NOTE: Links to articles in this series: Fostering Part 1 | Fostering Part 2 | Fostering Part 3
By Dr. Robin Dyson
Certain days in your life stand out. You can remember details about those days better than one from just last week.
The day our children came into our lives, Oct 5, 2016, and the events leading up to that day are still very clear.
On a typical day, I’m busy in and out of patient encounters. My husband works a desk job, so he got the call from the Foster Care System. They asked if we would be willing to take three siblings. It was a Friday afternoon. He called me and we discussed it. Three kids. THREE. That’s a lot!
We had plans that weekend, and doubted we would find a babysitter for three new kids that quickly. I felt like three was an overwhelming number… our max number. My sister and I are 11 years apart, and were almost raised as only kids. My husband only had one sister growing up. We both worked full-time and our folks lived out of town. So we decided the timing wasn’t right. My husband called the Social Worker back and let her know that we were not going to be able to take them. One detail he left out… he told her to call back if they could not find anywhere else for the kids. (He has a soft heart.)
The weekend came and went.
We attended the concert and social events we’d planned. Monday came, no call. Then Tuesday came, and the Foster System called my husband back. The children had been put on a “Safety Plan” over the weekend and left in their house. But the Foster System checked on them and didn’t feel they were safe. The kids needed a foster family.
My husband called me at work again. He said the kids were unsafe and needed a place to stay. They needed us. I told him that he would have to really ‘step up to the challenge’ of three kids. We also discussed that this must be a ‘sign’ that they should be with us. He called the social worker back and said we would take them.
I thought we would get a call later that night and they would arrive, but no call and no kids. That really frustrated me because Wednesday was my late day to work. I thought I could spend Wednesday morning getting them registered for school, etc, but how could I do that without them there?
I didn’t know anything more about the kids except there were two boys and a girl ages 6, 7, and 9 years old.
Wednesday morning rolled around, then lunchtime, and nothing. So off to work I go. I let my husband know that he would have to ‘take care’ of getting the kids at this point because I was heading to work. I can’t leave a full-schedule of patients. Finally, Wednesday afternoon rolls around and he gets a call that they’re ‘on their way.’ I told him to take a picture of the kids when they arrived so I could see them. And I also wanted to know their names. A few hours later I got this:
We talked on the phone, and by that time I was working the evening Urgent Care walk-in. It was actually very slow, so I had some extra time. My partner for the evening was Dr. Dewitt, and because it was slow, and the kids needed a ‘foster check’ within the first 48 hours with us, I told him to go ahead and bring the kids in to work so Dr. Dewitt could do their ‘foster checks.’
When they arrived, the kids were CRAZY!
The youngest boy (6 year old) was in the waiting room running across the seats of the chairs. The middle girl (7 years old) was showing me that she could do cartwheels and the splits in the waiting room. And the oldest was a little more quiet. They were dirty, smelly, and wearing clothes that didn’t fit well. The youngest was a little chubby and in super-tight, size 4T ski pants without undies, and a size 7 long-sleeve shirt with shoes and no socks. The girl was in a 5T, very short skirt. And the 9 year old boy was wearing women’s size 29 jeans with a rope for a belt, shoes without socks, and a hoodie with the sleeves cut out. His little arms were so tiny, just skin and bones.
Dr. Dewitt did their exams and my husband took them home. I stopped by Target on the way home from work that night and bought them all some new clothes. It took three days of showering daily and wearing those new clothes to get the ‘smell’ off of them. I remember thinking that it was a privilege to do laundry because it meant these kids finally had clean and appropriately fitting clothes to wear. (Laundry is one of my least favorite chores!)
We got to know the kids and tried to get out and do some fun activities with them.
The activities included Faulkner’s Farm, where the pure joy on my youngest son’s face when the balloon-man was making things/telling jokes, warmed my heart. We took them to Boo at the Zoo, and seeing my daughter laughing as she came down the slide brought me joy. I try to capture those genuine moments when I can. We were at Minsky’s pizza for dinner one night when the kids asked us about when they would go back to their mom. We had to break the news that it would be a while… that it was up to the judge and not us or them. My oldest was very upset. I felt genuinely bad for him, but didn’t know exactly what to say. About two weeks into fostering them, my husband and I discussed that we would adopt them, if that was ever an option—as we were already growing to love these three cuties.
If you read part one of this story, you already know that on top of trying to have fun with the kids, keep them going to school and getting homework done, our house turned into a ‘welcome’ zone for case workers, therapists, etc.
We also had meetings and court dates to attend.
As you can imagine, my husband (who worked at a desk job downtown) had more flex in his schedule to attend these than I did with full days of patients scheduled. He definitely rose to the challenge. He was our voice in these meetings and court dates—not that a foster family has any rights.
I did attend one of the meetings early on when we were asked to bring the kids with us. There was a large round table in the room with toys and coloring books in a corner. The kids quickly found the toys and played. Their mom was supposed to attend, but was late due to car trouble, so we started the meeting without her. The kids were really disappointed their mom wasn’t there. About 30-45 minutes later, their mom showed up. She was very pretty, hair and makeup done, was wearing a skirt suit with heels and seemed very well put together. The kids were so happy to see her, it warmed my heart. The plan was that mom had criteria she needed to meet and eventually, once met, the kids would be reunified. She was given supervised parent visits with a parent aid. In my mind, this was a temporary situation where we would make sure the kids were safe, clean, well-fed, and would be returned as soon as mom met her requirements. These were her kids we were watching.
At first, this plan seemed to go well.
Parent aid would pick up the kids and they would have a ‘date’ with mom. My husband and I would have a break/date during this time. The problem was that the visits wouldn’t last as long as planned. The kids were in the park with mom, but it was cold and they didn’t want to stay there. They had already spent their tokens at Chuck E. Cheese and their mom didn’t have money to pay for any more. The kids were at McDonald’s, but had eaten and played and were ready to return, etc.
Then mom started canceling the meetings or not showing up at all. That was hard. It made us feel like we had to ‘make up’ for her short comings.
During this time, my husband and I were also still attending the last of our Spaulding training (classes required to adopt foster kids). During those classes, the foster system provided care/activities in a separate area for the kids. That class was on Friday evening.
On the way home, the kids started telling us about their abuse.
We had a therapist on Saturday mornings that would come to the house, so we asked the kids to hold off telling us any more. We wanted to wait until the morning when the therapist was present as she is the neutral party to discuss these things with. That next morning, the therapist arrived, and we let her know a few of the things the children told us. Things that weren’t the reasons we’d been told about how they’d gone into care. She took them to a separate area, one at a time, and spent a few minutes with each of them. She then came back to us and told us that it was worse than they’d started to share the night before. Then all of us—the therapist, my husband and I, and all the kids—sat at our kitchen table and spent a few hours talking.
The therapist led the discussion and the kids opened up about so many things that it made my head spin—and I sat there and cried. My oldest asked me why I was crying, and I told him because I cannot imagine anyone treating their children—a precious gift from God—that way, and especially not him, a child I’ve grown to love. It was that day that I knew these kids were going to be mine. That I would do whatever it took to keep them safe from the dark places they had come from. Needless to say, parent visits stopped.
The children’s case goal of reunification was changed to a goal of adoption.
There were more court dates. There was a mediation with the biological father (via speaker phone, since he lived out of state), his lawyer, and mediator about what his end would look like if we adopted the kids. There was a ‘staffing’ where we were selected as the adoptive ‘resource’ family. Parents relinquished their rights—this was their gift to their children and to us, that kids could have a safe, permanent home without a fight.
We then got a lawyer. A wonderful guy named Jim Waits, who doesn’t charge more than the foster system pays (so it was free for us!) and the paperwork was started. My daughter had been praying that she would be adopted on her birthday. So when Jim called us with potential dates for the adoption, and one option was her birthday—we chose that one. This was about 15 months after they’d arrived at our door.
I hired a photographer who captured the morning for us, and Will’s mom and step-dad were able to attend as well. When I got to work that afternoon, my work family at LSPG had a cake, balloons and gift cards for us. It was such a special day!