A Return to Foster Care
Three weeks ago Wednesday was a “sit by the phone” day.
The day before, Bill and I had completed the licensing process for receiving a foster child in need of adoption. Wednesday was the day that our family was to be presented to the social workers in charge of placement. Our licensing worker would explain to the placement workers the type of child we thought would best fit in our family and the placement workers would look at the children in the system and match us with one of them. We had requested a girl under four with minimal physical and mental limitations. Her bed was set up in Jamie’s room.
For the past month, after our usual dinner prayer, one person in the family would pray for the child who would be sent to us. We prayed that it would be the right child — a good fit for our family. We prayed for whatever that child had gone through that landed her in foster care would be something we could help heal. We prayed that we’d be given the wisdom, insight and patience we needed once she came.
As I waited for the phone to ring that Wednesday, I considered the possibilities. I wondered if the little girl would be more toddler or preschooler. I wondered what her ethnic background would be, and whether she’d be quiet and reserved or lively and outgoing. I wondered about her birth parents and whether it would be a smooth transition from foster care to adoption, like Jamie’s was, or if extenuating circumstances would drag the process out or send her back to a relative. My mind swirled with the both the worries and the joy of foster care — the possibilities of attachment disorders and fetal alcohol syndrome; the amazing miracle of an abused, abandoned or neglected child being given a fresh start.
As I waited for the phone to ring, I remembered waiting for past foster children. My mind went to Luchita, our first foster daughter, who was sent to live with her grandma after a month with us. I remembered when the phone rang for our second foster child Teenasia, who came, at age 1, just a few days after Luchita left, and stayed until she was a little over 2. We didn’t feel good about the situation she was being returned to, and our hesitations proved right. Two years later, she was in our home once again as a foster child. Teenasia stayed with us just five months the second time before being returned once again to her biological father. That was almost exactly a year ago, we had not seen her since. My mind tried to close the door on T in favor of happier foster care moments. I remembered the fuzzy faxed picture of smiling toddler Jamie that we received the day before we went to meet her. My mind settled on the Jamie memory.
I was hoping for another Jamie.
But the phone didn’t ring. It didn’t ring, and it didn’t ring, and it didn’t ring. Our house had never had such a quiet day. Finally, at four o’clock, unable to stand it any longer, I called Anna, our licensing worker.
“Annemarie, I’m so happy that you called,” she said. “I have amazing news for you. We were just going to place you with a child when one of the social workers looked at the computer for the display of the children who entered foster care today. Teenasia was just detained five minutes ago. The social worker remembered her name from when she was in foster care with you last year and knew that you’re licensed again. T is at Children’s Hospital now, being checked. She’s back in foster care. She needs placement tonight.”
Teenasia needed placement tonight. Not two days ago, when we would not yet have been licensed. Not tomorrow night, when we would have been matched with another child. She needed placement tonight.
After a day of waiting for the phone to ring, five months of working on being licensed again, so many late night talks, it was T who would be delivered to us again?
T was the girl we had been praying for without even knowing it. My mind kept bumping into things as I struggled to understand the news. We weren’t receiving a pre-adoptive placement. It wasn’t a toddler or preschool mystery girl. It was T, who we knew, and loved. And who we had let go of twice before. The magnitude of God’s timing overwhelmed me.
Bill came home from work, and together, we wept, then pulled ourselves together and quickly straightened up the house so the social worker might think we were a neat family. We ordered pizza so that it would be hot when T arrived. Cheese pizza-- her favorite.
About 30 minutes later six-year-old Teenasia was on the porch with a social worker. She bounded through the door, into our arms, then dashed off with Jamie to see the toys she remembered from last year.
As we filled out paperwork, the social worker told Bill and me that she had waited until she was driving to our house to tell T where she was going. Despite what they’ve been through, she said, not all foster children react well to the news they’re not going back to their parents.
“What did Teenasia say when you told her?” I asked.
“She said that God had answered her prayer,” the social worker said. “She said she had been praying that she could stop being hurt and go to live with you again, and now it was coming true.”
We were praying for each other, Teenasia.