We entered foster care with pure hearts and intentions. We prayed, we read parenting books, we took classes, we enlisted friends and family for support, and we researched for years before filling out our paperwork and obtaining our license. I still believe we couldn’t have done any more to prepare ourselves.
We told the truth in our interviews and put all of our issues on the table; we weren’t a perfect family, but we were happy and stable. I’d struggled with anxiety for many years as a child and into adulthood, but with the help of medication and therapy, I hadn’t had a panic attack in over 10 years. Although I was nervous about my ability to parent traumatized and special needs children, I felt both physically and mentally healthy.
My husband, Mark, had experience parenting five kids, our two boys together—ages five and six—and three older children from a previous marriage. Mark is a patient and joyful man with a demeanor that naturally disarms. With our marriage strong and ready, we opened our home to children in need.
We thought it best to begin with respite, a needed service in the system that assists full-time foster parents when they need care for their child(ren) for a short time. Our first child was David*, a 3-year-old boy, who we would care for for a few days and nights.
David had a beaming smile and loved to snuggle before bed, but we found out quickly that he was a danger to himself and others. I was not prepared or trained to handle him in a way that kept everyone safe. None of his challenges had been relayed prior to us agreeing to care for him. So began our distrust of caseworkers and a string of lies and half-truths from people we were supposed to trust.
Despite our first experience, we maintained a positive outlook. We hoped it was a singular event and that our assigned caseworker, Jeannie*, and others we would work with would be honest individuals who understood how important it was to us that our home be a safe place for all our children, foster, step, and biological.
After David, we turned down several respite care requests until Jeannie contacted us about Ashley*, a 17-year-old girl who was about to graduate from high school. Jeannie thought that Ashley would do well in our family given that I was a mental health advocate. Although I’d experienced a short bout of depression myself in the past and I’d lost my mother to suicide, I had been through years of therapy and could talk freely and openly about both. Jeannie thought that our openness and understanding of mental illness as a disease, not a character flaw, could help Ashley with her challenges.
Ashley entered our family for the weekend to give her foster parents a break. They had several other children who had special needs and Ashley needed full-time supervision because she was currently under doctor-ordered suicide watch.
We locked up our medications, knives, and other potentially harmful items and welcomed her. Despite forthright warnings about Ashley’s challenges from Jeannie and Ashley’s current foster mom, the two days couldn’t have gone better. Ashley slept more than a typical teen and wasn’t very active, but overall, she was a joy to have around. We invited her back to our house for the following weekend.
Weeks passed with Ashley spending time with us from Friday evenings to Sunday afternoons. During the week, she went to school and finished out her last days as a senior. Around that time Ashley showed marked improvement in her mental state and her doctor released her from suicide watch. We could then allow her to take short walks by herself and spend time alone in her room. Everyone was proud of her for the progress she was making… read more.
This article was published by adoption.com.