(I’m blogging about our experience adopting old children from foster care here in Massachusetts, in the hopes that it might inspire you to consider adoption, too. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m adjusting the names & details about our children and their birth family to protect everyone’s privacy. All of the details are true, drawn from a wide assortment of adoption experiences. They’re just not our kids’ personal stories.
Warning: this part of the process is intense. It’s intense to live, and intense to read about. It’s one of those things you dive into trusting that it will lead THROUGH. Stick with it. It’s worth it.)
You leave a message for Janna, trying to sound casual. “Hi Janna, we were at the event in Lawrence last night, and we met Emily from your office. She had a flyer about Jason & Jasmina, and we’re wondering if they’re the kids you told us about in MAPP class? We’d love to hear more about them…”
She calls you back 27 minutes later. (Not that you were counting.)
“I’d be happy to tell you about these kiddos,” she says.
You scribble notes furiously as she talks, trying to get it all down.
The kids are 12 and 10. Jason is athletic and loves basketball, Jasmina loves all things girly and colorful and artistic. They’re smart, both doing well in school. One of them has an IEP in math due to missing a lot of school early on.
They’ve been “in care” for about two-and-a-half years. Their dad has had some involvement with them during this time, but their goal was changed from reunification to adoption after he missed several scheduled visits and then was arrested and sent to jail on an outstanding warrant. He’s currently awaiting trial. “I can’t tell you what the charges are for privacy reasons,” Janna says, “but I can say that in THIS particular case, there was no violence involved.” You read between the lines and scribble possible history of violence w/bio-dad.
“What about their mom?” you ask.
“We believe their mom is living at a local homeless shelter – that’s the last address we have on file. But she has not responded to her as we’ve reached out and has not appeared in court.”
“What is the legal status of the case?”
“It’s legal risk,” Janna says. “The parents’ rights have not yet been terminated, but that’s definitely the direction things are going. Trial is currently set for three months from now, but something pretty dramatic would have to happen to turn things around at this point.”
“Like what?” You’ve been down this road before with Princess Peach. You don’t want to go there again.
“Honestly, looking at this file, I can’t imagine what would put this back together again. But we have to acknowledge that it could happen, because the final decision is with the court and they don’t always do what we hope or expect. That said, though, this is one of those cases that seems pretty straightforward.”
“What’s their current foster home like?”
“Right now they’re together in a fantastic home in Newton,” Janna says. “Their foster mom, Chris, is a professional – she’s been doing this for over twenty years. She runs a tight ship, and the kids are doing really well there.
“This is Jason’s third foster home. He was with a Spanish speaking family in Dorchester for his first three weeks in care, and then…”
“He speaks Spanish?” You interrupt to ask.
“No,” Janna says, as sad tone in her voice. “That’s probably just where they had an available bed. So for the first three weeks after he was removed from his family, he was in a place where he didn’t speak the language. What a resilient kiddo.”
There’s a pause in the conversation while you try to imagine that.
“After that,” Janna continues, “it looks like he was moved to another home out near Springfield. I don’t have any information on that second placement. Six months later, he was taken to Chris’ house.
“This is Jasmina’s seventh placement,” she continued. “The poor girl has been bounced around quite a bit. It looks like she was hotlined for several weeks when they first came it – that means she was in a different home every night. A social worker would pick her up at school, drop her at a new place for the night, and then come back to get her in the morning. Then she had three placements that lasted a few months each, after which she was in a group home up in Methuen.”
“What does that mean?”
“It could mean a lot of things. Ideally, group home placements are for kids who are struggling to handle a family setting. It provides more structure, clearer routines and expectations, and the kids have access to more programming options to help them. They also don’t have the pressure of the intimacy that comes with family life. In a group home, if you don’t like one particular worker, they’re gone in eight hours when the shift changes, and someone else takes their place. Some kids do better with the lower relational expectations.
“That said,” she continued, “we have so many kids in care right now and not even close to enough foster homes. So a lot of kids are ending up in group home placements who don’t need to be there.”
“Which is the case here?” You ask.
“I think it’s the latter. Jasmina is doing really well at Chris’ house, and seems very comfortable with family life. I think she just got a bum deal being bounced around at a time when there weren’t enough available foster homes. Both kids are doing better now that they’re living together at Chris’ house.”
Your head is spinning. You have more questions…so many questions. But you’re not sure where to begin. You need to process what you’ve learned so far to figure out what else you need to know.
“I know it’s a lot to take in,” Janna says. “I’m out of the office all morning, but I’m back in around 2:00 if you want to give me a call.”
You hang up the phone and look over your scribbled notes. Good in school. Newton. Possibly violent bio-dad/mom homeless. LEGAL RISK (you wrote that one in caps to make yourself remember it). Multiple placements. Hotline. Group home.
You go out for a run, cranking up the music on your iPod to try and take your mind off of what you’ve learned. Your heart is already starting to attach a little bit to these kids who have been through so much. Living three weeks with in a house where you don’t speak their language, right after you’re removed from he only home you’ve ever known? That’s insane.
This is all insane, you realize. It’s a system of broken pieces, trying to reassemble component parts into working families.
Your head hurts. Your heart hurts. And yet you wonder – could these be the kids God has for you?
You spend the rest of the day jotting down more questions.
Then, just before 5:00, the phone rings. It’s one of the social workers you left a message with weeks ago, calling you back with information about a different set of siblings. “Are you still interested?” she asks.