Foster Care Fridays: Reunification

Friday, May 10, 2019

Foster Care Fridays: Each Friday I share bits and pieces of our foster/adoption process, answering questions submitted to me on Instagram.  Today I'm answering questions on reunification.

Sitting in our agency during our first meeting, the director told me, "Our reunification rate is 50%."

Later that week, in pre-foster counseling, our counselor (an expert in the local foster community) told us, "Wow - ok, 50% seems really high to me, based on my experiences."

Whether the reunification rate is as high as 50% or not, the reality is that when we accept foster children into our home, we will likely not know the outcome of those children's placement with us.  Will we "keep" them?  Will they reunify with their parents?  Will we keep them for 4 years, only to reunify them with their parents 4 years later?

Reunification is a topic I feel very strongly about.  And it's not something I ever expected to feel strongly about when we started this journey (and what a journey it has been....and we're only getting started!).

Logging training hours for our agency at the airport over the weekend (when you gotta train,  you gotta train)

I guess you could say my staunch support of reunification was born out of others' staunch opposition to it.  I'd overhear fellow foster friends talking about their foster child's birth parent: "It's so ridiculous.  She abandoned her baby.  Who does that?  And now she wants her back 6 months later.  Are you kidding me?  Too late!  You walked away from your kid, you don't get to just change your mind."

Listening to my foster friend's complaints, I would think, of course she wants her back, you heartless dummyThat baby is her child.  Her child to whom she is biologically tethered.  Her child whose cells remain in her body long after the birth.  Of course she wants her baby back.  And who are we to stand in the way?

I realize, of course, that there are plenty of good reasons to stand in the way, the obvious overarching umbrella being: when the child's safety or well-being is at risk.  And my good friend who works as a mental health professional and school counselor often tells me, "The state gives parents too many chances.  I call and I call and I call about certain kids who need to be removed from their homes and desperately warrant placement in foster care.  And I never hear back from the state!  My calls go unreturned, my reports filed in vain."  I believe her, and thus keep wrestling with this question: how much grace do we offer the birth mom?  How much grace is too much grace?  How many chances does the birth mom get before we steal her child from her?  

That's another thing I can't get over  -- this concept of stolen babies.  I recently had the distinct misfortune of listening to a podcast about Georgia Tann, the Tennessee con artist who stole babies from low-income mothers and sold them to wealthy parents (the 'elite' members of society) through her black market (though disguised as legitimate) adoption agency from 1924-1950.  She justified this by reasoning that the parents with whom she was pairing the babies were 'better suited' for the babies -- they could offer them better lives than the poor, struggling biological parents.  So she would steal the babies from the birth moms with a host of manufactured, staged emergencies (telling the birth mom that their baby had a deadly cough, for instance, and that she was a nurse who could take the baby to receive medical treatment, only to never return the baby to the mom) and adopt them out to "better" families in exchange for large sums of money.

Is that what we're doing here?  What makes us a "better" family for these children?  Is it that we're a dual-income, educated couple in a happy and healthy marriage?  What qualifies me to raise another woman's child better than said woman herself?  Is it because I don't struggle with dependency on drugs or alcohol and therefore am a 'better' mom?  I don't want to identify with Georgia Tann's clients in any way and yet I can't escape this fear of what I call stolen baby syndrome.

And then there are the foster parents who fancy themselves the saviors of the poor, and subtly refer to themselves as such when referring to the birth parents ("Oh, they just needed someone to show them the right way to parent, so we mentored them for a while and now they know how to raise their kids a little better.")  I don't want to be like them, either.  

At the end of the day, so much of this is case-by-case determinative.  Maybe our placement will be black-and-white, and if that placement transitions into adoption, I won't ever have to wonder if I'm doing the right thing.  I've talked to plenty of foster-turned-adoptive parents with stories such as those; when I hear their stories and the specifics within their circumstances, not one part of me wonders if they're waking around with "stolen" babies.  Those black-and-white cases are not intimidating to me; it's the gray areas I fear.  It's the gray areas where I think of the birth mom and wonder, did she really deserve to lose her kid and have this random family raise it?  The kid she carried for 9 months and birthed through her own labor? What if we just created social systems to better support these moms so she didn't have to lose her kids in the first place?

I think the most important truth for me to cling to amidst all the gray is this: all foster care and adoption starts with loss -- deep, deep loss.  (1) A child losing its mother - the single most important figure in the child's life.  This is true, of course, regardless of whatever abuse and neglect may or may not be present.  (2) A mother is losing her child -- and I don't care how 'bad' the mom is; all mothers love their children, even the ones who lack the tools to properly care for them.  

Awareness of that loss from which all foster and adoption stars will hopefully allow me to navigate reunification (or the absence of reunification) with just the right amount of grace.  I know it is easier said that done, but maybe if I say it enough, then I will be able to do it.
Emily said...

I applaud your stance on this. I was adopted (though not through foster care) and people would rather not hear our voices or opinions on the matter, it seems. They don't want to hear that there are deep, deep losses on all sides (sometimes even for the adoptive parents, if they faced infertility leading them to adoption). I don't want to be seen as someone who was "saved" or "rescued," I don't want anyone patting themselves on the back for having me in their life. It's true that if there were better resources original mothers would have a much higher chance of being able to raise their children themselves. All of this being said, I think it's great that you are working towards fostering, whichever direction that ends up going for you. It takes a good, strong heart to bring a child into their lives that they know they may not be able to keep in their lives.

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