I read an article today that begins with this statement: "The United States foster care system has a higher turnover rate than most fast food industries. Of the estimated 200,000 licensed foster homes, from 30 to 50 percent drop out each year...Why are foster parents leaving? Of all the reasons, the biggest by far is that they are treated poorly."
All I can say to that is, yes, indeed. We might have fostered and/or adopted a few times in our lives, these days we are inclined to think that we'll do it just this once.
Our main reason is that we connected with T so deeply and have had such a profound experience becoming his parents that we fear there will never be another T and we might just hang up our parenting gear when he no longer needs us.
But the other reason we aren't anticipating a repeat performance is that the bureaucracy is too punishing. Unless we managed to meet a child with whom we can establish the kind of connection we have with T, we would surely be adrift without the support required to address the needs of a child with complex needs. We became foster parents after meeting T and only because we found him so compelling and there was such unusual chemistry amongst us. Without T as my motivating factor I just don't think I would be able to tolerate this bureacracy.
It's on my mind this week because we recently attended a court hearing to decide the matter of noticing his biological parents regarding the adoption (a discussion they have waited 18 months to even initiate). At the hearing, the court had to fire his present attorney who hasn't shown up in court on T's behalf for several years. The court appointed a new attorney exactly three minutes prior to the hearing, and the hearing moved forward despite the fact that the attorney knew nothing about the case. When we asked to address the court (about the fact that T's caseworker has asked him to notice his own mother) we were told that we can't speak to the judge. After I got back to my office that day, T's adoption social worker called me to ask what is going on with his case, and ask me to straighten out a huge misunderstanding between herself and his primary caseworker. Then T.'s biological mother called him at home to ask him what is going on with the court case because she doesn't understand the papers she's received from the court and the confusing phone calls she's had from his social worker and they've just managed to get her worked up and anxious, despite the fact that she's been aware of and not expressly opposed to his adoption all along. I wanted to scream.
To be brutally honest, we have mostly been treated like low rent babysitters by the social workers and inspectors and court officials involved in T's case. Often, to this day, have the sense that the myriad caseworkers and inspectors and bureacrats involved expect us to fail in our endeavor to provide him with a permanent home.
In my imaginary better world, becoming a parent should feel sort of like joining the Peace Corps must have in the heydey of the Kennedy Administration. There should be recruiters, and the recruiters should help people find a way to view foster parenting as a noble and unique endeavor, not a poor approximation and substitute for bio parenting. The training courses should be hard, and they should take place somewhere fun. (How about luxury hotels, that donate the rooms and facilities for a long weekend as a tax writeoff, like a gift to charity?) The trainings should include a panel of foster children to speak for themselves and their peers. Perhaps they could rank potential foster and adoptive parents: "This foster parent gets an 8 out of 10 stars in reviews from 32 other foster children..."
When we met T. we received a two page form describing his personality and interests. It was 90% inaccurate, with large portions that were frankly erroneous. It managed to be both clinical and superficial, a disturbing combination. Virtually everything we know about his background, his needs and his medical and educational history we found out from him. He in turn received nothing about us except the packet that we put together for him of our own accord. At some point (when his adoption finalizes? it's never been clear), the social workers tell us that we'll receive a thick packet of papers documenting his history; by then, we will have no use at all for the information it contains.
Thank goodness we fell utterly in love with him, I say, because we have mostly had to parent him from the gut while he has helped us understand over time where he's coming from. Had we needed to be more strategic from the start, and had he been unable to articulate his needs, we would have had a very rough time indeed.