We had to call an emergency status meeting with DCFS and their advisors (Department of Mental Health) to get to this point. It was a very uncomfortable meeting. I didn't think T would go - he had been awol for days beforehand. In addition, I don't trust his primary caseworker, who still has most of the decision-making power regarding his placement. There were a lot of people in the room we've never met before. They are part of a large bureaucracy that (in our experience) has trouble recognizing foster parents, including pre-adoptive ones, as something more than babysitters. We have no legal status in terms of our right to make decisions regarding T. We can only make suggestions. It was hard and somewhat humiliating.
I called the meeting because I was out of other options. As Tim and I noted later that night, it felt a lot like that movie where Denzel Washington chases down a runaway train by racing down the track in reverse and hitching his locomotive to the full weight of the larger train and tugging in reverse against the odds. It was a crude and imperfect strategy, but we were trying to leverage the physics of the enormous DCFS bureaucracy to stop T's self-destructive momentum. And just at the moment when it seemed like we'd all go down in a big messy tangle, it was as if T woke up from a slumber, looked around, and applied the brake himself.
The strangest part of all of this that I will never be able to fully understand is that the moment he decided to get treatment, he returned to himself. I know this is fragile, temporary and not to be trusted, but it's also awesome to observe and it was the key missing ingredient that opened up a host of opportunity. He calmed down, started communicating; he was warm, reasonable, and confident. Because we have to get a judge's order to put him in residential treatment and the judge can't see us until next week, he elected to go to a group home in another county for a long weekend to remove himself from the influences - the friends, the places, the teenage social pressures - that have been facilitating his decline. He made this decision with a maturity and wisdom I have seen in him before, but not for a long time.
Before the meeting, I sat T down. He was drunk, high and angry, but it was becoming hard to catch him sober during waking hours so I went for it anyway. I told him "You are not going to like some of the things you're going to hear me say in the meeting tomorrow, but I need you to be there and I want you to know that I love you very, very much and I'm going to say certain things in order to make certain things happen so that we can get you some options." I told him I planned to ask that they provide him with residential treatment, and that we had researched a particular program we felt good about. He skimmed the pages of the website we showed him. He looked at me through his haze and said "Do what you think is best."
The next day he was ready to go at the appointed time. He looked surprised at the formality of the meeting when we arrived - nearly a dozen adults sitting around a conference table with name tags in front of each. I cried when it was my turn to talk, and I gave a brutally honest explanation of his recent behavior. I explained that his "status" with us (DCFS talk for pre-adoptive foster placement in our home) was not in question , nor had our commitment to him changed in any way, but we felt he needed to get help beyond what we could provide on our own.
He spoke next. He was warm, awkward, and engaging. He said that he needed to get away for awhile and remove himself from his peers. He explained that he wants to be a nurse some day, and needs to go to college, but he's having trouble making decisions and keeping himself safe right now. He said he thinks something is wrong with his ability to control himself. He said he won't go to therapy if its up to him, but he'd like to go to a place where he has to go, where he doesn't have a choice. At first, they couldn't believe their ears. Judging from the looks on people's faces, he may be the first teenage boy in the history of DCFS to speak articulately in a status hearing about his desire for residential drug treatment. Afterwards, one of the more cynical people in the room told me "He sure is charming, and that's probably part of the problem." I told her she's wrong - I haven't seen him be that articulate in months. He wasn't doing it to be charming - he was using the better part of himself to get help. It was admirable, not suspicious.
In order for him to help himself, I have to separate from him and let him go and accept the risk that it may not work, and/or that he may not be home for quite some time. On some level, I have to recognize that I've failed--not through any fault, but just because he needs more than we can provide at home right now. It feels very...umbilical, to separate from him in this way. I have to recognize that other people will have the authority to guide him and I won't necessarily have a say. I won't be there. We'll be in touch, but he'll be making his own way, and it's sure to be very difficult for him. He'll have to lay down new circuitry for himself based on his own strength of character and the help of professionals I may never meet. He'll be home someday - but we won't know exactly when, and there's risk that this doesn't work for him. I am typically very logical and I knew quite clearly throughout the last couple months that we needed to get him to treatment. But actually seeing him off and giving up our daily life together at home is literally gut-wrenching.
I feel very much like a mom, in a way I never have before. I think it must be a most maternal experience to give up a child to a risky next step with fragile hopes for his future. And also to do so in a way that hurts terribly and yet fills you with the greatest pride.