Monday, May 18, 2009

Letting Go

A few weeks ago, I declined a placement. That means I said "no" to a nine-year-old, needy little girl who's been in a residential treatment center (like a step above a mental hospital) since she was six. Three years of growing up institutionalized. Not in a home. Not with a mommy or a daddy, or any facsimile. Not with her brothers or her sisters (she has five, all in foster homes). No one to tuck her in at night. In fact, according to her paperwork, she often has great distress around bedtime, and has to spend time in the "quiet room". Think a little bigger than a closet. Empty so the child won't hurt herself.

How horrible is that? Put a six, seven, eight year-old girl in a "quiet room" by herself right before bed time? Doesn't the staff have time to read with her, pray with her, kiss her good night? Oh, that's right. They have ten other children in their Cottage (cute name, like a fairy tale or a vacation resort) to get to bed. Oh, and there's no religious indoctrination, so no prayers to comfort the little girl.

Hey, grow up kid. This is a tough world if you haven't figured that out yet. Maybe the fact that before you came to us you were ripped from your home by policemen, medicated, restrained, and moved into several different homes before you landed up in our "treatment facility" should have clued you in. No wonder you don't want to go to bed at night.

The agency I work for brought me her packet. The packet is the thick pile of paperwork that covers much - not all - of a child's life in the system. It includes things like Psych evals, school IEP's (Individual Education Plan, for the "special" kids), and various social worker weekly, quarterly, and annual reviews of her behaviors, placements, medical stuff, etc. It also has court records, that talk about the circumstances of her removal from home and her parent's progress (or lack thereof) toward getting her back, visitation orders, blah blah, blah. They're pretty scary things. Even for an experienced foster parent.

But something in her packet spoke to me. Her age, for one thing. She's still so darned young. My other kids at home are four, eight and nine. She could really fit in. Plus, I have another bedroom. And most importantly, I am pretty certain I could help her. I have years of experience with damaged children. She's at an age where she could definitely stabilize given some serious family time with lots of love and boundaries and hugs. I've seen it happen, and something in her packet called to me.

Now here's the stinky part: I just couldn't say yes. I thought I could. I mentally planned getting the extra bedroom ready, who to contact at our local elementary school, checked into how her visits with her siblings went, talked with my agency about getting a special approval on my foster license for her. . . and the morning of what was to be our first meeting, I canceled.

This hurt on so many levels. The little girl didn't know about me (thankfully), so it wasn't about letting her down, but it really killed me to recognize my own weakness. To actually admit to myself and to the professionals I work with that I couldn't, in fact, do it all. It hurt to leave her there, to not be her rescuer. This thought led me to a twinge of self-awareness: why do I think I am the only rescuer for her? Then I argue: I know the statistics. I know she is unlikely to find a home given all her needs. It's hard enough to get people to take one typical kiddo; these more "involved" children rarely get placed in good, loving homes.

But I can't do it. I can't take another baby girl with intense, high needs and: a) take decent care of the brood I already have; b) get my own act together; which leads to c) a is dependent on b. And adding baby girl would lead to: d) me moving into a state hospital. The whole house of cards would collapse.

My heart is heavy, though. I want so badly to be the instrument God uses to reach this little girl; and that one, and that one, and that one. . .

"learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause."

Isaiah 1:17

May is Foster Care Awareness Month: My personal prayer is that every family, every person who can, would check his or her heart and see if he, if she, has room for just one child. Just one. Please consider it. Please honestly consider what you can do as part of your community to help one hurting child in a way that is meaningful and maybe sacrificial. They are our children, and our future. Thank you.


  1. I feel for your position Jathleen and applaud your kind-heartedness. It is not yet the right time for us, but maybe one day in the future I will consider fostering.
    As for now, rest assured that you are correct- you cannot do everything. But, you can pray for her. That is in itself helping her as much as you can.

  2. oops, typo on your name above. Geesh! Sorry Kathleen!