How we, as a family, failed the foster-care system

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"How we as a family failed the foster-care system" by Janele Hoerner (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2018 Janele Hoerner. All rights reserved.

Beginning our journey as foster parents, we as parents to 5 wonderful – though complex – children, were excited for the challenges ahead. Sadly, within only a few months’ time all of those feelings of hope crashed irrevocably around us. Fostering was our attempt at a new Lenten sacrifice – one that we had hoped would bring us closer to Christ as we welcomed additional children – as Jesus would have – into our home.

With only the best of intentions in mind, my heart was overjoy­­­­ed to the aspects of welcoming in a new child. It was a new opportunity to bring love and compassion into our biological children’s lives while showing another child the love that existed so abundantly in our hearts and home. Starting out the year with training, we struggled with finding the ways to explain to our family how we believed that fostering was a good idea – when we had so many earthly struggles of our own. Welcoming in an additional child to our home truly meant trusting in God that our lives would not be exposed to any major upheavals by a potentially very taxing child.

Asking for help babysitting was not something that was even done for us because we did not want to burden our family members by our two children with autism and three other bouncy additions. So for those six hours of training, which we were both obliged to attend, we chose to not divulge the reasons why we needed the babysitting hours. We admitted it seemed odd that we were asking our family to watch our children in the evenings, a little past the bedtime we were usually so strict with. We keenly noticed their speculating though not prying questions. We understood we would need to explain eventually, but we were not prepared for the conversation yet until we knew if this was truly something we were willing to undertake.

After the training was completed, the hours of paperwork were filed, and our home was qualified as child friendly – to the government’s standards – we began the waiting game for our first foster placement. We shared the news with our families and received mixed responses as we continued to wait for that first call. The wait time seemed to be long, given the fact that there are so many children awaiting foster homes, but the first call took almost 6 weeks. Our first placement was a child older than we had initially been prepared for, but we faithfully trusted that he was meant to be a temporary part of our family.

He stayed with us for only one week’s time and then was returned home, as ordered by the judge. Our children were saddened by this quick departure, but we felt as though we did what we could to help and aid this child during a time of turmoil in his family’s life. We did our best to show him all of the features of a loving Catholic home and we again began to wait for our next call.

Over the next few weeks we said a lot of no’s to children who were drastically older than our oldest child. Almost three months passed before a call came for a child that was only six years of age. His story was so heartbreaking and I immediately felt bonded to him even though he came with many unknowns. We trusted and accepted his placement. In the days and weeks that followed, much was learned about him that was not divulged at that first call.

We were obligated daily to transport him both ways for therapy almost 45 minutes away; he had weekly visits with his parents – who, we initially were told, were not in the picture; and he was so behind in many hygiene areas that the appointments quickly added a staggering amount of stress and uncertainty to our typical daily schedule. We did our best to compensate with love as we drove and expended ourselves out of our own reaches, with six little bodies in the car, but the requests were just staggering. Our little ones naptimes were cut in half as our new child’s transportation requirements fell in the middle of the afternoon, and sleeplessness quickly angered many tiny bodies. With the added exhaustion coming from our children, we were stretched thin as the comments began to roll in from family members, who maintained that we should have never subjected our family to this stress.

Though in the middle of all this was a little boy who was finally thriving happily in a home unlike one he had ever had before. He galloped throughout our home with a disconnected smile. He called us “Mom” and “Dad” effortlessly and followed our other children whereever they went. He behaved at Mass and prayer time, even reciting things we never thought he would say; he fought over cuddles before bedtime; and he hugged his stuffed friends as he was tucked in a warm and safe bed – something he stated he had not ever really had. He began to divulge how he used to sleep in an alley, how he lived with various strangers, and how he just wanted to be in a home with the siblings that no one could find for him to visit with.

At the same time he was fitting in so ideally, our oldest with special needs seemed to be getting more argumentative and stressed with each passing day. The daily upheavals to his scheduled world hurt me to my core, though I understood that his uneasiness was only a result of my own choices to help another child. To add to our upheavals, as the second week came to a close with our new child I entered into my second trimester of pregnancy with our sixth biological child. The overjoyed feelings we had for this new life was dismissed quickly as we explained that we were pregnant with this new life to our foster child’s social worker.

Immediately they wanted to remove our foster child from our home, because our situation, in their opinion, was no longer permanent. (In order to qualify as a foster parent you cannot have more than six children in your home without a special waiver – and this new life was a threat to that rule.)  As much as I felt happiness in fostering I also viewed this as God’s way of saying this was not for our family anymore in the current parameters.

I felt my pregnancy was a blessing in disguise though this happy growing baby added hurt, because this child whom I had grown to care for could not stay with us much longer. I was so torn by loving my own new biological life growing inside but, at the same time desiring to not let this foster child leave the home he was thriving in. If in fact he would have been being returned to the loving arms of his parents as our first placement had, our feelings would have been different though this simply was not the case. He would be going back into the foster system, a system that worried me to my core, for the individuals out there doing it for a monthly paycheck – without the loving intentions.

We were given the option to remove him now from our home or wait until our baby was born, but no matter what, he could not stay beyond that point. For our oldest with autism the choice was easily made, although it hurt as deeply as I explained to our new child that after only six weeks with us he was going to go to a new family. We tried to build it up optimistically that this would be a hopefully permanent adoptive choice and that we felt he should move before school started, but the rest of our children were saddened, including our oldest.

We felt pushed out of fostering because we now had too many children to welcome another, according to the government’s standards. As we prepared for his departure we did our best to continue to show him that he was loved by God as well as us and that would not change – no matter where he lived. Sadly we were not even able to give him the goodbye we planned because as quick as our first child placement left, so did our last, but in a negative light.

Within hours of an accident involving our youngest child, which gave her an overnight stay in the hospital, our foster child was removed from our home. He was removed with less than an hour’s notice and we never saw him again. We attempted our best to explain to our children that our government’s idea of raising and protecting children is different from our own, yet they were still devastated. To add to our dismay, three weeks later, after children and youth cleared us of any abuse allegations and warranted this as a true accident, the foster agency called to see if we would accept a new child placement before the birth of our baby. As a result of being hurt and so emotionally drained, we immediately closed our home as a foster home.

We did this with a loving sadness, one that will not change for any child who is out there without a home. We chose to not have another placement because the agency and all the government affiliations truly do not seem to grasp what it means to care for a child. The focus of foster-care placement is to avoid orphanages, it seems; to have a home that houses a “parent” whom is willing to transport a child to any and all appointments that the government deems necessary. The love aspect, although heavily spoken about at the training, is pushed to the back burner as the required transportation lists roll in with the placement of the child.

There is no ability to say no, once a child is placed in a home. Even if the child does not want to go or a parent feels it is too taxing on their emotional capabilities, there is no choice in the matter. It is truly as though a foster parent is not caring for a foster child’s well-being, but called to be a slave to a slew of government protocols. Parents are strictly required to attend these countless appointments even if it deems a problem for their work schedule and other life demands.

My husband and I were forced to reschedule our own appointments, as well as our children’s, for this new child. I am not saying that I did not want to provide these services, but usually I schedule appointments to fit everyone in our home’s schedule, which provides peace of mind for the entire family not just for one member – though this was not able to be the case when fostering.

Emotional well-being is not factored into the scenario. Trust of these foster parents’ judgment is not factored into the scenario. Understanding of all of the family members’ best interests is not realized. It is all about the foster child first and the little reimbursement given for housing and food is nowhere close to a reasonable amount for all of the time incurred.

While I understand that it may be the first time that these children are put first in someone’s life, it should be more about the loving care, emotional well-being, and neurological rebuilding of trust, love, and support for the child. Their weekly routine should not be weighed down by a slew of therapy appointments, social-worker visits, and parent visits – that many times should not even be deemed warranted.

In the end, we may have failed at the aspect of fostering in the government’s eyes, but that seems like a sign of reassurance. We always knew we were fostering for the children involved and I fully believe we were, but we were not allowed to raise these children how we felt was best for their full well-being. As a result, we will continue to raise our own children, loving them with all of our hearts, and being fully open to life – no matter the end number.

We are succeeding at raising our own children in love, time in the care of their parents – at home, and full parental trust that we will always be there. We failed at fostering because it impeded on our own wonderful bouncy children on this earth and that was simply not something we could sacrifice.

My husband has always told me that our charity to this world is our growing number of children. Honestly I never truly agreed with him because I felt selfish not extending ourselves into the community. However I now see that every ounce of energy, time, and money that we put into our own houseful of children is truly our gift to the world. One day they will be old enough to go out into the world and change it, possibly by fostering, for the better.

I will continue to pray daily for the three boys who graced our lives in those few short months of fostering and hope that we fulfilled the time that God called us into the community to offer a helpful hand. Even though I feel as if we failed the foster care system I believe it was only because we were no longer called to be caring for others in that capacity right now in our lives.

We are called to care for those little bodies who dwell in our hearts and homes forever and always. In the end if everyone cared adequately about the little bodies that came from their own bodies there would be no need for foster care system in the first place.


Copyright 2018 Janele Hoerner

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About Author

Janele Hoerner is the author of Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism: An Interior Analysis of the Impact a Special Needs Child Bestows upon the Family. She wishes to help all individuals to become selfless by the presence of special needs individuals in the community. She lives with her husband and their five children, two of which are on the Autism Spectrum, in central Pennsylvania. Visit Janele's blog at Loving the Soul Beneath the Autism.

2 Comments

  1. Janele, your story has really moved me. I am so impressed with you for endeavoring to foster children at all. We’ve talked about it in our family, too, and decided against it because of our special needs child and so many stories like yours and worse. No, no, NO! you didn’t “fail” at being a foster family! You have SUCCEEDED in having the courage to do what is best for your family (and God’s will!) by having the saying “no” at the appropriate time. God bless you, and thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Dear Janele, thank you for sharing this very moving story. I don’t think you failed, at all. And I know you worry about those children because you have such a generous mother’s heart. The little boys who were part of your family, even briefly, were given a safe and caring environment in a time of crisis for them. That is a gift to them that no system can ever take away. You don’t know, right now, why this isn’t God’s plan for you right now — but down the line, you may find that your experience, or your children’s experience, or the experience of the three children you welcomed into your home, was a part of setting something greater into motion. Do not feel that you failed. Be grateful that you were able to do as much as you did, and always remember to pray for those children (I always run to St. John Bosco to ask intercession with the children in my world whose family security is lacking.)

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