My husband and I have been foster parents for 4 years now but the first 3 years were just fostering our 2 children that we adopted. It turns out…that isn’t the norm. Recently though, we experienced a heartbreaking “bounceback” with a more recent foster son…we’ll call him Clint (not his real name). Clint, age 5, lived with our family for 2 months. He had been in foster care for over a year and a half but had been staying with us for just 2 of those months after a move from his previous placement. He was a tough little boy….cute…but really tough. If he didn’t get his way, he would drop to the floor in a ball, scream a piercing scream or on a truly delightful day…go pee on another child’s bed or toy. He was in rough shape despite our best attempts and despite a weekly visit with a counselor. We knew that with his impending move home, there was nothing we could really do to stabalize him. We were thrilled when the phone call came…Clint was going home with his mom, her new husband and his siblings. Things were looking up for this little boy!
After Clint went home. We fell into an easier routine. I would think of him often hoping he was happy.
Fast forward 2 months.
The phone rings Friday evening (it’s always a Friday evening with us…no idea why). The worker on the end of the line is someone I know from way back. She knew my parents when I was in middle school. An upbeat lady, I immediately start chatting…until she cuts in and lets me know this is not a social call. “I’m calling about your foster son.” My eyes immediately glance over at the sweet little blonde 2 year old cherub living with us right now. I expect this call is to tell me that he is finally moving in with a family member. “Remember Clint” I’m jolted back as a sickening sensation hits my stomach. I know what she is going to say. ” He needs a place to stay this weekend. His mom decided she couldn’t do this and she is placing all the kids (5 of them) back in care. We are calling all their previous placements to see if they can stay for the weekend until we figure out what to do next week.”
My eyes locked with our adopted daughter. She was listening to my half of the phone call. Her eyes grew wide as she figured out that Clint was coming back under such heart breaking circumstances. I knew this would bring up painful memories of when she too arrived home from school to find police and social workers on the scene that would soon lead her to a new home. Part of me wanted to tell this worker “no” he couldn’t come. He had been a particularly difficult placement and my husband wasn’t home so I could run it by him. Also, when Children’s Services says “Can they come for the weekend,” you know it will be longer. It takes several days at least to get things in order and that is if they move fast. Sometimes it takes weeks or months. But of course, I couldn’t say no…not to this little boy. He was the first foster child we had to “catch and release.” At the time I thought that meant he would stay and go home. But now he was coming back and we needed to “catch” him again.
When the worker pulled in, it was after 9pm. Clint was in the back of a minivan clutching the strap of his seat belt. The worker tried to coax him out. I tried to talk to him and then he started wailing. “I don’t want to be here. I want to go home….” We coaxed. He cried. Eventually we had to carry him in the house together. The exhausted social worker brought in his small bag of belongings and left. Clint stood and moved rather mechanically. He hadn’t eaten since lunch so he had some leftovers from dinner warmed up. He seemed like he was in a bit of a daze so we got him ready for bed and I tucked him in and said his prayers.
Feeling exhausted, I sank into the couch. Only a few minutes passed before the small little boy came walking out, dragging his blanket with tears streaming down his face. He climbed up on the couch next to me and just cried.
He did only stay with us a few days until he could be placed with a sibling in his old school district. I felt a sense of loss when he left but even more a sense of the long road ahead of him. These kids…the ones that land in the system, are often such transient little people expected to move at a moments notice. I pray that the little things we do will let them know they are loved even while their world stands on its head.