A year into T.'s placement, we still have regular visits from social workers - an adoption worker, a caseworker, and occasional miscellaneous inspectors.
Right now, we have an upcoming visit from a social worker we haven't met before. Hers is a one-time visit to assess his ongoing eligibility for the therapy services.
We try to keep such things low-key for him. So last night I said, "There's a social worker coming tomorrow. She wants to ask you if we're going to therapy, and she might ask you how you're doing in school. She's not one of your caseworkers - she's one of the social workers who comes to check us out as parents and keep up on whether we're doing a good job and following through on their recommendations."
We were at a Korean spa (this is LA, after all) lolling around in the family area having a snack at the time. He rolled over on his back, put his hands over his eyes, and said in a monotone "They're the ones who come to take you away."
Uh oh! "I don't think so," said Tim. "She's just coming to check up on how things are going. There's some paperwork they have to do."
"Yeah," said T without uncovering his eyes. "I know the system. Those kinds of social workers are the ones who can take you away."
I said clumsily, "It sounds like what you're saying is that you've met this kind of social worker before, the kind who come to check up on the parents. You've been through that before, right?"
"Yeah," he said. He curled into fetal position and closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his head. He's 6' 4" and very much a regular sixteen year-old man-boy, but at that moment he was a much younger and more vulnerable kid.
He didn't really need for us to explain at that point that he isn't going anywhere. He wasn't really expressing anxiety that he'd be removed from our home - he was just remembering. He was removed from his relatives twice - around six, and again around nine. He told me that he cried when he was taken away from them, and he has never cried since. He worries about why he's unable to cry. He says nothing ever really carries the same weight as being taken from your family, so he has trouble finding the use in crying over anything these days.
I try to remember this when I'm low on patience or feeling intolerant of his anger and his need for control. Just the mere mention of an unexpected social worker visit was enough to make him nearly catatonic. That kind of fear doesn't subside quickly and in some ways it will be with him always, even as he grows into a strong, articulate, determined young man.