By Monica Baudendistel
When you are going through classes and the home study, one subject that isn’t discussed much is how to handle families, friends and relatives of children who are in your care. A lot of people have preconceived ideas that they will have a foster child or children come into their home with no strings attached. In reality, these children almost always have a loving family - parents, family friends or long-distance, extended family that will be involved with the case. I have had 32 children in foster care come into my home. I have never once had a child who had nobody involved, even with the three who I adopted.
Learning how to be a good foster parent is okay; however, if you want to be a wonderful foster family, you must learn how to cooperate as a unit with not only the caseworkers, volunteers, therapists but also the entire family.
When my husband and I first started foster care, our first placement was a three-year-old boy. The person who brought him to our house was his fifth placement and it was a kinship placement. We were prepared to meet her and more than ready to have him move in. As fate would have it, she knew the oldest daughter of my husband, Marvin, and she had dated our new foster son’s uncle. She stayed for approximately four hours. I was nervous, anxious and impatiently waiting to show her to the door. I just wanted to bond and couldn’t think of anything else. I followed our foster son everywhere, trying desperately to corral him into my arms. I wasn’t at my peak with manners as far as she was concerned. I regret that now. She had stated that she would like to remain a part of his life even after the adoption. As it would happen, I blame myself for never seeing or hearing from her again.
Later that night, his grandparents came to our house to bring his belongings. Wouldn’t you know it, Marvin recognized the grandfather immediately! Marvin and his two brothers had grown up with the grandfather and his two brothers. Inside, I just wanted time with this child, but the hours ticked away. Through the chaos, this amazing child who so many people loved finally fell asleep in my arms. I slowly relaxed and began conversing with his grandparents.
What I learned that night was this: There are things that are printed in the binder for foster parents about each child; however, it holds no comparison to what the family of the child can share with you. I only saw boxes checked that said “abuse,” or “neglect” with a side note that talked a little bit about malnourishment. His adoption was quick and went smoother than expected, because of one thing and one thing only, we associated with and worked alongside the family that loved our son. We have BBQ’s at our house and theirs, outings to the zoo, trips to Boyd Lake, birthday parties, Santa pictures, the list goes on and on. Our son has not had contact with his biological mother or father since the night he moved here, and that’s ok. He spends overnights at his maternal grandparents and knows the love of multiple people who, through one child, became a team of people working together to overcome the horrors of his short past.
As the years have passed, we learned how to communicate better and work closer with those who love the children in our care. One pair of siblings comes to mind as I write this. A little girl of three and her 18-month-old baby brother. The siblings were waiting on the outcome of an ICPC (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children) to be determined so that the children could move out of state to live with their paternal family. When these children came into our care, they had come from another foster family that couldn’t keep them but loved them deeply. The foster mother brought their belongings, and I didn’t think that my house would be big enough to sufficiently store that much stuff! Giant boxes solidly packed to the brim with toys and clothes. Soon after, phone calls started and things arrived on my doorstep. There were packages for Christmas for those two children, the other children in our home, and for me and Marvin.
Eventually after one ICPC was denied and another family member filed for one, the grandmother and her boyfriend flew to Fort Collins so that they could spend the weekend with the kids. Wouldn’t you know it? The weekend that they came was Super Bowl weekend. We met them at McDonald’s and as the children played, we talked and talked and talked. The next day we met at Chuck e’ Cheese. We had a blast and talked some more. We invited them to our house for the Super Bowl. I learned that the grandmother, my new friend, was diagnosed with cancer and was given one year to live by her doctors. Her dying wish was to get her precious grandchildren back home. Her sister did eventually come to pick them up. She flew in and took us to a steakhouse so that we could say goodbye. Their wonderful grandmother was a stubborn woman and lived through the year and then another just so she could make sure her grandkids were safe. She got her wish to spend time with them before she passed away.
We are currently working with first-time parents of the youngest infant we have ever cared for. He was only two weeks old when he arrived. The details of his case aren’t that important. What is important is that his parents never missed a visit. They were approved to have a family member supervise on the weekends and they take the baby all day on Sundays. We were unsure and uneasy at first when we were approached by them to supervise visits during the week. After a while of getting to know them better we agreed to do one visit a week for two hours. The first visit, I thought that we made them uncomfortable. When I broached that subject with them, they were so grateful to have our help. In fact, they started looking for housing and work in Loveland so that they could be closer to us in order to keep us in their son’s life when they get him back. We don’t know how this case will end but we are hopeful, and we care about everyone involved.
There is a moral to all of these memories: Some people make mistakes, most of them truly regret those mistakes and they then have to work hard to correct that error in their lives and the lives of their children. The parents, their families, the family friends, the extended family, each one is working toward one goal - to hold onto the love that they have for the child that is in your care. Through practice and experience, we have removed our judgment of the adults and remind ourselves constantly that they are human and they have been humbled and humiliated. Can you imagine? Put yourself in their shoes.
It’s not up to the foster parents to exclude anyone who could enrich the life of a child, help them grow, help them to overcome the obstacles that they may face in their futures. Our job as foster and adoptive parents is to do all that we can to benefit the children. Remember, save your judgments. Every one of us has a past, some are good memories and some are bad, but nobody is 100 percent perfect, 100 percent of the time.
Monica is a foster parent certified by Larimer County.