Baby 9's case is real deal foster care. She has been in foster care for 16 months and no one has any idea what is going to happen in her case.
Kids in foster care have been removed from their families because of abuse or neglect. There are horrible stories of children being beaten, raped, given drugs, left alone for days with no food in the house. Those are not most cases, though. Most cases really deal with a family that is in crisis- whether it be from mental health diagnosis, substance abuse, domestic violence, etc- and the parent made a bad choice for their child. Sometimes that's it- just one bad choice. Sometimes it's that the parent does not have good judgement in general, and while they love their child, they find themselves facing crisis after crisis.
In every case we've had, I've had some sort of inkling what was going to happen. That never took away the fear or feeling of being completely out of control, but the inkling was always right. In hindsight- there was writing on the wall from the beginning of the case how it was going to play out. But those were not typical cases. It's not typical to have super involved and invested Dads working to get their kids back. It's not typical to have such a high profile severe abuse case where no contact is granted between Mother and child. While I feel like I have a lot of foster care experience, this is the first time I've had to just take care of the kid and wait for the case to sort itself out.
Taking care of the kid has been a cakewalk. Baby 9 is healthy: great eater / sleeper / pooper, no allergies, no ear infections, 60th percentile for height and weight. She's cute as all get out: with ringlets of golden brown hair, a perfect button nose, and chubby cheeks. And she's a child genius:She has all her body parts down, about 3 animal noises consistently, all the moves for "Ring around the rosie", "All the little fishies", "5 little Monkeys", "Itsy Bitsy Spider", and "Wheels on the bus". Recently she's added "Let it go" to her vocal repertoire which also includes, "Night Night Sweet Baby" and her rewrite of the alphabet, "E E E H H E". She's advanced on her physical milestones as well. She does stairs on her feet, jumps with both feet off the ground, kicks and throws a ball, climbs up on the kitchen table by using the chairs as step stools, pushes the kitchen chairs back to the table when we've removed them since she keeps getting up on the table. Ugh! I just love this kid!
Waiting for the case to sort itself out has been a whole other story. I am constantly frustrated with the tight rope we walk with a parent who is doing 'OK'. Literally every other week the visit schedule changes because Mom starts or quits a program. There have been 4 living situations and 5 different locations for the visits. She's mostly following the parenting a substance programs. There have been 2 or 3 instances that show poor judgement, but they are always followed up by getting it back together. Then- what we've been waiting for all year- no more halfway house!!! It looks like 9 can go home!! Foster Care success!! Except, Mom did not comply with the counties recommendation, and got a place in a program that does not allow children to reside with the clients. Not even overnight visits. So even though she is doing well, nothing changes. She knew this when moving.
I support reunification. It's not a line. I really do want to see children with their biological families. I really want Baby 9's Mom to do well. I want her to win. But the question that comes up in this scenario is for how long do we believe in that? for a year? 2? 5? At what point does moving a child back to their biological parent after living with one consistent caregiver become detrimental to the child? She was 7 days old when she was placed with us. She calls us Mama and Dada, and Baby Girl 'Sissy'. When Brandon goes to work, she yells for him at the window. She asks for Baby 4 when she walks by his room while he's at school. If all of a sudden we were all gone, what would that do to her? She knows and loves her Mom. She calls her Mommy. Would that be enough to cushion the blow of losing everything she has known her whole life?
Still, none of it matters because the court is going to decide whatever it decides. Either way we'll all be changed. Either way there will be tears, and scars, and loss. Either way, I'll never regret being the one to hold her when her Mom couldn't. Either way, I am so thankful that we get to love Baby 9. That's real foster care.