We are writing this post after tucking Trevor and Ariel into bed for the night, 365 days after the first time we ever tucked them in. Today is the 1-year anniversary of them entering our lives and it is bitter sweet. When we opened our home to these kiddos (Possible Placements), we agreed to care for them for the weekend. If we said no, they would have spent the weekend in a hotel with a staff member from DHS. After one weekend, and with nowhere else for them to go, we decided we would continue to care for them as long as we could, or as long as they needed us. So, that is how we got from one weekend, to one year.
This anniversary is strange. We have been fostering for about 18-months now (Our First Year in Review), and have cared for 6 very special kiddos, but Trevor and Ariel have been in our lives longer than the other 4 combined. On one hand, this anniversary is quite an achievement and a milestone representing a lot of love and hard work, as well as growth and progress. It is something we can be proud of. It represents our family and the bond and love we have grown and worked so hard for. However, the anniversary also symbolizes failure, loss, struggle, and uncertainty. So much has happened in the last year, but not much has actually happened.
So here we are, one-year in to fostering these awesome kids, and although we have done so much for them, an experienced so much with them, on paper, we are in the exact same place as we were a year ago.
This last year has been filled with so many experiences for us as parents, as well as Ariel and Trevor as kids in a family. The year was filled with a lot of firsts. We had the first day of school, first trip to the coast, first time visiting the Children’s Museum, Oregon Zoo, and OMSI. On top of that, the kids also had their first therapy sessions, first oral surgeries for teeth extractions, first medications, inaugural stay at a psychiatric unit, placement in a special needs classroom and placement in a therapeutic school.
For us, as parents, we had our first Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, Mother’s Day, Halloween, and visit from the Tooth Fairy with children in our home. These firsts, although exciting, were not always easy. Holidays bring up a lot of memories, emotions, and questions for kids. Although holidays and new experiences can be exciting, they are often difficult as well. Beyond the exciting “firsts” as parents, we also had a lot of not so fun “firsts”. These included purchasing security cameras for our home due to the kids having a stalker from their past, as well as our first time dealing with ringworm and lice, watching the children’s mother get arrested at a court appearance, attending IEP meetings, and visiting our kiddo in a subacute psychiatric facility. The past year has been an emotional roller coaster for all of us.
“Holidays bring up a lot of memories, emotions, and questions for kids”
The kids, especially Trevor, seem to know, at least subconsciously that right about now is an important milestone. They also seemed to understand, again, that about a month and a half ago, was a a major milestone, as it was one year since they entered foster care. We think they know, because we notice changes in their behavior and mood. Maybe we are projecting, but if there is one thing we have learned over the past year about kids, trauma, and the brain, it is that the brain is extremely complex. Trauma during early childhood has significant impact, and kids will surprise you with what they know, understand, and feel. Not knowing how we ourselves felt about the anniversary, we did not mention it to the kids at all.
We didn’t want the kids to feel like they had to celebrate that they have been with us, and not their bio-family for over a year. It is a difficult situation. We are happy that we get to care for them, love them, and that they are safe, but as we mentioned in a previous post, being in foster care, no matter how positive your experience is, is not a happy event to have in your life. No child should have to experience foster care, and it did not feel right “celebrating” an anniversary having to do with foster care.
We didn’t want the kids to feel like they had to celebrate that they have been with us, and not their bio-family for over a year. It is a difficult situation.
Another reason why we did not feel right celebrating the anniversary of their placement with us, is that it was never supposed to last this long. Foster care is supposed to be a temporary situation. Children need permanency, either with their bio-parents or family, or through adoption into a loving home. Foster care is not permanency, foster care is limbo. Foster care is the unknown. The fact that these kids have spent over a year in foster care, with no clear path forward toward permanency, is a failure of the system. The only positive takeaway from the last year is that the kids have not been moved. They have had only one other foster home before us, which is rare for any child with high needs in the system, let alone siblings.
Foster care is not permanency, foster care is limbo. Foster care is the unknown.
Foster parents care for the kiddos, it is the job of DHS to create permanency for the children, and the role of the bio-parents to do everything they can to work towards becoming safe and healthy parents capable of caring for their kids and be reunited with their kids. Over the last year, we, as foster parents have cared for Trevor and Ariel, and done a lot of work to ensure that these kids have the supports in place that they need and deserve. We have taken work off and exhausted our vacation and sick leave to attend an unimaginable amount of medical, school, and DHS appointments. During that same period of time, the kids have not had a single visit with their bio-dad, who has also missed multiple court dates regarding the permanency plan for the kids. Trevor has not seen his mom in over 6-months, and her sporadic attendance to bi-weekly visits has had a significant negative impact on his mental health. Neither mom nor dad have sought out the DHS and court ordered addiction support and mental health support, however they have both managed to be arrested. More discouraging than all of the failures of the bio-parents though, is the lack of a plan being presented by DHS and the courts.
Children need a plan, and since coming into care, the plan for Trevor and Ariel is reunification. Reunification is always the goal, until it is apparent that it is not possible. Everyone, us, DHS, the judge, the lawyers, the bio-grandparents, and even bio-mom, agree that reunification is not going to be a realistic outcome for these kids. Yet the plan remains reunification. This craziness, as far as we can tell, is a product of asinine rules at DHS that create a Catch 22 for the kids. Basically, the plan cannot be changed to adoption, and Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) cannot be pursued until an adoptive resource is located. However, DHS cannot put a lot of resources forward toward locating an adoptive resource until the plan has been changed for adoption. The result, the kids remain in foster care.
Children need a plan, and since coming into care, the plan for Trevor and Ariel is reunification. Reunification is always the goal, until it is apparent that it is not possible.
So here we are, one-year in to fostering these awesome kids, and although we have done so much for them, an experienced so much with them, on paper, we are in the exact same place as we were a year ago. No plan in place for when their journey in foster care will end, or our services will no longer be needed. This is why the anniversary is bitter sweet. We are exhausted. We are depleted. It was never supposed to be for this long. We agreed for a weekend, and we agreed to continue caring for Trevor and Ariel as long as we could and as long as they needed us, but we never imagined that in a year, the timeline would be just as vague as when we opened our home to them for the weekend. The milestone is heartwarming from the outside, but a bit demoralizing from the front lines. Although we are exhausted and overwhelmed ourselves, we continue to focus on the fact that we are the ones who chose to be part of foster care, not Trevor and Ariel. A year into foster care, they deserve better. They deserve a plan. They deserve permanency.
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