After Reunification: Now What?
The bench was narrow and hard. The discussions going on around in a small court room were full of half-truths and highly edited versions of the facts. I sat quietly as I have no legal voice and nothing I could say wasn’t already known and passed over.
“Your honor, the mother has completed her required case plan” says a caseworker, in answer to if the mother of my two foster daughters is prepared to have them return home. I sit and think of the past 18 months of this “completed” case plan. Is anyone going to say out loud that she only has been drug free for a few months? That her housing has no beds, no pillows, no covers, no furniture except for an old couch and a two person table? That the girls I have had for 18 months have stood up in court and said they don’t want to return home? That they could have been returned 6 months ago but neither girl was ready?
The discussions continued with no mention of any of those things because the reality was that everyone in the room knew those things already. They didn’t matter. The requirements had been met, a checklist completed, and a plan for reunification in place. In the space of a 20 minute court hearing I went from a full time mom to nothing. No rights to contact, no promise of seeing them again, I wasn’t even a mom anymore. I was just me. A young woman who left that court room and sobbed in the basement bathroom. Then dried her eyes and helped pack all the girls belongings into their mom’s car and wave as they drove away.
I went into foster parenting as an idealistic 25 year old, ready to save each life that came through my doors. I wanted two girls, ages 0-3. The crib was ready, the paperwork and training complete. In my mind I pictured cute babies and toddlers who may even end up one day with my last name.
What I got was a 13 and 11 year old sisters who changed my life. Who still change my life even after they left my home. Because after reunification I stopped being their mom but I didn’t stop being in their life.
You see, I had spent the 12 months leading up to that court date trying to maintain a relationship with their mom. I sent pictures to their supervised visits. I invited her to sports event, school meetings, and church. When she moved into her home I went to Walmart and bought all the practical stuff I could think of- towels, soap, kitchen supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, and more. I did this because, by then, I didn’t just care about the girls- I wanted to invest in the whole family. I saw how much the girls loved their mom, no matter the history of why they were in foster care. I also saw that the more I showed compassion to their mom the more the girls understood my love for them. It wasn’t enough to love, care, and provide for just them. Their best interests were served by honoring their relationship with their mom and building a foundation with her also.
Was it easy? Oh heck no!!! This woman hated me. Simply loathed me and who I am. She couldn’t stand how happy the girls were with me. She resented their connection to me. There were no big hugs between us and two moms united in love for the same girls. She saw me as an enemy. I had to overcome my judgments and resentments toward her. It was ugly and messy and HARD. But it was worth it because when the time came for reunification the groundwork had been laid for me to maintain contact with the girls.
If I had spent the entire 18 months of their placement, sitting in my ivory tower, looking down at her from afar then I would have NEVER seen my kids again. To her credit, I was allowed to pick up the girls occasionally for a visit and keep in contact through text. They moved many times and each time farther away but she allowed me to continue having visits with them and they were allowed to attend youth group events at my church.
I maintained my relationship with the girls for the next 2.5 years. In late 2017 they and their brothers ended up back in foster care. Because my state has a huge push to keep siblings together I was not allowed to have placement of the girls. It broke my heart all over again to be so close to having them back and then denied because by law, I have no rights and I wasn’t family. But that sorrow was replaced with thankfulness as I saw the hand of God in their lives in their current foster home.
Currently I still have visits with them on weekends and school breaks. We snapchat and message a lot. Recently the situation changed where it looks like the oldest sister will come live with me in June for good. And not through foster care but instead through permanent custody.
When I think back on how differently it all could have been, if God hadn’t changed my judgmental and self-righteous heart, how I could have missed years of their life. How I could have said goodbye at court that day and never seen them again. I marvel at God’s mercy to all of us.
I would encourage any foster parent to get involved in the lives of the birth families. No matter what the outcome of the case may be- your children are better off when you pursue a healthy relationship with their families. No matter what that looks like for your family.
What is one small reform you think would most benefit the foster care community?
This is the smallest, most insignificant thing but I would love to have the right to take my kids to get their haircut or trimmed without prior permission from DFCS/birth parents. I foster only girls and it is stinking hard to jump through red tape and hoops to get a simple haircut. Rant over.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amber is a single foster parent in Georgia who is passionate about her faith, reunification, and coffee. In that order. She currently has four foster daughters ages 7, 8, 9, 9 and is seeking custody of her 17 year old former foster daughter. You can normally find her in her car driving from work to pick up her kids to back out again shuffling everyone around. If she is home she is sitting on her porch reading a book and not doing laundry.
You can find her on Instagram @TheTemporaryMom