Why didn’t they have to go? Questions from a former foster child

As you know, my granddaughter and grandson were removed from our home for just shy of a year due to a CPS investigation that was later dismissed. The children were returned home as if the case never happened and we began to put our lives back together. As the family had purchased property in Florida prior to the case and had intended to relocate, my son had made this move during the year of CPS involvement in order to get my other two grandchildren settled and allow Gloria to access better options for therapy related to DS.

For this reason, I was away from all four of my grandbabies for the majority of that year which also meant that they were away from their cousins. This was heartbreaking but we worked tirelessly to make sure that they were aware of one another. We taught Clarabelle and Elliott sign language just as Gloria’s therapists in Florida were teaching her and her brother. We knew that, eventually, they would all be together again and, now they are!

It never dawned on me that the distance between her home in West Virginia and the home of her foster parents was processed in the same way as the distance from our home in West Virginia to Florida. But, apparently, Clarabelle believed that her cousins had somehow been physically closer to me during that period and was holding some form of resentment that manifested last week.

You see, we had tried to encourage positive memories of that year and gradually replace any bad memories with new happy ones with her family. We never elaborated on the context of the case, we held back our tears during visits, and we did not allow the children to hear any negative words about the people involved in the case.

Even in my post, I try to not reflect negatively because, although I do harbor many negative emotions about that year and the events that took place, I do not believe that negative outbursts will not help anyone to heal. We did not start the blog to add to the negativity of these cases but rather to bring hope in light of so many negative emotions that people encounter in life. I also know that these children will mirror my actions, my emotions, and my beliefs. I have a responsibility to them and I refuse to let them down.

So, instead of talking about our time apart, we discuss our visits and the fun things that we did. Each week when we go to the library, we talk about how we have always went to the library. This replaces the notion of the “visits at the library” with a sense of normalcy that foster care strips away from children. When we do crafts, we talk about crafts that we did during that year. When we play with playdough, we talk about how we went to the store to buy shoes for our playdough statues that we had made. It is our hope that this is what they will remember from that year as we place moments in the context of her normal life.

With that stated, the ugly side of that year came out when I spoke to her about the possibility of seeing her former foster parents. Now, for many reasons I will not elaborate on the response in a public forum nor will I go into details as to why I made the inquiry. This post is not about that. Instead, it is about the perception of time and space that children use to form their emotions and reactions to situations.

Shortly after our discussion, I put the girls in the bathtub. Now, Clarabelle and Gloria typically laugh and play together all day. Bathtime becomes a field of splashing and dumping water on each other followed by giggles. On this night, however, I notice that Clarabelle is not playing and when Gloria dumps the first cup of water, Clarabelle shoves her away.

Hmmmm. This was odd but I had not put it together yet. I assumed she was tired and went ahead with the business of bathing the girls. The next day, Clarabelle sat on her uncle’s lap and wet herself. She then did the same to her stepdad. This beat all I had ever seen. I could not fathom what was going on. So, I did what we are known to do. I grabbed a cup of coffee and we went outside to chat about the world a bit.

“You know that you are the big girl here, right?”

“Yeah, but I want to be a baby.”

“Why? Babies don’t get to drink coffee!” (before you judge she gets cooled down hot chocolate for coffee time)

“I know. But babies get their Gigi all the time.”

Ahhhh…the lightbulb was starting to flicker but had not quite switched on!

If you recall, Gloria is a work in progress on potty training because of DS and the boys both find humor in peeing on the floor on their way to the potty (yes, this occurs more than I would care to state. Thank God for my Swiffer!). However, Clarabelle has been fully potty trained for quite some time.

“You get lots of Gigi time because you are a big girl.”

“But Gloria Ann and Braxton got more time. Why didn’t they have to go away?”

“Gloria and Braxton were in Florida, Clarabelle. You know they did not stay at Gigi’s house, right?”

“They didn’t? When I was with (FM) and (FF)? You did not keep them either?”

“No baby, Gigi used all of her time to bring you home because I love you.”

“Me too, Gigi!”

 

You see, the events that happen are experienced in the perception of the individual. Not everyone remembers or reflects on something in the same way. I wonder how long she has thought that I had chosen her cousins over her. Maybe the idea just popped in her head because I only asked her the question and not them. Maybe the reminder of the events sent her little mind into a state of fear and uncertainty.  Hell, it did the same to me. But regardless, we will continue to answer her questions and pray that she will be allowed to fully heal from these events.

 

To understand an experience, one must see it through the eyes of others.

“Gigi”

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Trashbags: What this “luggage” means to foster children

luggage.jpg

Have you ever wondered why when we move to a new home we use disposable packing supplies but when we go on a trip we use luggage? My thoughts on this are that, when we move, we plan on staying in that location but when we travel we value our possessions enough to keep them safe until we return home. When we move, we do not need to return the items to the bags and boxes because we will not be leaving. We will not be returning. We are at our “home” and this is where our belongings belong. This is where they will stay. We move them from the bags and boxes into a more permanent storage such as a dresser or closet and do away with the disposable items that remind us of the process of packing. We are done with that process and expect to settle securely into this new setting. When we travel, we may enjoy our different destinations but we always know that we will be putting our items back into our luggage and returning to the home that we know.

When we move, we do not need to return the items to the bags and boxes because we will not be leaving. We will not be returning. We are at our “home” and this is where our belongings belong. This is where they will stay. We move them from the bags and boxes into a more permanent storage such as a dresser or closet and do away with the disposable items that remind us of the process of packing. We are done with that process and expect to settle securely into this new setting. When we travel, we may enjoy our different destinations but we always know that we will be putting our items back into our luggage and returning to the home that we know.

When we travel, we may enjoy our different destinations but we always know that we will be putting our items back into our luggage and returning to the home that we know. Our luggage is as much a part of our travels as it is of our home. We remember our home and where the luggage will be stored until our next adventure. We may even dream of staying in that beach house forever but we see our luggage and know that home and the life we have built is waiting on us. So we hold onto our luggage until we return.

One of the ways that the foster care system begins the process of alienation is the very method of transporting the children’s belongings from their home to their temporary residence. How many of you have been told to throw a few things into a trash bag? How many of you dropped off some items in Walmart bags or grocery store bags? How many simply had time to pack a diaper bag as the workers placed your child into a strange vehicle to go to a strange home?

When the children arrive, the bags are tossed out and the children see their items being put into more permanent storage and no longer see any resemblance of their home. There is nothing to remind them that they will be going home. There is nothing to state that this is a temporary placement and that they soon will be returning home. There is nothing to say that it is okay to be comfortable and even, if possible, to have some good days while they are there, but that it is important to always remember that they have a home and life waiting for them once the CPS case is over. They have to know that their belongings belong at home with them and their family and they cannot know this if they cannot envision how their belongings will be returned.

They have to know that their belongings belong at home with them and their family and they cannot know this if they cannot envision how their belongings will be returned. Their disposable luggage has been disposed of just as the system wants them to believe has happened to their life before placement. But we, their family members, are not disposable. We are their permanency. We are their life before, during, and after this whirlwind that is called child protective services.

We are their luggage! We are their way home!

We must serve as a reminder to them that their lives are there waiting for them. For us, we chose to buy luggage as a reminder for ourselves that they would come home. We packed these bags with plenty of items for our move the moment that they were returned to us. We often re-sorted the items and changed them out based on their growth and the season. But we always knew and we never let them doubt!

I have read articles that talk about the inhumanity of dropping off children with trash bags as if they are homeless, unwanted, and unworthy. I have read about programs that are intended to help with this issue. We are currently looking into these programs to find out more about the avenues for assisting as well as to find additional research that will foster additional support for this critical but often overlooked aspect of foster care. I will keep you posted on our findings and hopefully, we can work together to minimize the stress on these children until we can find a way to truly reform this broken system.

Until we can bring them home, let’s remind them that they have one!

“Gigi”