Like the three that came before, we didn’t plan these children. And, like the others, we wanted them very much once we found out they would become part of our family. The waiting was a little longer this time though; I could have had three more babies from the time our girls first came to live with us until the day their adoption became final.
While I gained the inevitable weight that comes with pregnancy, the journey this time through the famously flawed foster care system helped me to lose weight. Of course I’m older now than I was when my boys were little, but I’ve learned that most kids in “the system” require a little more effort than the ones the stork brings. You may have to “undo” some bad habits, teach things they should have learned long before, reassure them and comfort them above and beyond what your own newborn ever required. In addition, you have many different appointments and visitations to cram into your schedule. Neglected teeth may require extensive dental work; poor nutrition or general lack of health care may have you spending hours in doctors’ waiting rooms. And unless they’re placed while very young, they almost always are referred for counseling. These poor babies don’t understand why they’re separated from their families (even dysfunctional families are sorely missed by their children) and often they are moved several times from stranger to stranger, requiring them to adapt to new schools and different family rules. Is it any wonder they act out in frustration and anger? The kids can keep you jumping! But they are the easy part in the equation.
Don’t consider fostering if you relish your privacy. Just to be considered, every facet of your life will be pried into and investigated. You will be asked where you resided and with whom you lived with for the past 30 years. They will do a background check and fingerprint every person living in your home. Each year they want copies of your pay stubs, W-2’s, car registrations, and home and auto insurance policies. It’s amazing that an inappropriate foster parent slips through these rigorous background checks!
Once a child is placed, you can expect weekly home visits and phone calls from at least one caseworker. We didn’t work directly with the county so we had our agency caseworker and a county caseworker. They are supposed to be there not only to ensure the safety of the child, but to guide and help the foster parents. Sadly, this is just a dream. In our experience, most of the caseworkers knew less than we did. At least we knew how to raise kids! They often couldn’t even help us with the things we needed to know about the foster care rules–which was supposed to be their area of expertise. Even the few who actually cared often gave us wrong information or didn’t know enough to guide us to resources that I somehow managed to find on my own through dumb luck or sheer desperation! Yet we were expected to complete all of our paperwork and monthly trainings on time–while taking good care of our kids, getting them to bi-weekly family visitations an hour away, and breaking in brand-spanking new caseworkers every few months.
The adoption process was even more intense. Even though our kids had lived with us pretty much for the past two-and-a-half years and we were currently approved foster parents, we had to get more references, more background checks and fingerprinted again. We had home inspections requiring the craziest things (like all meds–even refrigerated Amoxicillin that the kids may be taking–had to be in a separate LOCKED container) and weekly visits with an adoption caseworker (thank goodness my agency found this wonderful knowledgeable woman they hired as an independent contractor who led us through this whole process because our agency didn’t know squat and we never saw or heard from our county worker). We waited…and waited…to get our adoption date after completing all the requirements. We signed the papers at the attorneys office. We waited some more–pretty much giving up on the hope that it would take place before the end of the year has it had been semi-promised.
We finally got the call in mid-December. One week before Christmas (and five days after hubby’s knee replacement surgery) we took the hour drive with a borrowed Handicapped placard so I could park across the street from the courthouse and help Big Daddy hobble to the door with our girls in their pretty dresses and tights. We signed some papers. We each sat at the witness stand and answered some questions. Bonus Child hugged and clung to me while we sat and listened to Big Daddy answer his questions. A caseworker led Bonus Baby to a back room to color when she got too antsy to sit still. We got some pictures with the judge. And it was over. Months of prep. A half-hour in court. The girls are legally ours!
Bonus Baby flashed the biggest smile when I told her she’d never have to see another caseworker. And last week, when I called her my little friend, she looked at me like I was nuts and said, “I’m not your friend, I’m your daugh-ter”, dragging out the last word slowly and deliberately just in case her poor mommy was too dumb to understand.