we’re still expecting hope

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yesterday, I experienced another first in our foster parenting experience: a ‘Family Stability Team’ meeting. The goal of FSTs is to determine whether the agency will file for temporary custody of children. If the police are not involved when a child is removed due to abuse or neglect, that means that the decision has been made by the agency in one of these meetings. (Just an explanatory note: there’s also another type of team called a ‘Crisis Response Team’ that also makes these decisions. I’m really uncertain why a case would go to one team versus another, except I think it might have to do with an emergency removal versus a planned removal)

I really had no idea what to expect when I walked in that room. An uneasy participant in the proceedings about to occur, I chose the chairs lining the wall instead of taking a seat at the table like I would normally do at team meetings. There were probably a dozen people in the room, representatives from mental health agencies, substance abuse agencies, CASA, Children’s Services…I think I’m missing a couple, but basically all of the major social service agencies in the county were represented.

This meeting was the real deal. The final decisions get approved in court, but the judge is unlikely to disagree with the recommendations of this team. I was struck with just the sheer burden that these men and women face. To plan to remove a child from their family of origin and place them in foster care isn’t a decision that can be taken lightly. The questioning involved was intrusive and painful, but necessary to determine whether or not a child is safe in his or her current living environment. With very few exceptions (at least from my perspective), the parents were treated with respect, with kindness, with as much deference as the situation would allow.

There are lots of emotions when you are foster parents, but in my experience, the occasions that elicit pure grief are few. Any feelings of grief are usually complicated by anger or frustration or even relief, but that moment yesterday, in that conference room? It was just grief. No one wants to see a child taken from her mother. No one wants to relegate a dad’s playtime with his son to four hours a week. No one wants to be in such a demeaning position as to have a room full of strangers assess you, your lifestyle, your parenting. No one wants the future of their family held in the hands of the state.

No matter how valid the reasons, it is a devastating experience to hear a room full of people one after the other, with a couple exceptions, recommend that children be removed from their families and put in the care of the state. The devastation of oppressive poverty, the consequences of poor choices, the unfairness of being taken advantage of when people are already down and out, the murky waters of mental health, and it’s the children who continue to suffer. Even if foster care is the best place, it is still trauma. It is still a terrible injustice to these little children.

So I sat there, wishing I could go around the table and just offer a hug. Wanting to pass tissues to dry tears, to hold hands to impart strength, to say all the things in my heart for this woman whom I now care for deeply because I love her son. I didn’t. I didn’t say the things I wanted to say. Maybe I should have. Being unfamiliar with the situation relegated me to a more observatory position than I typically would take. I’ve been wishing I could have some of that time back. Wishing I could’ve said a few more items of praise. Wishing I could just somehow change the whole situation for good. I know that what I said wouldn’t have made a difference, but at least I could’ve spoken up. Spoken for the mama who this precious boy in our home loves so deeply.

I came home with the weight of brokenness sitting heavy on my heart. A day later, it hasn’t yet lifted. So I hug our Baby D extra tight, snuggle him in close, and pray blessings over his little life, future still so uncertain. Smoothing his hair, rubbing his back, kissing his head, these are the tangible offerings I have for him even though I know they’re not enough to overcome what’s happening to him right now. He’s safe. He’s loved. But he’s still suffering. I believe in what we’re doing with all my soul, but this is not how it should be.

He’s not ‘lucky’ he’s with us. He’s not ‘fortunate’ to have been placed in our home. Nothing about this situation is lucky. Nothing about what’s happened to this sweet boy is fortunate. He’s sad. He’s traumatized. His family is broken, and he knows it. He will bear the scars from this the rest of his life.

We’re not doing ‘noble’ work. Nothing about this situation is noble. It’s messy and ugly and painful and sacrificial, and we do it because the children deserve every single bit of us. We pour ourselves out in love, not in misplaced piety. Far from offering a hand-out or a judgmental eye, we more often than not find ourselves side by side with the broken, with the needy. We’re living life alongside them. We’re crying with them, praying with them, taking them into our homes.

It’s not as easy as putting together a Christmas basket or serving a Thanksgiving meal. It’s not as satisfying as paying someone’s electric bill while they’re having a hard month. It’s not as simple as striking up a brief, meaningful conversation with someone you meet at a store or a park. (Nothing wrong with any of those things; we’ve done all of them.) It’s down and dirty, everyday, sacrificial work, even when I’d rather forget about it and try to live our happy little holiday party lives. I can’t do this stuff and go back to my regularly scheduled programming without my own life, my own family, my own home being affected.

Like it or not, we’re in the middle of the mess. Our kids are in the middle of the mess. This isn’t something we go and do on the weekends or holidays. It’s not a special church service event. It’s our lives. It’s daily. It’s unrelenting. It’s heart-wrenching.

And yet…we still expect hope. It’s because this is all worth it no matter how it turns out. The kids we bring into our home and love, whether for a time or forever, are worth it. The families we meet, share life with, share kids with, learn to love in the complicated middle of it, are worth it.

We expect hope will rise from even this pit, shining, lifting, pulling us through, keeping our eyes on the prize. In the end, the why and what and how of it is all about love – and for those of you who maybe haven’t read the ending yet (spoiler alert): love wins.

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