Foster Care and Parenting, What is in a Number
We welcomed eight children into our home between March 2020 and today, we have had twenty five children placed as foster children since 2015, and an additional five as respite placements. These numbers look so bland on paper. Thirty children have been part of our daily living in the last six years, we have nine of our own children. In putting some thoughts on paper about what these numbers mean, it boils down to acceptance and hard work.
If anyone is new to the Otis family speak, "our own" is a loaded term. We have five biological children and four adopted children. Early on one of our sons told us the power of the question "which ones are your own?" And the fact that I answered without hesitation all those years ago, "they are all our children" from birth or adoption, feeling fully accepted and claimed has become the way we walk in this family. This does not take away the respect and open conversation about birth families, first families and sacrifice. Fully becoming part of a family doesn't mean anything else needs to be rejected. Being part of our family in entering in, as you are, fully loved, while we learn over a lifetime how to support each other.
In foster care this challenge is much more pronounced. We are truly a safe landing zone for a child while a family heals, does treatment, finds housing, or does their work to have their child come home. Our goal to to reunify families. When we entered into foster care I had so much to learn. I had a crash course in how poverty can look like neglect, how abuse can be hidden with in layers of paperwork, how race needs to be talked about, how first phone conversations after placement are essential. So much to learn, and so much I have learned.
There are times I am exhausted, lack of sleep is one reason, but another is how much pain and suffering surrounds addiction and dysfunction. Breaking cycles of children growing up in child welfare is a very real challenge. Rarely in these thirty cases have there been families of origin who simply just don't care. There are those, and to me those are the most scary because indifference can be seen as stability, which it is not. But the majority of these cases have people who deeply and truly love the removed children. Some who get their life in order, some who just got on the wrong side of a fast moving train and have a long road of getting re connected, some who love their child but just can't care for that child safely. The last being the largest group we have walked alongside.
Foster care is family care, it is not just rocking a baby at night. It is walking along side mess, heartache and confusion and trying to always see new perspective. Foster care is middle of the night rocking someone who lost everything that has been comforting. It is bins of clothes that won't fill the hole of smells they know. Foster care is so much trial and error. Textures, smells, foods, sounds that bring comfort and ease. I can see in a child's body when I find something that works, when the body relaxes, when a smile peaks out, when after trying eight blankets, the ninth is a winner. This does not make me a saint, honestly I think it makes me a hard worker. I am willing to work hard for these small in humans in our community who have lost what they know. Wound care, digestive issues, google phone numbers, car seat installation, navigating WIC or EBT with families, having hours notice for a new placement to arrive, endless medical visits, being there for late night texts when a child goes home and a caregiver is feeling alone. That run on sentence is a job description for a foster care provider.
Foster care has also impacted our children. We are always checking in and balancing their needs and contrary to popular belief, say no to placements far more often than we say yes. Of the thirty children placed in our home, eight, I have picked up from the birth center at a local hospital. The placement length varies from six weeks to eighteen months, but saying goodbye to a child you have poured into since hospital discharge, is so deeply challenging. For the families that heal ; it is worth it. For the families that break; I know we have work to do. We being the county, foster providers, first families that need to do the work. One of my goals is to work on understanding local resources for addiction, housing and mental health advocacy. It feels like a piece that will allow me to be an even more effective advocate in this world.