The last seven weeks have been some of the hardest of my life. My husband and I fostered two girls (A & L, ages 7 and 5) from July to June in the hopes of adopting them. The end result: after the DH and I spent May in court hearings, the girls finished the school year with us and then moved halfway across a very big state to live with their bio-mother again. Now that I’ve had a chance to research the case on my own instead of relying on Child Protective Services’ version of events, I do think this was the right decision, hard as it has been for TheScott (my DH) and I. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten much done in the past two months that isn’t related to them.
May was also a release month for me. The third book in the Tales of the Underlight–the finale of Hauk and Jolie’s story–went off into the world, and I barely had the time to pay it a second thought. I wrote a post not too long ago asking for help so I could deal with the fostering fiasco.
And help I got.
Readers, reviewers, other writers, my editor–everyone–stepped up and out to lend me a hand. I haven’t been able to respond to all the tweets, FB posts, blog entries, etc. that have gone out. But I have seen them. And, guys, you made me cry happy tears at a time when I was only crying the other kind. Thank you all so very much. The publishing community is a wonderful place to be, full of warm people and good hearts. Thank you for giving me something good in an otherwise awful time.
As a writer, I love hearing people’s stories, so I figured I’d share mine for anyone out there with a like-minded curiosity streak. For those without that curiosity, you can stop reading here as I’ve said the main point of what I needed to say–a heartfelt and tremendous thank you.
My husband and I were unable to have biological children, so we decided to adopt through the foster system. After finishing the training and the homestudies and all the rigmarole that goes into it, last July we took sisters, ages 4 and 7, into our home. Our girls had been in the system for nearly two years. We were their ninth residence in that time. It was a neglect case, but for their privacy I won’t go into details. Before this I don’t think I truly understood what neglect can do to a child. Now I do.
As one might expect given their history, the girls were troubled. When they first arrived there were many furniture flinging, donkey-kicking epic tantrums (the seven-year-old almost upended our dining room table one night and the four-year-old would fake self-harm by banging her head repeatedly into things or scratching herself). This is pretty common in foster situations, apparently, as the children are used to needing enormous shows to get any attention. Contrary to what you’d think, we were told by the therapist to ignore these until they calm down, and then give them attention; teach them that appropriate interaction gets them what they want, not tantruming. This ended up being fantastic advice, but ignoring a 4-year-old while she repeatedly rams her forehead into a doorknob goes against every instinct I have. And then you realize (a) she only does it more if you acknowledge it and (b) she’s not actually hurting herself, just making a really good show of it. Learning the difference between histrionics and authentic emotion was a skill we had to learn FAST.
The elder also had PTSD and trauma surrounding food. The younger had developed almost no empathy (we jokingly called her “our little Dexter”–not in front of her of course!) and infantilism–despite being a very intelligent child, she pretended to be a baby, using baby talk and demanding others to do everything for her. It drove me crazy until I finally got her to talk about it. She wanted to be a baby again because people love babies. She thought the reason no one wanted her, the reason she’d been bounced from home to home, was because at four years of age she was too old to be loved.
But they both desperately wanted to be loved. They wanted to be good people and to fit into a family and a community. For nine months we were told that we were going to be able to adopt them as soon as the court system had finished rumbling down its glacially slow path. For nine months we did the best we could, hoping that any day now we would get the call telling us we could make our family official. The difference in our fledgling family between July and April was truly astounding. No more tantrums. A’s nightmares and flashbacks had vanished. L was doing things for herself, thinking of other’s feelings and taking pride in her own accomplishments. They called us Mom and Dad and started talking about our future as a family. We’d clicked. Things were very good.
I came home from RT Convention(at which I had a blast!) on May fifth, and the next day received a phone call. Instead of the expected joy of getting to adopt, we were told that the case was going to court in a week, and as the state had fifteen cases on the docket that day, they’d decided ours wasn’t a high enough priority to prepare arguments for. They were going to tell the court we should keep the girls and then sit down without providing evidence. I.e. they were going to lose. As we’d been repeatedly told this case was in the bag, we were floored. Child Protective Services (CPS) was going to send our daughters back to their biological mother after almost no research into her current situation. What’s sad is we didn’t even learn this from the State; we learned it from a volunteer who had been working with the kids. The State had planned on calling us the day after the trial was over to surprise us with the news that we needed to start packing. My husband and I immediately hired a lawyer and a private investigator to do the job the State should’ve done. But without CPS doing their part, we knew it was a slim shot.
The more we dug, the more we realized that not only had the State mistreated and misled us as foster parents, but they’d mistreated the biological mother as well. I suppose I should’ve expected that. I’m showing my own naivete here in not assuming that if a state agency can’t return my phone calls or answer my questions when I’m fostering for them, the likelihood of them returning the phone calls or answering questions of a person in the bio-mom’s situation is practically non-existent. The inequities of society flow in my favor here, not hers. I don’t like that fact, but it’s reality.
Suddenly I was questioning the validity of my claim that the girls should stay with us. I have full faith in why they were taken away to begin with; I know that story, and it was legit. But I also believe in second chances, and their mother had cleaned up her life. It was (and is) a new and fledgling stability. With her children in her life as a motivator, she has a chance of sticking it. Without them…I don’t know. But is it fair to such young children to be placed in the role of anchor amid a tempest? I love them. That’s not the life I want for them. But is it my place to make that judgment? It was now TheScott and my awkward and painful job to balance the best interest of two children with social justice–because the government sure wasn’t doing it. I hated that, making a moral decision about how hard to pursue what I wanted when I was no longer sure it was the ethical course of action.The month of May was exhausting–physically, emotionally, morally exhausting.
TheScott and I flew to two different court dates. I was sworn in as a witness at one of them. I’ve now worked with a private investigator and done some of my own investigating, both online and in person. I’ve met the biological mother and swapped stories with her about the kids. I like her. She’s friendly, and I know that she loves her girls–not that being friendly or feeling love makes someone a good parent. But she’s not the manipulative mess we’d been led to believe.
I have hope.
We’ve spoken to the girls three times since they’ve moved, and I’ve spoken to their mother more than that. The girls seem happy, and I can tell that the bio-mom is trying. She’s also interested in the five of us keeping in contact. Instead of being angry with us for fighting for the girls, she thanked us for taking such loving care of them. She even texted TheScott to wish him a happy Father’s Day.
The main thing I’ve walked away from this with is that Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is every bit the disorganized mess everyone says it is. But the dissolution and creation of families is too weighty an issue for them to be so useless. I tell our story because I think it needs to be heard. With more public understanding of how broken this vital system is, hopefully we can make progress toward fixing it. Thank you for reading.