I went to family court with a sister from my ward recently. She's working a plan to get her children out of foster care and back home with her on a full-time basis, after more than a year of only visits.
I was there to support, nothing more. And it was hard. It isn't a good situation for anyone involved. Waiting for our turn in the courtroom, we ran into another couple from our ward. They were having a hearing about the foster child they are in the process of adopting.
Our time in front of the judge was brief, mostly making sure that progress is being met, with check-ins from five or six institutional entities: case worker, guardian ad litem for the kids, attorney for mother, attorney for absent father, and more. It was exhausting to me even though I had no personal involvement in the issues.
Ten years ago my husband and I became licensed foster parents in Arizona after hours of classes, building a higher fence around our pool and numerous other small home changes, background checks, and letters from friends and relatives vouching for our sanity. We agreed to take a sibling group, up to three children, since they can be hard to place together. I quit my job.
Then … nothing happened. Our case manager essentially disappeared; no one would return our calls. We had a paper saying we were legit and legal but it didn't seem to matter. A few months later we got a call to do an emergency placement: little baby, just for a weekend, while her regular foster parents had to leave the state for a family event.
There was very little sleep on my part—baby was only eight weeks old—but otherwise our three days went very smoothly. When I had to give her back, meeting the foster folks in a Walmart parking lot, I knew she was safe and sound. 72 hours, maybe a little less. Still it was extremely hard to hand this baby over.
At that moment I realized that foster care was not going to work for us.
Last year I considered becoming a CASA—court appointed special advocate. It is a role to support individual kids while they are in the system, to look out for their interests above all else. I interviewed, fingerprinted, read and trained, even took a polygraph (and passed I might add). The last step was an online course about the legal side of it. After the first unit I had another realization: I couldn't be part of this system. There were things I fundamentally disagree with, that I would have to deal with in every case.
I felt like a quitter, because frankly I did quit. I feel bad for costing CASA money. I fully intended to finish and certify and do the minimum two years required. But then my heart started hurting as I thought of people I know who have needed second chances, or third, or even ten. People who need support to be their best selves—not just punishment or quick answers.
Many LDS families serve in the foster care system, wanting to provide stability and help to children in need. I am so impressed with them because it is a crazy hard thing, even in the best possible circumstances. I just can't do it. I need to find other ways to get involved because I cannot handle the hurt. This disappoints me in myself. I'm sticking with the sister in my ward as a tiny way that I can help her little family. It isn't much, but for now it is all I can do.
Eliana Osborn was raised on cold weather and wild animals in Anchorage, Alaska, setting the stage for her adult life in the Sunniest Place on Earth in Arizona. She grew up in the church and didn't know there were places where conformity was preached. She has degrees. She writes. She teaches. She has some kids. She even has a husband. She's trying to do her best.
Image credit: Elvin (used with permission).