(I’m blogging about our experience adopting a brother and sister who were 12 & 10 from foster care. I hope it will inspire you to consider doing the same. I’ve adjusted some of the details about our kids to protect their privacy. Everything here is true, but some specifics have been gleaned from other adoption stories. But all of the emotions and reactions are ours. You can find the first post in the series here.)
You went to the Disclosure Meeting. It was scary at first. You’d thought so much about these two kids at this point – stared at their pictures, wondered what their voices sound like, pictured them riding bikes down your street – that you’re afraid that this “full disclosure” of all information the Department has about their history will turn up something you can’t handle.
You’d decided early in the process on some things you couldn’t handle. There was a form you filled out along with your initial application, a terrifying list of ways that kids who have been through trauma sometimes struggle or act out. On that list, you said that you could not handle a child with a history of fire starting, abuse or aggression toward animals, sexual acting out, or a child who needed intensive academic help. You felt horrible with each box you checked, like you were punishing children for not having better coping skills. And yet your social worker was unrelenting in her instance that you be honest with yourself about this: “This process is difficult enough. There’s no need to add to the challenge by romanticizing a situation you know you don’t have the skill set to manage.” (Okay, she didn’t say it that bluntly. But that’s what you heard. That’s what you needed to hear so you could be honest and check the boxes. There are people out there who know how to handle these challenges, you told yourself. Lord, send more of those people!)
The Disclosure Meeting included your social worker, Sarah; the kids’ social worker, Janna; and their supervisor, Susan. Sometimes the foster parent comes if possible, or counselors the kids have worked with, but not in this case.
Janna had a large pile of folders in front of her. She handed you a giant file, and opened to the top page. “This is a list of people you can call to ask more questions,” she said. There were phone numbers and emails for the kids’ foster mom, a grandparent, their therapist and doctor, and a contact at each of their schools. Then she pulled out a report she’d pulled together, a summary of the kids’ history and the entire case that she went through line by line.
Here’s what you learned:
The kids’ history was tougher in some ways than you’d anticipated, but better in others. Everyone involved spoke of their resilience, and how hard they had worked to keep their heads above water and take care of each other as things came unraveled at home. You’d read enough adoption books at this point to know a few things to look for: Did they look to other grownups for help? (Yes). Did they show signs of being able to form relationships and attach to caring adults? (Yes.) Your heart broke at the strange truth that their strong bond with their foster mom indicated that they’d have an easier adjustment to adoption than a child who had lost or given up the ability to attach to others.
There were no real medical issues other than that the boy was small for his age (typical for kids in foster care, due to stress and poor nutrition. You can’t believe how many teen boys you’ve seen at adoption parties who look like they’re 9 or 10 years old), while the girl was developed beyond her years. You read the alarmist medical reports about her weight gain – threats of early onset diabetes, high blood pressure and other grim warnings – and thought, “Holy crap, give this girl a break! Wouldn’t YOU overeat under the stress she’s dealt with?” (Indeed, this would turn out to be one of your best decisions as a parent – to NOT freak out about her weight, but rather take the long view and see what a year of better food options, family stability, abundant love, and the chance to relax and enjoy being a kid would do. As it turns out, they did A LOT.)
Miraculously, both kids were more or less at grade level in school. They LIKED school, which helped, and had each formed key relationships with teachers who served as reliable support people in their lives. (GOD BLESS YOU, TEACHERS. YOU MATTER SO MUCH MORE THAN YOU KNOW!!!) There were some knowledge gaps due to a lot of missed school – it’s hard to do math if you’re missing building blocks. You were told you’d need to advocate to get the kids the services they’d need. You nodded, having no idea what that meant, but figuring that was in there with ALL THE OTHER THINGS about parenting middle schoolers you’ll have to figure out on the fly, and that if you need to know it, God will send someone to fill you in.
The meeting went on like that for almost two hours. Through it all, you kept waiting for the deal breaker, the big reveal that would cause you to step back and reconsider. But it never came. These were awesome kids, just like you’d thought.
That night at home, you & your husband agreed immediately: you want those awesome kids to be YOUR awesome kids. So you called Janna and said, “We’re in. What happens next?”