I haven’t written in a while. Honestly it’s been over a month and I can’t wrap my head around how that happened and how fast time seems to move around here. Every time I start to think about a post and what I want to share with you, I draw a blank.
I’m pretty good about sharing funny stories or offering an anecdote when I want to teach a new idea. I can talk with you about love and about loss and can easily walk you through the steps of becoming certified. I can give you resources on how to advocate for the children in July your care and what to expect at an mdt meeting.
I can do all of those things, but for the last month I have struggled with what to say, not because I don’t have knowledge, but because for the last month I have felt angry. Angry is harder for me to process and sometimes I don’t know how to share that feeling without saying hurtful things or sharing too much information. Angry is uncomfortable. Angry is harder to process. But sometimes in foster care, angry is the status quo.
I painted this picture this month in an attempt to process some of the frustrations that come with being a foster parent. I painted a girl sitting among a pile of trash bags because sometimes it feels like children (and especially foster children) in our society are viewed as disposable.
When biological parents slip up and forget to put their children first, it feels like they are being thrown away. When social workers fail to think of the child’s needs over the parents, it feels like they are being discard again. When over and over again, we advocate to deaf ears, it feels like the children we are loving and caring for are worth no more to the people around them than the bags of trash surrounding this girl.
Not every day feels like this but, if I’m being honest, some days do. Some days, no matter how optimistic of a person I am, it’s hard to find the silver lining. It’s hard to keep believing that “it will all work out in the end.” Some of those days, when emails go unanswered and slip ups get brushed under the rug it’s hard to feel that we are out here doing any good at all. It’s hard to feel anything at all other than…angry.
So what comes next? Now that I have acknowledged the anger, stewed over it, painted it, stayed awake with it, and looked it in the face…what comes next? For some people, anger is a motivator to do more, to be more. For me, though, it’s draining and distracting. I can’t be the best version of myself and the parent my children need most if I’m angry. While it’s good to face it, and even sit with it for a bit, I need to be able to move past it.
We all know that the foster care system is a mess. It is filled with communication problems, misconceptions, corruption, abuse, and a constant influx of children needing more help than we can give. The need is often so much greater than the system can handle and it breaks down, sometimes right in the places we need it to be the strongest. How do we see that, understand it to be true, and still move forward with hope and optimism for the future of the children we care for.
What I do my best to remember is that though the system is a mess, so many of its workers are not. I have met case workers who are available 24/7 to the children they serve. They know their names and their favorite dinosaur and they bring them little gifts when they visit. I have met CASA volunteers who give of their time and resources to be a voice for children who have none and to advocate for them with everything they have. I have seen judges who remember to look up from their paperwork and look into the eyes of the children they are tasked with protecting. I have seen biological parents put down their needles and drugs so they can fill their arms with their children instead. Yes, the bad is there, but so is the good.
When I get angry, I look for the good. I read stories of successful reunifications. I think about the growth the children in my home have experienced once they were in a safe environment. I google happy adoption stories where children were pulled from the system and given a new start in life. I read stories about adults who, looking back on their lives in foster care, can point to that one family and remember the difference they made.
As a foster parent I have very little say in what happens in the court cases of the children in my care. I usually don’t decide visit schedules and judges don’t ask me if I think children should go home to their parents or not. It’s not up to me where they live, but while they are in my care, it is up to me how they live.
If I’m not marinating in my anger, I can show them how to love. If I’m not holding tight to the frustration of a court ruling, I can help them adapt and prepare for the changes that could be coming. If I can fuel this journey with love, it will carry through not only to the children in my care, but also to the adults who work with them.
For the CASA workers who don’t know if they can handle another heart-breaking case. For the foster parent who feels unheard. For the social worker who continues to take the time and do what’s right, even when it’s harder. For all of us working with integrity and excellence in this broken system…keep going. Keep fighting back the anger, replacing it with determination and love. It makes a difference to the children you reach.
It has to.