On March 17th, it’ll be a year since Mary has come into our lives and has become a very loved, cherished, and important member of this family. Her story isn’t as horrendous as some of the ones we have heard from other foster families, but it’s a sad one nonetheless. It’s one that leaves a child confused, torn, and scarred for what we assume will be the rest of her life. Mary came to us a broken, scared little girl. My, how things have changed!
Mary had been in “the system” before. She was with 2 different families before she got reunified with mom on a trial basis. She needed to comply with certain things and would have someone checking in on her constantly. During the probationary period, mom made some bad choices and absconded to Florida where she was found thanks to some coordinates on FB. Social services went down there to get Mary, and as soon as she got off of the plane, she was driven directly to our home as an emergency placement. They called to let us know they were outside so I went downstairs to find a little girl, light brown hair, dirty purple winter coat, passed out in the back seat of a white 4 door, hybrid sedan. With her came a backpack and a box of clothing that was probably a size (or two) too small. I picked her up and carried her to our apartment. She opened her eyes, smiled at me as Callie spoke to the case worker and the “mover” and found out some specifics about the case and some information about Mary. They never really tell you much but as far as we knew, she didn’t have any allergies and needed to be taken to the pediatrician. The workers left and the three of us sat on the couch watching a movie at a little past midnight.
When the movie finished, we had her brush her teeth, and showed her her new room. “That’s not my room! This isn’t my house!” We had fostered other children before but never encountered this kind of attitude or this much push back. It’s always been the opposite actually!!! That night and the next morning were really tough. “These don’t taste like my moms pancakes.” “My mom doesn’t like when my hair is in pigtails!” “Why am I here and where’s my mom?!” We did our best to distract her by going outside, visiting with my family since my niece is the same age, and going out shopping to buy her some clothes and sneakers. That weekend we also took her to Billy Beez, an indoor kids play space, where she spent a good 4 hours running, crawling, sliding and jumping with my niece.
We knew that Mary would be with us for a long time because of the nature of her case and this being a repeat situation for mom. After about a month of being in our care, we had our first service review meeting. This is where we discuss how the child is doing in placement, how they are adjusting to their new school and surroundings and a chance for the case workers, resource workers, foster parents and bio families to meet. We were told some things about the case that we didn’t know, including some pretty traumatic stuff for both mom and Mary. They informed us that our first permanency hearing was about 6 months into placement, in October.
The hearing came and went and basically, in less words, the case worker was pushing for termination of parental rights because mom has been inconsistent, and in Mary’s 6 short years of life, mom had yet to provide her with a safe, stable home. But mainly the inconsistency was the point the workers wanted to emphasize. At this point, Mary had been in care for almost 7 months and mom had JUST started 3 of the 5 mandated programs. She had missed many meetings and supervised visits, and she had a hard time returning the case workers phone calls. Moms lawyer fought for longer visits and unsupervised. The judge wasn’t trying to hear that! She gave Mary’s mom 6 more months to get herself together (complete program, get an apartment, a job, and stay sober) or she would begin paperwork to terminate rights. Mom’s lawyer said that mom was complying and was wondering if there was any way to meet back at the half way mark before the next hearing. The judge agreed to meet in January.
During this time Mary’s mom did the damn thing! She worked the hell outta all of her programs. We began emailing and sending pictures of Mary, telling her mom how proud we were of her and all of the hard work she was doing to get her daughter back. How if she needed anything, we would be happy and willing to help (within reason). She got an apartment, she started working a full time job, and at her parenting sessions with Mary as well as her supervised visits, she was showing interest and helping Mary with homework. She was having more age appropriate conversations (according to the case worker), and what we thought was most important, she was helping Mary to understand why things were happening the way they were. Why she was staying with us and how she was working hard to not lie and do the right thing to not be in “Mommy Time out”, and that Mary should do her best to listen to us, follow our rules, and be on her best behavior. All of these are a big improvement from the first few meetings, where mom showed Mary pictures of Sugar Gliders and puppies telling Mary she was going to buy them for her and have them ready when she comes home “soon”, which we all knew wasn’t the case.
Up until recently (about the past 3-4 weeks) everything was going well. Mom even stopped sending gifts home with Mary, and would hold on to them after their session and take them back home with her. But then came the week before Mary’s birthday. She has 3 different scheduled visits during the week. Tuesday it’s individual therapy, Wednesday its a parenting session with her mom, and Thursdays it’s now a 2 hour weekly unsupervised visit with mom, which will eventually lead to weekend overnights, and ultimately transitioning Mary to live with mom again (up until the first week of January it was one hour bi-weekly supervised). The therapist for the parenting session called and said that she couldn’t get in touch with mom so her session was canceled. We didn’t think anything of it until the next day Mary’s caseworker called us and cancelled the visit because she couldn’t get in touch with mom. Wednesday and Thursday she didn’t see her mom. Mom had asked if she could possibly see Mary on her birthday (that coming Saturday), which we were absolutely fine with, via email. We waited and waited and waited for a response. The original agreement was that Mary would have her ice skating party which was over at 4pm and then we would meet up with her. I got an email that morning asking if it was still ok (no one has spoken to her in almost 2 weeks!) and to have Mary call her at 4, to which I said sure! Once we got home from skating, we called at 4, and then 4:10, and then 4:20, and finally after our last call at 4:30, we decided to make some hot chocolate, popcorn, and make it a movie night, the five of us cuddled on the couch.
Callie and I were heartbroken for her. You had to see the sadness in her face. Despite having probably (according to her) one of the best birthdays ever, hearing from her mom was really all she wanted. She seemed so defeated after every “Mom, it’s me Mary. Remember, it’s my birthday. I’ll call you back in a few minutes! I love you! I’m 7 years old today!” message, that we just didn’t allow her to call anymore. How could mom not answer the phone when SHE was the one that asked us to call at that time? How could she not make a minute or two to wish her daughter a happy birthday?! What could have possibly been more important that being able to have an extra visit for an hour or two in a week considering that she missed the 2 days before that.
It wasn’t until the Tuesday after Mary’s birthday that I received an email from mom, saying how horrible she felt and how sorry she was for missing Mary’s birthday. She seemed to throw blame at us for calling her from a blocked number and that she doesn’t answer blocked calls. I’m pretty sure if I got a message from my daughter calling from a blocked number saying she was going to call back IN TEN MINUTES, I would answer the damn blocked call! She wanted me to send her pictures and video of Mary’s skating party. I have yet to respond to her email, and three more weeks of cancelled sessions (no one has heard from her AGAIN in three whole weeks!), Mary has yet to see her mom. I don’t know if I’m more frustrated that there are no consequences for her actions or if she’s hurting our little Mary and I wanna grab her and shake some sense into her! The caseworker is concerned, the therapist is concerned, we are concerned, but this is the same behavior she exhibited before when she grabbed Mary and left for another state. We know our time with our girl is limited. We know that she basically has one foot out the door already. There is another permanency hearing the first week of April. That will decide when she goes home for good, and more than likely, where “home” will be. I’m sure they’ll let her finish out the school year, if she ends up leaving. I’m certain they’ll give us a 2 week transitional period. I’m almost positive we will be able to still have a relationship with her once she goes home with mom, but I can’t begin to describe the fear that we have about her going home. And now the added stress of trying to figure out what we will do with 3 children on 1 income (Callie got replaced at work while on leave as Director of a Child Care center- but that’s for A WHOLE OTHER POST!) if we end up adopting Mary, which we more than likely would given the opportunity. We hope we’ve given her enough in the time that she’s been with us to stand up for herself, to have higher self esteem and a better self image. That we’ve shown her how intelligent she is, how athletic, how artistic and crafty. That people love her and she can love in return. That she’s better and worth more than she thinks. That no matter what, she owns a piece of our hearts forever, and that she will always be a part of our family…