One of my favorite family pics of almost all of us a few years ago!

Monday, July 9, 2012


My heart is heavy today.  I feel virtually alone (except for my husband) in our mission to help the children.  I know that is not totally true, but today it feels that way.  I think it is because my adult kids are telling me that people think that we are so crazy that we scare them away from our family - and more particularly - from helping our family manage so many children. And the truth is, we really do need some help to keep our heads above water at times. And sometimes, I just need a break and can't get one - either physically or emotionally. And that is hard. And lonely.

I feel like I'm just exercising self-pity and that I need to stop whining and keep working because in the scheme of our little, privileged American lives, we are just fine. We call them First World Problems.  That's what I tell my children when they are whining that life is hard.  But today, I'm going to indulge myself, at least until I finish writing.  

I don't cry often, especially not while typing on my computer in a public place. So when I do, everyone knows that I have reached my emotional limits.  And they usually pay attention. Because I can't fake cry.  

So now I have to consider whether there are other factors influencing my tears. Like the fact that I went to visit the parents of a 20-year-old that was killed in a car accident on Tuesday, and she was in the same room, in the exact same spot where I had to view Heather's body for the first and only time after she died.  I cried for them. And I cried for me.  

So maybe that was part of it, but my tears are for so much more than that. I hurt for the hurting children, even my birth children who are overwhelmed by the needs of so many. I hurt. And I want to help, but I know that I can't do it alone. But I feel so alone.  

Let me see if I can explain why I feel so overwhelmed by the hurt of others... 

There are about 408,000 foster children in the United States. The system is designed to be a temporary solution to a problem, giving parents approximately 12-15 months to regroup, accept help, and regain custody of their children.

Not surprisingly, according to 2010 data, 34% of children had been in foster care for at least 2 years. (  Many of these children linger in the system for many more years, while their parents are given opportunities to regain custody of their children.

During this time and after, someone must be a guardian of the children. If not the parent or another willing family member or person, then the state social service agency is mandated to take on that role on behalf of the child. When the state is the mandated guardian, children are placed into the foster care system.

For a large percentage of foster children, the sad truth is that they will never go home.  However, by the time parental rights are finally terminated on the children who do not go home, many have been moved from placement to placement and are emotionally unstable, or are simply "too old" for most families considering adoption. (Old in adoption terms is as young as 3-years-old. Too old is about 6 to 8- years-old.)  As a result, these children may continue to move from placement to placement until they age-out of the state system. And for those older children fortunate enough to be adopted, statistics show that about 25% of those adoptions will disrupt or dissolve, placing the child back into the social service system. 

Permanency in some setting is the only hope.  For 17 years, our family has been willing and ready to accept financial responsibility and take on the parental role, when the birth parents can’t and the state isn’t the best long-term solution. We do that through long-term foster care placement, legal guardianship and adoption, depending on what best fits the situation.

NOTE:  Legal guardianship has been our solution for 11 of our kids.  It is simple, but also expensive because there is no state stipend.  And it is not necessarily appropriate in every situation. In other words, this isn’t a substitute for adoption – which is ideal but not always possible.  This is a substitute for children that might otherwise linger in foster care, and it is a way for to prevent our foster children’s children from entering the foster care system in the first place.  

So what difference does permanency make?

Almost without exception, no matter how bad things are at home, children in foster care want to be reunited with their birth families. This does not mean that they liked their situation.  It does not mean that they wanted to be abused or neglected. It doesn’t mean anything except that they have lost what should be the most significant relationship in their childhood.  And that is a terrible loss for anyone – especially a fragile child.

Unfortunately, placement in a foster home or in a group facility or even a psychiatric institution (which is an option for rebellious teens or those for whom there is no other placement) doesn’t magically solve the problems at home, nor does it make a child feel safe and secure.

Quite the contrary. Being uprooted from everything that is familiar and moved into a new family group – even if it is a loving, warm, safe place with happy people that welcome and want the new child – doesn’t negate the feelings of loss and abandonment these children feel.

Add to that the undeniable feelings that they don’t quite fit in. And that they are forced to form new relationships. Eat new food. Be exposed to new ideas. Change schools. Lose friends. And so much more.

Even if everything is good.  It is still unbelievably hard. And the truth is, it isn’t always good.

Making matters worse is the loss of siblings. Although most social service agencies prefer to put siblings together, the truth is siblings are often separated because homes are not available for multiple children, or because a large number of foster families do not want older school-age children because they tend to have more challenging issues.  This means that a group of siblings with an older child may be dispersed to different homes, perhaps even in different counties – leaving the older children in group placements or institutions.

And teen mom’s, who are foster children themselves, frequently find that their own children are placed into foster care because the teen mom has limited family, financial and emotional resources. So the cycle continues.

Not exactly ideal, is it?  Now imagine having to endure that life-altering change repeatedly. Without warning.  Imagine being moved after a month, just when you don't wake up every hour with nightmares, and you never see that family again. And then again 6 months later. And then again. And repeating this process over and over again until the child is 18-years-old, when he usually leaves the system to fend for himself.

Can we honestly say these children are better off than they would have been in their own birth family? The issues may be different, but the emotional trauma caused by a lack of permanency may never be erased.

Permanency is almost always the first step in establishing stability, which still takes years to achieve.  In the interim, the problems caused by the original abuse and neglect must be managed, as does grieving the loss of the birth family, and adjusting to each new placement. There must be a starting point for recovery from all this trauma.

So what if we could change that for at least some of the children?  What if some of these children were taken in by families willing to make permanent commitments to these kids, either through adoption, or as long-term foster children or legal guardians – knowing that these children may never be legally adoptable.  And what if that family was committed to keeping sibling groups together, taking older children – even with problems, and giving them all permanency?

To create the permanency you must have someone willing to accept full financial and personal responsibility. And therein lies the problem. None of this is easy and many people don't like hard. Or worse, they start but don't endure the tough route. And that makes me very sad.

I asked one of my young adult children who has been part of our family for over 10 years, how she felt about her situation now that she is an adult. Her answer tells the whole story.

“Even though ya’ll gave me permanency and I’ve had stability for a over 10 years, I’m just now able to start dealing with my past, which still bites me in the butt!  Ya’ll have continued to support me emotionally and financially – even giving me health insurance and helping me get into college. You would allow me to move back home if I needed to. Without all of that, I would be S.O.L. (So outta luck!)

When I was growing up, I always hoped I would get to go back home.  I even left ya’ll and tried a group home to see if it would be better. But ya’ll took me back.  If you hadn’t, I would have stayed in the group home until I was 18 and I would have felt lost and alone, thinking I had no one.  I want a different life for myself than my birth family, who has never been able to help me. Without this family, I would still be trying to find out who to turn to for help, for insurance, for advice, for stability, for love and for a place to call home.

I totally get what she is saying.  Early on we were simply her long-term foster parents. And life with this child wasn’t smooth and easy just because we offered her permanency.  She hated us for a time, which is why she voluntarily left our home for a group home. And as much as we hated her leaving, we knew she needed to explore her options. If we left the option open and she chose to come back home, it felt better for all of us.    

She is well into adulthood.  Life has been challenging.  But now that she knows that we will be by her side.  That we are her forever family and she can still be in relationship with her birth family without depending on them.  Now that she is sure she can make lots of mistakes and we will still love her.  Only now is she ready to dig deeply into her past and try to resolve those issues.  Without permanency, she would more likely be repeating the cycle of her parents – not learning and growing and helping others.

So I'm sad because the problem is so huge and we are so small and so inefficient and so ill-equipped and so flawed.  And there aren't enough other people willing to accept this tremendous responsibility - as evidenced by 135,000 kids who are currently available and waiting for adoption in the United States. And there aren't even enough willing people to help the people that do accept the responsibility. And today, I'm not only sad, but I'm also mad.

Guilt can't call you into this mission.  In fact, I tell anyone considering this that if they are not called, then it will be short term because there are a thousand reasons to quit every day.  But if you are called, you cannot quit.  And that is our position.

So, although we are all called by God to take care of the orphans, we don't do a very good job.  And that makes me cry.


  1. I just found your blog thru Cindy Bodies'. I absolutely love your writing! I only have 10 children (6 adopted thru our foster care system in MI) and always envisioned more, but it's not looking like that may happen now. We always had a heart for large sibling groups - we did get one group of 3 - but apparently MI will not do interstate compacts (contracts?) so the really big groups of 5-7 in other states are off limits to us. Sometimes I will see a group of 3 in MI awaiting adoption and the narrative will say that they need to stay in contact with other siblings placed elsewhere - that kills me because I would have taken them all. We are a "always room for one more" family. I do alot of respite, but it's not quite the same.

    I think we have alot of the same personality traits. I used to feel so guilty that I felt resentful and royally ticked off at the life I had - even if I chose it - but now I realize that I am no saint, never claimed to be, and to feel anything but resentful when people are spewing their ugliness all over your hard work and acts of kindness would just be weird. Everyone has their limit. I have a friend who's done this about 10 yrs. longer than I and she puts up/handles so... much more than I ever could. Someone else I know wouldn't put up with half of what I do - we all have our lines.

  2. I think you said it well - it would be weird to not be bothered when the very people I bust my butt to help are the ones who least appreciate it. Oh well. Such is the nature of the job!

    The "S" word is a bad word in our house. My mom fostered children for many years and when she was in her 40's I specifically recall every person who ever met her calling her a "saint." Fortunately, my mom was wise enough to understand that it would be dangerous to believe that she was something special. She used to tell me, the higher the pedestal, the further the fall. She understood that she was only a step away from falling at any moment.

    When I grew up and became a foster mom, no one called me a saint until I, too, was in my 40's. I distinctly remember the moment that I had become my mom. Although a compliment, I immediately understood the danger of letting myself think I was something special. Ever since then, people use the "S" word more and more to describe me. They are usually people who don't really know me. People who haven't heard me cussing like a sailor and screaming at the top of my lungs - claiming success only because my kids were still living -- even though I felt like killing them. Then, the cynical me thought - if they call me a saint and think I'm special - then it lets everyone else off the hook because they think they can't do what I'm doing.

    I went to law school in Michigan - Wayne State. What part do you live in? I don't know anything about MI and how they handle interstate adoptions - but I can tell you that it is a challenge to adopt out of state from any state. I don't know why they invest so much into a national registry when it is so challenging to accomplish it. Certainly, there are sibling groups in your state. Do ya'll have a Heart Gallery there? Are you registered with your state adoption office with an updated home study?