Thursday, May 13, 2010
Openness in Foster Care: Part 3
It was time to make a decision and open up our home to visits. We had built a great foundation and had an always civil and sometimes friendly relationship but this was a giant act of trust. Greg and Eric had taken far longer to warm to the girls' parents than Tanner and Caden. Greg and Eric viewed them through the lens of children who they themselves had been in foster care. Missed visits were met with anger and fierce feelings of protection for the babies. During visits, the boys tended to be possessive and protective - easy to redirect but I could still sense their reluctance to share the girls with biological extended family but also, mostly, reluctant to trust them with the babies they loved.
It took time, but we did want the girls to see us working together and we did want the girls parents to see where the babies were living. We still assumed the girls would be reunited with their parents, probably by November, and through my attachment lens, I did want the girls' parents participating in our daily routine of parenting. And so we gave our address.
And so they did. Once, twice, three times. But slowly, as their comfort with where the girls were and who the girls were with increased, so did the lure of their past. A month, maybe two would pass without a visit or a call. Their relationship ended and dad chose to step out of the parenting process completely.
Mom struggled to be consistent and make the changes she needed to make. It was a difficult time. It became clear that reunion was less and less likely to be imminent and our attachment to the girls became stronger. The future was increasingly difficult to predict.
One cool November afternoon I stopped off at the social worker's office to bring Miss Precious (remember baby girl #3?) to a visit with her parents. As I passed through the lobby I saw the girls' mother, sitting, waiting for an appointment with her social worker. We had not heard from her since the first week of September and I had been sick with worry as to her fate.
She hugged me. I hugged her aunt who was with her. We chatted and laughed like old friends. She asked about the girls and I shared stories of their growth, and how I showed Taya her picture every night before bed. Mom wiped a tear from her eye.
She asked me if I knew what tomorrow was. I did. Tomorrow was mediation where mom and her lawyer, and the social worker and their lawyer would sit down with a mediator and draw up a binding plan for permanency for the girls. Complete steps one through four and get your children back. Fail, and another plan is made.
Mom asked me to attend. She asked me to attend as HER support person. She asked me to attend as her friend.
Tomorrow came and I drove out to the trailer court where she was staying with a relative. They were supposed to join us but were too hung over to wake up. On the car ride over to the meeting room she asked if I would consider taking custody of the girls if she could not parent. I was in shock. She expressed her love, her desire to parent, her wish that she would do what it took, her intention to DO what it took, but she wanted to know if she couldn't, would I. I called Shel. Quite literally a 30 second conversation changed the course of our family.
We arrived at the meeting. Two social workers, two lawyers, a mediator, mom and me. Mom grabbed her lawyer and expressed her desires to her. She initially asked me to sit in on the meeting and I declined feeling it best for them to talk alone. They returned, before the rest of us even had a chance to sit down, with a 3 month plan for reunification and if that failed, a request that my husband and I apply for custody so as to avoid the girls being delegated to a life of foster care. What was supposed to be an 8 hour meeting settled in a matter of minutes. We all signed our names on the dotted lines.
Twice weekly visits, housing, counselling, therapy. If successful the girls would begin the process of return in February 2010 with reunion completed, by the lastest in August of 2010. If unsuccessful, the termination process would begin. We walked out of that meeting with her promises ringing in our ears. She would do it this time. She wanted to parent. She would, she could.
She didn't. Not for lack of love. Not for lack of desire. Not for lack of support. Simply, she couldn't. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Between that date and our February court date she made contact once. We showed up for that cold February day but she did not. The judge glanced down at the mediation agreement and asked if we were present. We stood. She asked us if we were still willing to parent the girls and we stated we were. She directed us to downstairs and file our custody papers immediately.
Thus began the 4 month roller coaster we had no idea how to get off of. It ended in a way I never dreamed possible, but the time in between was hell.