Teaching Love to a Foster Child

How do you define love? It’s honestly not something I’ve given much thought until this moment. I never really had to, I suppose. Growing up in the church, I remember hearing “God is love” a lot. But I never had to think about it, because I’ve always had it. Because I am privileged.

How To Define Love

If you actually look up the definition, it’s “an intense feeling of deep affection”. 

It’s a feeling; an abstract concept. It’s not a physical, tangible, “let’s show it off to the neighbors” kind of thing. So how do you explain it to a child?

I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t. Not accurately or effectively, anyway. Because love is taught through actions and by building trust with another person. A strong bond forms, that eventually turns into love.

But what if there’s no trust? 

What if the actions of others around you are erratic?

What if you’re 4 years old, and you can’t read, and you certainly cannot break down abstract concepts and you can barely color inside the lines of the heart shapes in your coloring book? 

Then what is Love to you? It’s “mommy is gonna buy me a blue transformer next week.” 

Tangible goods.

In other words, money CAN buy love. 

How Do You Teach Love?

So how do I explain that “your mommy loves you but…love is spending time with each other. Love is being kind to each other. Love is consistency. Love is keeping you safe. Love is teaching you how to function within society. Love is teaching you that there are rules. And establishing consequences when those rules are broken.”

Love is everything that you didn’t have.

So we try to teach (cram) 4 years worth of life lessons into the short time he is with us. Kindness, consistency, self-worth, laughter, truthfulness. We are trying to teach him all of these things, yet I am filled with such anger. 

Every inch of me rages. From the moment I wake up in the morning to the second I fall asleep at night, there is a dark cloud of hate that churns inside me. Every core of my being wants to fight: the system and the lawyers and the case managers and the therapists and the parents and judges and the politicians… because it’s all broken. And we are all failing. 

I want to help. I want to “be the change I want to see in the world”. I want to make a difference. 

But how do you teach a child love, when you’re so filled with hate?

Can he sense it? When he hugs me, does he feel my heart race? Am I just one more “do as I say, not as I do” example in his life? 

I hope not. Because as much as I hate this system, I love this little boy… even if I can’t define it. 

What you MUST know about court hearings in the foster care system

to illustrate the difficulties of navigating the court system when it comes to foster care in bay county, florida.

On May 15, a court hearing was scheduled regarding the case involving H’s mother. On Thursday, May 9, there was a death in my husband’s family. The funeral was the same week as the hearing, which would prevent me from being able to attend the court hearing.

Mind you, this particular hearing was not one of much importance as far as hearings go. I knew what the judge was going to ask, in regards to H’s mother’s case plan. I knew the requirements had not been met (i.e. proof of a job and stable housing). I also knew that the court would simply reprimand her and set the date for the next hearing where there was a slight possibility concurrent goals* would be recommended at that point.

Because I knew this, because the hearing took place at 8:30 am on Wednesday morning in Panama City (2 hours and 1 time zone away) and because I had a funeral to attend, on Friday morning, May 10th, I sent an email to the case manager and the attorney asking for a call in number as I couldn’t physically be present for the hearing.

There’s a “process” for everything…

To be honest, I didn’t think this would be an issue at all. The foster care system provided a call in number for the permanency staffing meeting that I sat in on in March. Additionally, multiple system workers informed me, because we were in Tallahassee, requesting a call in number was pretty routine stuff.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got a 5 paragraph email from the attorney telling me, in so many words, because I asked 5 days and not 7 days in advance, it would be impossible to provide me with a call in number.

So, first of all, I’m not asking them to build a handicap accessible railing to the courthouse with 5 days’ notice. I’m asking for a call in number. This isn’t the kind of thing that takes days (or even more than a few minutes) to set up.

But no matter. I’m going to let this go. Instead I follow up and say “no worries. Who can I contact to get a transcript from the court reporter?”.

I mean, that’s why they have court reporters, right?

…yet logical requests still get denied

I get a second email that states (and I quote): There is not a mechanism for a foster parent to receive a transcript of the proceeding. 

I’m furious (which is part of the reason it’s taken so long to get this blog post up. Every time I’ve sat down to write it, my blood starts to boil and I walk away).

But I’m also exhausted. This is a child who came to us with 13 cavities. We are his third placement. I’ve been asking for weeks to get him an eye appointment and months to get him into therapy to help control his self harm behaviors, but to no avail. His grandparents, who desperately want him, have been waiting 8 months for the paperwork to go through so they can take him.

I. Just. Can’t. Fight. Another. Battle.

On Tuesday before court, I walk to the mailbox, like I do every night, to check the mail.

There an official looking envelop inside, postmarked May 11, 2019.

In it is a letter, signed by the attorney. The same attorney who emailed me and said I didn’t give enough time to request a call in number.

The letter says:

The following hearing is scheduled in your dependency case at the Bay County Juvenile Justice Courthouse…you have the right to attend the hearing…if you would like to talk and listen by phone, let your case manager or caregiver know and they will attempt to make arrangements.”

The date on the letter itself is May 9, 2019. 7 days before the hearing.

That’s right. The official letter from the foster care system telling me I had the right to request a call in number, was written 7 days before the hearing. It was sent 5 days before. And it arrived 12 hours before. The letter made NO MENTION of needing to request a call in number 7 days in advance. Yet somehow, my request, which I made 5 days in advance (due to a death in the family), was “impossible” to fulfill.

It’s been a month. I’m still furious.

Concurrent Goals

*A concurrent goal is put in place if it seems like the parent is not making progress on their case plan (which they must successfully complete to regain custody of their child/children).

The goal of the state is always reunification with the biological parent. But, if progress isn’t being made by some (un)specified amount of time, a second (aka concurrent) goal will be set by the court. Generally, it’s adoption or permanent guardianship by a relative or non-relative caregiver.

This is to ensure the child doesn’t remain in “limbo” for over a year. Although children from Bay County, where H is from, routinely stay in foster care longer than a year. On August 8, H will have been in the Florida foster care system for 1 year.

Mother’s Day as a Foster Mom

My first Mother's Day as a foster mom has left me with mixed emotions.

Yesterday was weird. I felt like an impostor all day. So many people called, texted and emailed me wishing me a happy Mother’s Day. And it was so nice… but it still felt strange. Because H has a mom. And it isn’t me.

We were driving to Thomas’s mom’s house and I looked back at him staring out the window and I said “Whatcha thinking about?” And he said “my mom”.

We tried to call her, but her phone was out of minutes, so instead we talked about her and I told him I hoped he would get to see her soon.

Throughout the day, I think he had about 8 meltdowns. Perhaps they were more frequent because the routine this weekend was different. At school, there were more talks about moms and Mother’s Day, so that could have been the reason. Or maybe he was just tired. The past few nights he was up much later than usual.

But I do know by the 6th one, I was exhausted. And frustrated. I thought to myself, is he even going to remember this? Will he remember me? Our house? What are we even trying to do here? WHAT IS THE POINT? It is so easy to feel hopeless.

My first Mother's Day as a foster mom has left me with mixed emotions.
H enjoying a pre-dinner strawberry. This morning they were yucky. By 6 PM, they’re “SUPER yummy!”

Then later that night, we were sitting at dinner. I have been working with him on eating slower. He makes everything into a race. He’ll shovel food into his mouth and say “I’m beating you!”

However, tonight was different. He was dawdling. His TV privileges were revoked and I think he knew the end of dinner meant bedtime, which, like every 4 year old, he wasn’t ready for.

To speed things along, I took a bite of my food and said, “I’m almost done. You’re slow!”

He looked at me and solemnly said “it’s not a race, Woo-sy!”

Which is something I say to him every time we eat. Something I’ve said to him since the first day he ate dinner at our house.

And it gave me hope. Maybe he will remember us. Maybe we are making a difference after all.

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