Termination Hearing

When we received the call 18 months ago, we committed to providing a home for this little one as long as necessary.

It looks like that may mean forever.

At the first permanency hearing last fall, the judge decided to give J’s mom some more time to work her case plan. Visitation increased as we started moving towards reunification. At the same time, J started having significant gastrointestinal issues and oral regression to the point that he began losing weight and having long bouts of screaming.

Maybe, one day, I can describe this process, and the events of recent months, in more detail. For now, I will say there have been major shifts in the case such that the current plan is “non-reunification”—which means the State does not intend to send J home. Visits stopped as of December. J’s GI symptoms have resolved and he is physically healthy. For this, we are grateful!

We are currently preparing for a TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) hearing in which the State will present a case to permanently remove legal rights for both of J’s parents. I have been subpoenaed to testify, so recent weeks have been filled with visits from DFCS, CASA, UH4C (our agency), and multiple attorneys.

We love this little boy and are humbled and honored that we may get to call him our own one day. But, still, we recognize that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. We are grieving for our boy, for his family, for our experiences–and those of our biological children. If the judge rules in favor of the State, J is about to become a legal orphan.

Will you pray for us as we prepare for this court hearing? Will you pray for J’s biological family and the others who will testify? Will you pray for his mother, in particular? Will you pray for all the legal parties involved? Will you grieve with us?

As Christians, we (the Church) have become enamored with the doctrine of adoption in such a way that often leads to a hyper-spiritualization of the process and a failure to recognize the depth of loss that makes adoption necessary in the first place.

We know that the Creation reality is the ideal: made in God’s image and in perfect fellowship with God, fellow man, and creation. We also know that sin came into the world–marring each of these relationships and bringing death into the world. We know that Jesus came and brought us back into relationship with God, making us fellow heirs with Himself–evidenced by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in His people.

Adopted.

We know—but we also forget. We forget what kind of world He entered, and how that adoptive relationship was established: Jesus voluntarily left His throne and submitted to a permanent alteration of His person through the incarnation. Laying aside the privilege of deity, He came into a culture that was messy and broken. Yet He consistently offered dignity to those around Him–especially those forgotten by the world.

We forget that the final sacrifice involved chanting crowds, the sound of the whip on raw skin, mockery and disdain, screams, nails, sinews, and blood.

God’s heart is, indeed, for adoption. But it is a costly process. And we who seek to serve Him are not above Him.

There have been many tears over the last 18 months, fists slammed down in anger. There have been hours of ceaseless screaming, months of angry tantrums, countless changes in plans, and the constant presence of paperwork, e-mails, texts, calls, and visits. There have been lies, accusations, and misunderstandings. And, always, pleading before the Lord for the sake of this child and his family. Really, these are the more superficial struggles. There is a lot I cannot share publicly. And I cannot know the experience of J’s mother—I cannot imagine being in her position.

God knows what it means to lose a child. He knows how it feels to loosen His grasp, to turn His face in rage, and weep in bitter grief. He knows and He sees.

It is a story of loss. But that’s not the end: It is also a story of redemption.

We, and those around us, often see foster care and adoption as heroic and selfless acts. I believe this is true: It is heroic and selfless. But we are not the heroes–and the story is much bigger than we imagine.

You see, as my daughter used to say, “Jesus just couldn’t stay dead!”

Scripture does not command us to care for the orphan and the widow solely for the sake of bringing provision to those underprivileged and voiceless image-bearers. (Though specific and practical provision are necessary in pursuing justice.) He means to reveal (and fulfill) the poverty and need in each of us.

You, too, are impoverished.

In His resurrection and by His Spirit, He means to redeem us all and to allow us to be part of His work among His people. He wants to draw us into relationship with Himself and one another.

Over the last 18 months, we have seen a little boy from a hard place begin to heal. (Though this doesn’t always look the way we expect!) We have watched our biological children struggle with the uncertainty of his place among us—yet consistently choose to love. I have wrestled with the process and been forced to draw on a faith I don’t really have. I keep limping. And He keeps providing.

I pray that I would be found faithful in my witness—both on behalf of this little boy and in my identity as a broken, adopted child of the Living God.

 

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 1 Cor 4:3-5

Fostering: One Year In

Next week will mark one year of fostering for our family. One year, five sweet boys. [I count the three boys we kept before our home was officially opened!]

 
Our one-year mark will be punctuated by the permanency hearing for Little J.

Our first experience in fostering was a short-term safety plan with three young boys. That means we had six children in our home—ages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. Multiple churches rallied around these kids (and us!)—praying, providing clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, meals, childcare, help with doctor appointments, and lots of extra hands and advice! We still have contact with these little ones and their family.

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In early October, we picked up a 4-day-old boy from the NICU—Baby C. The hospital
debrief and first court hearing were followed by a blur of feedings, diaper changes, meetings, paperwork, and state/agency visits. Somehow, school and work and the rest of life happened as well. And, again, our foster support team held our arms up—praying, bringing meals and diapers, giving rides, loaning baby gear. That little one left after 6 weeks—to a mom who worked incredibly hard to get her baby home.0w1a0422-2

Following his departure, we were sad. Relieved, rejoicing…and sad. Our children cried for him—we all cried. We were invited to visit Baby C and his mom in their home around Christmas. What a gift for us! Then his mom stopped communicating in January. So, we pray for and think about them…. We giggle with our kids about Baby C’s little quirks. Sometimes I still hold them while they cry for him. And, in a couple weeks, we will send a birthday gift to his last known address. He will be one year old.

In early January, we received a call for Baby J—a sweet, 7-month-old boy. At almost nine months in, this has been our first long-term placement. Throughout Baby C’s time with us, our three-year-old would introduce him saying, “This is my bruvver, C—-, and he is going home to his mommy soon!” The children know our goal is to help Baby J get home as well, but that conversation is no longer a part of our daily experience. He is simply their brother.

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Yet, we continue to have regular conversations about fostering. We (and our children) struggle with the ambivalence. Our eight-year-old asked, “Is it okay to want him to go home (because his mom is sad) and to want him to stay forever…at the same time?” That is the tension every day. We are rooting for the biological parents. We send letters and pictures and try to connect them with needed resources. And we love Little J as our own—delighting in milestones (and sometimes exasperated by the tantrums!).

Delight…exasperation…colored with grief. Every day.

As we were headed to a foster/adoptive training some months ago, our six-year-old asked, “Are you going to adopt me to someone?” Surprisingly, she did not seem overly concerned about being sent to live with another family—very matter-of-fact actually. But we realized our explanations had been inadequate. We had to explain more fully the gravity of a child being removed from their parents. It’s more than a bad day or a family squabble. Yet we want to leave plenty of room for change—for grace.

“So, [J]‘s mommy isn’t safe for him?”

“…Not yet, but she is trying.”

[Big, tear-filled eyes staring at me.]

“Are you safe for me?”

 

Lord, have mercy. I am inadequate for this task—for these little souls.

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My understanding of the upcoming permanency hearing is that DFCS will announce their current plan for establishing permanent placement for J—either to start the process of terminating parental rights or to start the reunification process (or perhaps to give the parents more time?). Regardless, I don’t anticipate any major changes right away as far as we are concerned. I also understand the plan can change again at any point.

Many of you have expressed your desire that Little J would stay with us forever. We hear your hearts and see the love you have for him—the time and emotion you have invested in him and our family. And, of course, part of me wants the same thing. Of course we are more than willing to adopt J if he needs a permanent home! We made that decision before we accepted the placement in January.

But, know this: We cannot fight for the child without fighting for his parents as well.       Not enabling; but speaking truth, encouragement, and grace.

So, for today, we seek to content ourselves in the ambivalence and engage the grief. To trust in a God who is both sovereign and good. Together. All the time.

 

 

Supposed to be

We received word this weekend that Baby C may be going home with his mom after this morning’s court hearing. They asked us to pack all of his belongings and bring him to court so everything would be ready if the judge decided in favor of reunification. This was a little surprising since cases like this usually don’t resolve for 6-9 months—but certainly not altogether unexpected.

This weekend was a whirl of preparation. I wanted to send his mom as many resources as we could. I used the remaining funds from Baby C’s clothing allowance to purchase clothing in larger sizes and I redeemed the WIC vouchers for this month’s formula. I also sifted through bags of donated clothes and baby items to find gear to send home with him (and some to keep here for future placements!).

After washing and sterilizing everything, I packed it all in a bag that was given to us by Chosen for Life Ministries. Many times, a foster child’s belongings are placed in garbage bags as the child moves from place to place. Among many other services to foster and adoptive families, Chosen for Life provides a monogrammed duffel bag, towel, and pillowcase to many foster children. I love this statement affirming the dignity and worth of these little ones and their families!

 

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While many have asked us if we would adopt Baby C, we have tried to make it clear that our goal is to support his mom in seeking reunification. Our children know that we are open to adoption; but, throughout this process, we have talked to them about Baby C going home. When Gabriel (3YO) introduces Baby C, he says, “This is my bruvver C— and he is going home to his mommy one day.” While this has provoked a number of puzzled glances in my direction, it has been very helpful in establishing expectations for the children!

We told the children on Friday evening that Baby C may be going home after court. They seemed to take the news reasonably—with responses ranging from, “Good! He cries too much!” to “I don’t want him to leave us! I just love him so much!” Indeed, both expressed by the same the child…. Cora had some concern over her conflicting emotions. She wasn’t sure if was okay to want him to stay here and be excited for his mom. We talked through the process further—they jumped up repeatedly during the discussion to kiss Baby C’s little head—but they seemed to understand. After they were settled, we asked, “So, would you all be interested in inviting another foster child into our home in a couple weeks?” They stared at me blankly for a time before Abigail said flatly, “Of course.” They all nodded. So there is that.

This morning, Joanna (a sweet friend and respite caregiver) showed up to accompany us to the courthouse. (Another friend was watching Joanna’s children to enable this!) We brought all four children with us so they could say goodbye when the time came. It seemed insensitive to leave our three older children home while we took their brother away—and to return home without him. Joanna was with us to watch the children while we went into the court hearing.

Upon entering the courthouse, we connected immediately with Baby C’s mom. She hugged us and thanked us again for caring for her baby. She was incredibly nervous and she had no idea Baby C was supposed to go home with her today. We prayed together. The court was very busy and the wait was long. Thankfully, her attorney took her aside and let her know the plan. She was absolutely beside herself with joy—and, at the same time, still unable to believe she would get her son back. We were all waiting for the judge to affirm the DFCS recommendation.

During the wait, we obtained court permission to take Baby C’s mom outside to see him. We sat with her outside the courthouse for some time as she cuddled her boy. We laughed about the various nicknames the children had given him. When Cora broke down in tears again, his mom passed him over for Cora to hold and feed. We went over her case plan and how she was doing and I gave her the details on his eating and sleeping patterns. We taught her how to swaddle and showed her what positions were most comforting to him. It felt strange to be the expert on someone else’s child.

 

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(Yes, I know this looks creepy with his face blurred out…)

The hearing itself took about 7 minutes. DFCS made their recommendations, the judge clarified some details—and then affirmed the recommendation for reunification. Baby C was back in his mom’s custody! Our eyes were full of genuinely happy tears as his mom came straight to us to celebrate. It is a testimony to God’s grace and presence that this woman felt so safe with us.

At the conclusion of his comments, the judge said, “This is the way it’s supposed to be.”

We said our good-byes to the numerous case managers and other officials before heading back outside. We checked the car seat and transferred the baby gear, then began our final round of good-byes—mixed with more prayers and tears. Last pictures. Last cuddles. Last kisses on that soft head. Then everyone was loaded and buckled. And good-bye.

Then fatigue. Deep fatigue. Through lunch and more driving—heading to the Y for swim practice, bathing children, and eating dinner—there has been an unsteadiness. There is a sudden release, and the weight of responsibility lurches. And I still hear him shifting and sputtering in the back seat or crying when he would normally wake to eat. We stepped onto the boat six weeks ago and found our sea legs—and now, as we step off the boat, the land seems to heave. I feel like Gabriel, “Mommy, where is C—? I know he went with his mommy, but where is C—?”.

No, this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Foster care….it is provision and grace. It is life. God remains sovereign—and He is our Healer. But it’s just not the way it’s supposed to be.

 

As we move on….

Baby C’s mom has asked us to remain connected—perhaps even to be his godparents. We are headed over to her house in a few weeks to deliver Christmas gifts from a local church. Knowing of our upcoming visit really helped our children say good-bye today. And we said “Thank-you” to our children with ice cream. They definitely understand ice cream. (Thanks for the idea Sarah Ward!)

We are taking a few days to a few weeks off before accepting further calls. Our agency will send a counselor later this week to check in with our children and us. And we must decide what age(s) will would like to foster next…. The holiday season is, sadly, one of the busiest times of year for foster placements. Please continue in prayer for Baby C, his mom, and our family, and the many other families who are supporting us.

Six weeks old!

Baby C is over six weeks old now! I expected the interrupted sleep, endless diaper changes, and piles of laundry that come along with a newborn. I was excited that Parker could share in the midnight feedings since I wouldn’t be nursing. And we were ready to enjoy sharing the newborn experience with our three older children.

However, I didn’t quite understand the extent of all the meetings and appointments! On top of the frequent pediatrician appointments, we sat in the WIC office multiple times (all foster children under 5 are on WIC), visited with various case managers, went to court, participated in the FTM (Family Team Meeting—to establish the case plan for the biological family), attended more foster training sessions (for continuing education hours), scheduled developmental assessments, and helped coordinate weekly visitation with Baby C’s mom.

If it weren’t for the help from Uniting Hope for Children and a number of families, I have no idea how we could have pulled off the last six weeks! They have been baby-sitting, coordinating meals, helping with housework, schoolwork, and groceries, picking up children, buying diapers and baby gear, etc. Some families are getting trained to do baby-sitting for foster children and one family has finished the full home study in order to be a respite family for us. They kept Baby C for a week while we were out of town.

I have been told that 50% of foster families stop fostering within the first year. Now I see why—and I haven’t even mentioned the deeper issues.

We love Baby C. My older children cried when we left him with our respite family. Before leaving for school, my 3YO kisses Baby C on the head and says, “Don’t worry, your bruvver will be home soon.” We would be delighted to enjoy him for many years in our home. We love Baby C—and we love his mom. And we know it is best that he goes home to a safe and stable environment with his mom. We are praying for this and encouraging his mom in her efforts.

This tension is no surprise. So many people hear our story and say, “I could never do that! I would want to keep him.” Well, we do want to keep him! But, more than that, we want to love him and love his mom. Others express concern that Baby C will be sent home to an unsafe situation or will be pulled back into the foster system. I am too! But I must trust God’s sovereignty together with His goodness. I must choose to trust, even when our family grieves. Because we will. When Baby C goes home, we will grieve—while we rejoice in the reunification. If he must be adopted, we will grieve the absence of a safe home—while we rejoice in his presence with us.

Tomorrow, we go to court. So, this could be our last night with Baby C—or he could be with us for months to come. Lord, give us rest—and grace to believe!

Open and Filled: The First 7 Days

Our home was opened by the state for foster care on Tuesday, September 29th! At 1:30pm to be exact. It was one of those moments where I, again, questioned our sanity. Yes, we spent months doing paperwork and home visits…and years discussing this moment. Yet the realization that someone could call at any moment and ask if we would like a child for an indefinite period of time is, indeed, a bit surreal. We had narrowed the field pretty sharply by limiting our availability to a 0-6 month old boy—or a sibling group in that general age range (twins, essentially)—so we weren’t sure how long it would be before we received a call.

That Friday morning, I picked up a car seat and some baby bottles at the YMCA consignment sale. Actually, I picked up bottles and then Parker sent me back for the car seat. I didn’t buy it the first time because I felt a bit silly buying gear for a baby that may not come.

We got the call from UH4C* just a few hours later—72 hours after our home was opened. There was a baby boy, born the day before, who needed a home. He was not quite ready to be discharged, but they wanted a foster family ready to pick him up.

It sounded like a perfect fit. So, heart pounding, I checked with Parker and called them back to accept. Within a couple hours, I met our UH4C case manager by phone and the DFCS case manager e-mailed placement paperwork and let us know there would be a court hearing that Monday. (I believe an initial hearing for the biological parents must be held within 72 hours of taking the child into state custody.)

I had tons of questions: “How big is he?” “What is his name” “Does he have health problems?” “When will he be released?” They did send the name, but that was about it.

I ran to the store for diapers and a preemie size outfit—since we had no idea how big the baby was. Target had one preemie outfit for a boy and the shirt read, “Daddy loves me.” I couldn’t buy that outfit. We knew nothing about his dad…or his mom. And we had no idea why neither parent was able to care for him. Parker would love him–but it seemed insensitive to his birth mom on that first day. So I left without an outfit.

At home, I printed the paperwork and stuck it in the “blue binder” (a simple three-ring binder that has become essential to function with a foster child!), installed that car seat (yes, the one that Parker made me go back and buy…), and started pulling baby gear out of bins. I was still a bit hesitant. They said he was coming home to us. However, many times a family member will come forward or something changes so the baby does not actually come into the prepared foster home. We know a family who received seven calls in the first week, accepted all of them, and did not end up with any of those children.

Then we waited for the phone to ring. Our children were so excited! “When is he coming, mommy?” I had no idea.

Baby C (as we came to call him) was taken to the NICU that night with some complications, so the call did not come till Monday. Our UH4C case manager met us at our home and we drove an hour to the hospital. After searching for the proper entrance and figuring out how to get into the NICU, we washed up, submitted ID and CPR cards, and received a copy of Baby C’s hospital record.

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Then we got to hold a sweet, healthy six and a half pound boy! We fed and changed him and were escorted out.

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We, then, drove a few blocks to the courthouse for the biological mom’s first hearing. As we stepped into the hallway to wait, my eyes met those of another woman. She had papers in her hand that said something about a birth mom. Parker introduced himself and asked if she was there for a foster care hearing. After a moment of confusion, she blurted out her baby’s name and leapt up from her chair. “Do you have him? I thought he was still in the hospital!” I glanced at our case manager, who nodded, so I quickly unbuckled Baby C and handed him to his mother.

As this woman sobbed over her 4-day-old son and begged us to take good care of him, we began to understand more of what foster care is about. It is about sin and grace and second chances—for parents and children. It’s about moms and dads who sometimes love deeply, but not well. It is walking with these moms and dads and pointing them to the cross. Believing God for them even when you can’t believe them. And it is doing these things regardless of the anticipated outcome. Because it is God’s heart for His people. Whether the parent turns or not, we are called to love freely and selflessly.

“We are for you,” Parker said. “We are not trying to take your baby from you.” Baby C’s mom hugged us and thanked us. Perhaps this sounds like a common reaction from a woman whose child has been removed toward the family assigned to care for her child. It is not.

*UH4C: Uniting Hope 4 Children is a faith-based child-placing agency. They are amazing! Check out their website at UH4C.org.