I had a rough trip down memory lane yesterday as I listened to a podcast about another couple’s experience trying to adopt from foster care. It reminded me so much of the pain we went through with our beloved first foster daughter, Princess Peach.
I thought I’d take this chance to offer a candid take about what you need to do to keep your eyes open as you go into this process. Because even though it sucks? You should go into this process. It’s an excellent (albeit costly) use of your life. And I say that having paid quite a bit.
A primary difference in our experience trying to help Princess Peach back in 2012 and trying to help The Cherubs in 2015 is that, with Princess Peach, we went in as TEAM PLAYERS. We were there to PARTNER with the north shore DCF office in their mission of taking the very best care of these children! We came in honest and forthcoming, helpful and cooperative, and we looked for every way we could to excuse/explain/overlook the strange, unprofessional, contradictory and even dangerous behavior we saw from the DCF social workers and managers we met. It took an epic amount of mental gymnastics to explain away what we saw. After awhile, we couldn’t.
Few people speak about this, because DCF retaliates. If our kids were younger, I wouldn’t dare.
But you need to know this going in:
DCF (or whatever they call it in your area) is not a sane world. It’s a world of chaos and lies and extreme manipulation by people who probably started out with good intentions, but now struggle to manage crisis-riddled families that are completely unmanageable. They work without even the most basic technological or administrative support, are often terrorized by bad management….and pulled out of the field at least twice a month for all-day trainings in…nothing. They are overseen by…no one. Each office works under its own strange code of conduct. And if something goes wrong or a child dies? There’s a blast on the news, then people are just shuffled around and it’s back to the same chaos.
The office that had Princess Peach’s case is one of the worst in the state.
Not every office is like this, thankfully. There are a few good ones, and The Cherub’s case landed in a good one. That made a huge difference.
But even more helpful, honestly, was that Steve and I went in this second time not as partners, but as ADVERSARIES. We were there to rescue two kids, not just from parentlessness, but from DCF itself. What we learned from Princess Peach’s case was that once a kid is in the system, they’re trapped, left to the whims and mood swings of a mostly unstable group of poorly trained people who are often as manipulative and dysfunctional as the homes the kids were taken from. So this time we kept our guard up, worked with an agency that served as a go-between (Pro-tip: Work with an agency. DO NOT try to adopt directly through DCF), and assumed that 9/10ths of what DCF told us was untrue.
This served us well. The results were better, practically speaking.
And even on the days when things are tough, I know this for sure: we saved them from a horrible system, and their entire lives will be better because of it. Totally worth it.
Even in Princess Peach’s case, it was worth it. Every battle, every email documenting DCF’s lies and dishonesty, every time her bizarre social worker said something inane, like how the stress rash all over Princess Peach’s body after her visit with her mother was probably POISON IVY, even though it was February and there was 36 inches of snow on the ground; even as DCF threatened legal action after I blogged that Princess Peach’s future is up to God, not DCF; even as we said goodbye to her and went home and cried for six straight months; even as we still pray for her every night; even as Steve and I grabbed hands as we teared up in church last week when the choir sang the Holy Spirit Song we used to sing to her at 2am to calm her night terrors… Even in the midst of so much insanity and loss and sadness? Totally worth it.
As you go into this, you need to know that your fight to adopt kids from foster care is every bit as much about saving them from the system as it is about giving them a family.
Princess Peach had one full year of stable family life. She knows what it feels like to be chosen, loved, prioritized. She knows what healthy feels like now, and no one can take that away from her.
And the Cherubs will have had 5-8 years of stable family life before they turn 18. They know what it’s like to be guided, cheered for, loved, paid attention to, corrected and redirected. They’ve seen a healthy marriage, they’ve witnessed apologies that are genuine and forgiveness that is real, they know they can depend on us because we show up for them.
All three of them have had birthdays where the #1 thing said to them all day long was “We are so very glad you were born!!!” They’ve been prayed with and for. They are in our hearts forever. And while we couldn’t set Princess Peach free the way we’d hoped, Steve and I will always be grateful that God used us in the battle for her life. We’re still fighting for her, praying every single night for God to come through on His promise that He’s working ALL things for her good because she loves Him and is called according to His purpose. We still hope that we’ll get to be part of that plan again.
So listen to the podcast linked above. (The first 5 minutes or so are about international adoption, but hang in, as the whole thing is worth your time). Take off your rose-colored glasses. And when you catch yourself saying, “There’s no way I could do that – I just couldn’t handle it…” take a deep breath, look at these faces and decide differently. Because you can.