounds great right? Well it’s not. It means the child they are calling you about has been so badly abused that they will never function independently or live anything close to a ‘normal’ life.
We got a call like that already. The child had just been born. I am sure she was beautiful but we never even met her. She was born with half a brain, due to Mom’s drug use while pregnant. She could breathe on her own but doctors said she would never function beyond the level of an infant. Jacob and I are just not in a place where we can take on that kind of challenge.
There is a whole website devoted to children in foster care that are ready to adopt right now, today, no cost to the adoptive family and you might even get financial help for their care. But it is the same story. These are children so badly abused, so badly neglected, that they will need constant medical care for the rest of their lives. If you want to feel your heart break go to this website: www.adoptuskids.org then do a search for all children under the age of 3. Here is the link right to that page: click here. Just enter the ages of ‘infant’ to ‘3 years old’.
Breaks. Your. Heart.
And let me tell you my heart is broken almost daily now. When I go to get the kiddo in the morning and she greets me with a huge smile and loud ‘ah-goo!’ which is our new game, my heart breaks. What love we share, but she may never remember me. When she learns a new skill, like how to grab her favorite blanket with her hand and bring it to her mouth to chew on I think, ‘how far you have come, how amazing you are’. And my heart breaks as I think about what her life will be like when she leaves us. Will she be loved as much? Will they let her cry to sleep instead of comforting her? Will they read to her and sing her silly songs? Like the one I made up the other day:
“Socks go on your feet, socks go on your feet. They don’t go on your hands because then they’d be called mittens!” Yes, I know, I should copyright that. 😉
My heart breaks when the baby goes for visits and I smell cigarette smoke on her parents. Or when I pick her up from a visit and I can tell she’s been crying and I see her visibly relax at the sight of me coming to get her.
I didn’t get into this for it to be easy, I know. And I tell myself that no matter what the child will be fine. She might not be living the life I want her to have, but she will be fine. But your heart still breaks, and you hold back tears and you get through. Having said all this I do not sound like much of an advocate for foster care or foster-to-adopt.
But I am. I would wish that everyone would have this experience, would feel their heart break over a child. Because that would mean one less kid is suffering in the system. One less kid would be just a number waiting for someone to see him or her as a human being deserving love.
Every time my heart breaks I know what it means. It means the baby we are caring for is having her heart taken care of, healed, protected, and nurtured. It means she has got a start on life that she might not of had. It means her first impressions in life have been of love, and I know she will always have that with her, that type of love last forever.
Foster care is often a game of chance. It requires people to report suspicious or abusive behavior. It requires the authorities to catch things in time and to double-check everything. The fact that we got our baby girl as an infant still is very rare. Someone was on their toes and pushed to get answers to a suspicious situation. Otherwise she would have gone home, positive drug test and all.
This month I would urge everyone to learn how they can get their heart broken. Here are some ways:
1) Report what you see or hear. There is an anonymous tip line. You call and you record the facts emphasizing why the child/children are in danger. The key is specific facts. Does Mom have a drinking habit and you know she drives the kids around after drinking? You report that the children are in danger because they may be put into a car with a non-sober parent. You don’t just say “the mom drinks”. And call multiple times. One call does not always do it. So you call again and again. The number is 1-800-800-5556.
2) Go through foster care training. Become foster parents. Is that too much for you? Then another option that is much needed is ‘relief parents’. If Jacob and I needed to travel out of state or if we had an emergency that we could not take the baby to we would need ‘relief parents’. Foster children cannot be left overnight with a babysitter unless that person has been trained to be a Foster Relief Parent. Relief parents provide much needed breaks for Foster parents from 1-3 days.
3) Look into CASA training. CASA’s are “Court Appointed Special Advocates”. CASAs are amazing. Their sole job is to advocate for the child. They do not advocate for the parents, nor for the foster parents, nor for DCS, nothing but the child. They are much needed and in short supply. They are the child’s only true voice in court.
4) Look into advocating and supporting Foster Care funding and toughening of laws that protect children.
5) Consider fostering-to-adopt. It will break your heart. And you will be changed forever.