It was the fall of 2012 and my husband and I had just received our license as a therapeutic foster home. We were so excited! We knew this would forever change our family’s footprint. We had love and aspirations for children we had not yet met. Within a week of our license arriving we were called to respite a 13-year-old boy, “J.” We felt like children on Christmas morning. This would allow us to “ease into” foster care without the pressure of a long-term commitment, we said to ourselves. We will love him and show him support for the weekend and everything will be perfect!
We were right. It was perfect…for the first 47 hours. We had an amazing weekend full of family filled activities such as playing games, shopping, and attending a local festival. We smiled, laughed, and just shared each others company. He was well-mannered, kind, and was a little gentleman at every chance. We enjoyed our time with him and he seemed to enjoy his time with us. It was our dream foster care weekend. What could possibly happen in that last hour to break our hearts?
It was one hour before we were to take him back to his foster parent. We were having quiet time, my husband and I resting on the couch while “J” played a game. He stopped his game and walked over to us, standing in the middle of an open room as vulnerable as could be. He asked simply, “Can I talk to you and Mr. Shane?” “Of course,” I responded. We turned to him, giving him our full attention. What would follow will forever be etched into my heart. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Word for word.
“I really like it here with you two. My case worker said if I ever found a family that I really liked and wanted to live with and want them to adopt me, then, if that family said okay, I can just tell her and she would do the paperwork. I would like you to adopt me if you wanted. I will be good and go back to public school if that would help you. You don’t have to home school me, if you can’t. You can think about it and if you want to adopt me you can tell me or my case worker. Her name is ______. She will help us.”
We sat there in complete silence as he spoke. Each word burned a deeper hole in our hearts than the last. The only sound that could be heard was the simultaneous crashing of our hearts to the floor. Pure heartbreak.
Many children are reunified with their families in the foster care system. But others, like “J” are not. Of the children whose plans change from reunification to adoption, the ones who are not adopted at an earlier age have a much higher chance of aging out of the system, never finding their forever family. No 13-year-old should ever have to bear the weight of searching for his forever family. This is the ugly truth of foster care. It hurts, and boy does it hurt deep. It will break your heart in ways you were unaware it could be broken. It will also fill your heart in ways you never knew existed. I still have hope and excitement for the future, but I am no longer naïve about the fact that foster care will always equal a loss; a hole that can never be filled entirely. I will still face future days of foster care fighting to show the love of a family to a child during their darkest times.
Our view of foster care was completely changed in the short time it took “J” to say the few above sentences. They will forever be the most powerful words I hear.