(A true story about a little boy in foster care system)
I picked Paul up from the playpen. He was a fat baby. At six months old he weighed twenty pounds. I threw him on my hip and headed for the kitchen to get the phone-it was DYFS, Division of Youth and Family Services. They had another child they wanted me to take. He was two years old and coming from another foster home because the foster parents had split up, and Mom was left at home without any electric. It was an “immediate withdrawal” as the case worker explained. Sounded like a military tactic. I told her I had to check with my husband and would call her right back. I decided it would be easier to talk on the phone without Paul on my now sadly sore hip so I put him back in the playpen. He was such a good baby. He just picked up a toy, looked at me with those big blue eyes and started chewing.
I called my husband, Larry and told him that DYFS had called with a placement. I explained the situation to him and asked what he thought
“Go for it. The child needs a home, which should be good enough.” he said.
I called the case worker back and she said she would be over within the hour. I was kind of shocked that it would be done so quickly. She explained that they were removing the child without notice to the foster parent and it could get ugly. All of a sudden I was very concerned. “What do you mean ugly?” I asked.
She explained that the foster parents have had the child from birth. His parents are both patients at the State mental facility. The foster parents were due to adopt the child but they split and DYFS just couldn’t have that. They wanted them together. She also explained that it was unacceptable that the foster mother did not have any electric. She did not alert the caregivers that she was coming. It all seemed a bit cruel to me. I could not understand why they would not help the woman with her electric. If the child was with a blood parent they would do everything in their power to keep the family together. This little boy only knew this woman as his mother. He had been with her his whole life. She was Mommy! It did not matter-he had to be removed.
I called Larry back and told him the little fella would arrive within the hour. His job was very flexible so he came straight home. He got there the same time the case worker did.
The case worker was a big woman. Probably five foot ten. She carried this little boy into the house. He had straight dark brown hair-a bit long and the deepest dark brown Spanish eyes I had ever seen. You could see that he had been crying. My heart went out to him. He didn’t know what was happening. He had just been ripped away from his Mommy. I went over and took him in my arms and sat down. He just starred off into space. The case worker, Eleanor, explained that Adam was two years old, his parents were patients at the State psychiatric hospital and somehow got together and produced this child. A cousin had been trying to get him for the past two years but it was clear that the foster parents would adopt until now, their split ended that. She said the father’s cousin would never get him because she lives in the same neighborhood as the father, and he was to have no contact with the child as well as the mother. The case was still in the courts but expected to be settled very soon.
Eleanor handed me one bag of clothing and told me to call her if I needed anything and then she left. So here we stood with this two year old child, so frightened, so confused. All we could do is hold him until he was ready to explore his new surroundings.
My two sons; Larry eleven years old and Craig nine, came home from school to find our new addition in the living room playing with Paul. I explained the situation to them and they went over and greeted him. They seemed pleased to have another foster child in the house. Adam took to them very quickly and began following them around every where they went. It was the days that they were at school that he sat in the living room and cried, “Mommy, Mommy,” It broke my heart to see him so sad. I would gather him up in my arms and sit him down and tell him that this was his new home and that we loved him very much.
We had placed a single bed in the nursery with Paul so Adam would not feel alone at night. He enjoyed having Paul with him. After putting them to bed I would hear Adam whispering to Paul; silly little things. Paul could not talk back of course but he would give an occasional giggle.
Our family tried to make life as normal as possible for Adam. We took him to Grandma’s, (my husband’s mother), which he loved. She always made a fuss over him. The first time she met him she held him in her lap and he picked up the big cross she wore around her neck and looked at her and said, “Jesus.” To say he was smart was an understatement. His vocabulary was impeccable for a two year old.
When we became foster parents we were told to assimilate the children into our home. Make them feel like they belonged BUT remember, they go back to their parents. The two boys that we had in our home were both up for adoption, there were no parents to go back to. We knew some day we would have to let them go, but try telling that to a heart that allows a child to nestle in where he feels safe. We fell in love with Paul and Adam. They became a part of our family. I put their pictures on the wall next to Larry and Craig’s. If we treated them differently, they would always know they didn’t belong and that is not why we became foster parents. We wanted to make a difference in the life of a child, however small, however short, if we gave enough love for him to carry the rest of his life, we had done our part.
Thanksgiving came with a slight chill in the air. I bundled Adam and Paul in some warm clothing and their new coats. The six of us loaded up in the car and headed for grandma’s for a feast. Adam was delighted. He ate everything he could get his hands on. He did not refuse any food, including the beets. He ate ravenously which caused me some concern. He did that at home but never to this extent. He ate so much that he eventually threw-up most of his dinner on grandma’s new carpet. I contacted my pediatrician on Monday for an appointment. Adam had already been there for a check-up but this binging was getting worst. I also, did not see any weight gain to account for the vast amounts of food that he was taking in. The doctor checked him for diabetes and a few other things that would explain his appetite. Everything was negative. The doctor explained that it could be his way of reacting to the trauma of losing his family. So we kept an eye on him for any changes. Eventually, he realized he did not have to gulp his food, and he would get plenty to eat. The binging got a little better as time went on.
It did not take long before Adam was potty trained, he learned everything so quickly yet, he continued to grieve his Mommy. I found out from the case worker that the foster parents had traveled to the State capital to try and get him back but they were refused. They were devastated at the loss. If they only knew that Adam was as devastated as them. If DYFS only cared.
I liked to make a game out cleaning the house. I would put some music on the radio, dance around dusting while Paul laughed in his playpen and Adam would dance with me. I had a canister vacuum cleaner and Adam would lie on top of it as I pulled it around the room. It was their fun time and it made my housework go faster.
One day while I was cooking dinner, Adam was playing on the floor nearby. I heard him say, “Mommy?” I looked down at him and he was pointing at me. He said it again with his little head turned to the side and like a light bulb had gone off he said, “Mommy-my home.”
I picked him up and gave him a big hug. I said, “Yes, Adam, this is your home.”
What was I to say? This child had taken us into his heart as well and found a home with us. He heard my children call me Mom, so that is who I must be.
I got a phone call one day from Eleanor giving me an update on Paul and Adam’s cases. Nothing new was happening with Paul but it looked like Adam was going to be released for adoption soon. I was a bit disappointed with the thought we would have to give him up. I asked her if they had an adoptive family and if not, how long it would take.
“Oh, that won’t be for some time yet,” she said.
About two weeks after that phone call, Eleanor called again. She told me that Adam’s case was heard and the judge released him for adoption and the husband’s cousin was granted the right to adopt him. I was flabbergasted! How can this be? She said the cousin would never get him because there would be contact with the father. If the court wanted him to be kept away from the father, why were they doing this? She had no answer and said she was as shocked as me. She said she would let Adam get used to the new family by arranging day visits once a week until he was ready to go with them.
I hung up the phone feeling numb. I looked at Adam and tears welled up in my eyes. I thought, I can’t believe they are doing this to you again.
We discussed the phone call at dinner, using code words so Adam would not know what we were talking about. My sons were as confused as us. Even as children, they understood that the move did not seem right, but we had no say in the matter.
A week later Eleanor picked up Adam for his first visit. He was gone about three hours and came home with a robot toy like a transformer. The visit was in the office and all went well. Eleanor said Adam was very friendly with his “soon-to-be family”. She thought that it went so well that she arranged another visit for the following week. I did get a little more information about the adoptive family. There was never any mention of a father in the family. The cousin worked in a day care center that was mostly Spanish speaking so Adam would get the opportunity to learn a new language. That is not very hard for a two year old, much easier than if he were an adult. He was also going to live in one of the worst, crime ridden cities in the state. Of course, we all know that urban life can be a wonderful experience for a child and there was no need to worry about his safety, he would be well cared for.
I could not help but worry about Adam and how another move would affect him. Eleanor assured me that children of his age soon forget. They are resilient, they bounce back. Those words did not bring me comfort.
By mid-week I got a phone call from Eleanor telling me that they had decided (DYFS) that Adam could go with his new family this following weekend. I was to have all of his possessions packed when she came to pick him up. I told her I didn’t understand, I thought he was going to get several visits, he didn’t know these people, it would be too traumatic for him! Evidently, what I thought or assumed, did not matter. I had no say, he was not my child.
The day that Adam left came all too soon. I did my best not to cry in front of him. I packed his bags and left them in his room so he would not see them until it was time to go. Eleanor was prompt and did not waste any time when she got into the house. I put Adam’s coat and hat on him and smiled and laughed about a trip he was going on. Eleanor picked him up and rushed him out to the car. He waved bye-bye, Mommy. My heart was breaking as I prayed for his life to be full of love and hope. She drove off with a life force that filled my house with laughter and wonderment. I hoped that this would be his last move and that the new Mommy waiting for him would be everything he needed.
Commentary: This story is meant to inspire people that feel a calling in their life to foster a child. As much as the system may fail many children, it is the only system that we have. Loving homes are the only answer to the pain some of these children experience.
According to national statistics, as of 2016, there were more than half a million children in foster care. Interested parties can contact their local children’s services for information on becoming a foster parent.
Note: Some names have been changed in this article for legalities. We never heard anything more about Adam after he left. He would be 35 years old today.