So much happened over the last week. I need to catch you up on all of it. But I also have to catch-up on a lot at work and home too, so I'll have to do some of it over time. One such example - Little Miss decided that she wanted to and could climb out of her crib. A lot. Thankfully so far she hasn't learned to climb out of her crib at home, but we'll need to start thinking of converting her crib to a toddler bed - or maybe not...
Mid-week last week we had a special permanency conference for #7 and #8. I had to attend by phone because I was out of state attending my uncle's service, but at least I was able to attend by phone and hear what was going on. Based on previous conversations with folks in the case I expected this conference to result in a discussion about termination and long-term plans, either with us or elsewhere. Instead, when one attorney said something to the affect of wanting return-to-monitor but "the state won't agree to that", the state responded by saying "actually we will".
I'm glad I was on the phone. I'm sure the look on my face wasn't pleasant. I'm glad I was able to process that in a locked room by myself without having to control my reaction. I was shocked. Return-to-monitor typically means the children will return to the people who they were removed from (usually mom and dad) but the state will remain involved in the case. Depending on the issues in the case, that might mean frequent visits from the caseworker, random drug tests, counseling, etc. In some cases this is the first step toward reunifying the family before dismissing the case. In other cases, this is a chance to let the parents screw up for themselves when the case isn't quite strong enough to go for termination. I know - that sounds horrible and as a foster parent it's almost unbearable to know that you could be returning your children to a place where it's expected they won't receive good enough care. I'm glad I know they do that though because it helps to make more sense of the system when kids are returned home when it doesn't seem like they should.
I don't know what the intention is, overt or hidden, with this case. I have to choose to believe that no matter who in the state is in control, how good the parents are or are not, and how I think it will help or hurt the kids, God is in control and he loves them more than I or anyone else ever could.
I have a fear about the end of this case that I think will make it much harder than any of the previous cases. I am so unbelieavably afraid for how this will affect the kiddos, especially #7. As I thought through his case and what I know about his history, I realized that in at least 3 of the 4 years, he has had no more than 6 months of life in any one place with any one set of parents. He's really struggled with learning what "home" means. We had conversations for weeks about the difference between "visiting" and "living" because to him they were the same. He struggled so much with the concept of home and where he lived. Every night I'd spend about 20 minutes talking with him at his age-level about who is in his life, where he lives, where he'd like to live, and his feelings about it all.
At some point he got the idea that he wanted to have our last name. We had been talking about Little Miss's adoption for a while and changing her name and I think he picked up on that. Of course then I mentioned that if he had our last name, he wouldn't live with his family anymore and he struggled with that. He wanted to be a part of our family and a part of his family. Who would blame the poor guy.
At some later point - around the time his attorney visited last - he decided that he no longer wanted to live anywhere but with us. He wanted to live with us. When he would say that I'd remind him that he loved his mommy and daddy and they loved him and that living here with us meant he couldn't live there with them. He has since consistently said that's what he wants, but that he wants to visit them. I know he looks forward to his visits and I know that he loves being with his parents so I'm guessing if they have their act together enough for the state to send him (and his sister) home that he will eventually be ok with not seeing us anymore. That being said, right now stability in his life is so important and it feels like there is a no win situation. He has learned to trust that we will provide for his needs and give him a safe loving home. The idea of leaving our home makes him anxious and upset. We've taught him that when we go (to work, etc.) that we will always come back. We've taught him we will take care of him as long as he needs us to. We've taught him that we love him and that he's important. Now, he's facing leaving and never coming back.
We have anywhere from 2-4 weeks to prepare him for what's in-store. I could spend that time not doing anything and then that last day just saying goodbye and "shocking him" with "sending him away". Or, I could spend that time preparing him for what's to come, which inherently means that I tell him he will be going away and not coming back (in age appropriate language) and getting him used to the idea. I prefer the latter. I think that will be better for him. I can be there for him by helping him in the transition.
The problem is, I started by asking him about what he thought about living with his mom and dad. He got very upset and said no, he lived here and that he wants to visit but he wants to live here. I asked him how he felt if he could go live with his mom again (trying to make it an exciting and happy thing) and with his verbal and non-verbal reactions it was very clear that he was getting anxious at the idea. He was very much against it.
I think this is going to make this one of the hardest send-offs yet. I don't have a relationship with the parents yet to try and make the transition smoothe. I get the impression that I'm part of the enemy to them. I don't think the idea that he wants to stay here would make them like me anymore. If sending him home is the right thing I want to do it, but I want to make it as easy as possible on him and I just don't know how to do it in this case. I'm going to send him home and just have to hope and pray that he will be getting what he needs going forward to adjust. I'm going to have to live with the knowledge that he will feel at least temporarily that I abandoned him, that I didn't want him here, that he wasn't welcome as part of our family, that I too have failed him.
I hope that his parents do a great job and realize how difficult this has been not only on them but also on their kids. I hope that they can be strong parents that can quickly meet all of his needs in the transition and that he quickly learns to trust them and be healthy there. I really, really hope that it works that way.