Foster Care – It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint
I don’t really know how to begin explaining why our family is embarking on this journey into Cuyahoga County foster care and (hopefully) adoption through the state. It’s a terrifying journey filled with lots more critics than support. It’s time consuming, emotionally exhausting, and the home study itself is possibly the most personally invasive paperwork I have ever filled out (and I had a top-secret security clearance years ago). There’s a literal checklist of physical and mental characteristics for these children – yes, we’ll take a kid with learning disabilities, no we won’t take a kid with a gang background … the paperwork alone for this process would scare away quite a few good souls just wanting to help. For me personally, this journey is one I’ve wanted to take for as long as I can remember. My husband is willingly along for the ride.
Here’s the thing about foster care – you only ever hear the bad stuff, but there’s SO MUCH GOOD in this system. It’s a system, yes, and it’s flawed beyond any rational human understanding, and yes it can (and has) caused more harm than good, but its intent? Protect our children from harm. Social workers take this unbelievably flawed system and work within it to help a flawed society protect its most vulnerable. They’re subjected to bad laws and regulations, they’re underpaid, they’re overworked, and literally every day they have to make decisions that impact the lives of children irreversibly. Each state is different (Cuyahoga County foster care has had a pretty rough few years recently), but those facts remain true for all of them. They deserve a lot more support, a lot more funding, a bigger voice in state and federal government – but these are big goals that require big support. The best way to make an impact on those children more immediately is to work within the system.
When we tell friends and family about applying to be foster parents, we get quite a few different responses. We those who are afraid for us, worried that bringing another child into our family with a questionable (or completely unknown) background could cause irreversible harm to our family dynamic. We could be irreversibly harmed ourselves if we fall in love with a child and ultimately the state decides they belong back with their birth parents. There are a lot of scary unknowns in the Cuyahoga County foster care (and foster care in general), and I don’t blame those who care about us for being worried. We also have those who are nothing but supportive & proud. My husband and I are somewhere in the middle, fearful but plowing forward because we are called to do so. We’re not terribly religious people, but that’s the best way I can explain this journey.
The goal of foster care is almost always reunification with birth parents, and rightfully so. This is true for Cuyahoga County foster care as well as all other foster care programs in Ohio. There are plenty of people out there (quite a few of them case workers and foster parents) who don’t agree with this strategy, but from a macro point of view, this is the right course of action. Adoption, no matter what the circumstances, is a traumatic event. It’s a natural curiosity – a blood quest you could call it – to want to know about your birth family. The state should have a high bar for justifying severing parental rights, and parents should have adequate opportunities to get their children back. In the macro view, reunification is the best outcome for children and parents alike. In the microcosm of your family, your particular case, your child, it’s easy to lose sight of that. Your heart will break for these kids, you should expect that. For me, this is still the path forward. They way I see it is this: if you can play a role in the system actually working, you’ve done that child a world of good, society a world of good, yourself a world of good. You’ve made an irreversible positive impact in an entire network of lives. This is true no matter what the case outcome – adoption or reunification. We are trying our best to keep our eyes and hearts open to whatever comes our way.
As most of you are probably aware, Ohio is ground zero for the opiod crisis. One of the unfortunate impacts of this crisis is the number and age of children in foster care here. Five years ago, the average age of a child in state care was 8, and if the statistics I’ve read are correct, now it’s just over 3. We’ve heard rumors of infants in state custody without parental rights, the result of addicted mothers giving birth and walking away. Hospitals have entire wings dedicated to detoxing infants born addicted, and many are looking for volunteers to just come and hold & soothe these infants as they go through painful withdrawal. Our kids are 2 and 4 as I write this and so many people have asked us ‘why now?’ This is why.
We started this journey in earnest in August and we’re about halfway there. We’ve done the 36 hours of mandatory training required by the state of Ohio to become licensed foster parents and submitted our application. We’ve gathered 2/3 of the required paperwork for our home study and made the required doctors appointments for all of our family members. We’ve met with our home study case worker one of the mandatory 3 times. Our references have been contacted, some have responded. It’s a process, this journey. A marathon, not a sprint. One foot in front of the other.
Until next time …