In our family’s life, saying yes brought on an engagement. A marriage. Two young people (one of them being me) said yes to life together, whatever it may bring. And let’s be entirely clear, we were completely young. And we were sure we knew completely everything.
In our first year of marriage we said yes to foster parenting. I grew up with foster siblings. My biological parents began fostering when I was about 12 years old. My husband was adopted at the age of 7. We had some experience. I was absolutely positive we knew exactly what we were doing.
We launched our family into the belly of state-run child services. The day we were certified, we said yes to an 18-month-old boy. A battered, broken boy, brought into care via the hospital where he was treated for skull fractures, bite marks, broken ribs…it was discovered that he had been shaken and beaten by his 15-year-old mother. He was the 4th generation in his family to become entangled with the state. I found him precious beyond measure, in a screeching, tantrum-ing kind of way. I loved him instantly. I love him still. He was adopted into our family at the age of 3. Our now thirteen-year-old son will spend his lifetime managing the effects of a traumatic brain injury.
We continued to foster, adopting again, a teeny 1-year-old girl. Sweet Mia was the third-born daughter to a young mother with a penchant for meth and abusive men.
Then, along came a sibling group of three. They bounced back and forth between their biological family, group homes and foster homes. This finally ended with their adoption into our family in 2008.
The day we said yes to our first foster son was the day the world changed. We absolutely went to war. For justice. For his rights, his needs, his education. We fought for him…and paradoxically, we were thrust into fighting social services. The system that promised to help actually did the opposite.
I was confused. And furious. But, in my naïveté, I assumed that our first adversarial encounter with this system was the exception, not the rule.
In all of our dealings with foster care, I tried to remain somewhat optimistic. I was sure the system that claimed the serious banner of Child Welfare Agency would work for our children. I was positive that safe and necessary outcomes would occur. I was certain that appropriate resources would be made available for physically and mentally harmed children. I just knew sweet-hearted adults would come oozing from this place called social services and attempt to help and heal.
And that was partly correct. Many caseworkers were comrades-in-arms, working to aid children within a dysfunctional system. These dedicated individuals were also underpaid and grossly overworked. The sheer number of caseloads often flung at them was impossible to handle.
And that left a lot of unanswered questions. So young, dumb newlywed was replaced by obnoxious, loud, attorney-calling, argumentative, explain-it-to-me-again-in-a-way-that-makes-actual-sense foster (and then adoptive) mom.
Over the next several years, I found that saying yes to foster parenting meant saying yes to entering arenas in which I was exceedingly uncomfortable. It meant repeatedly confronting systems and policies that were illogical, but seemingly impossible to modify. There were road blocks in every direction.
This is when I was introduced to Children’s Rights. Lead by a group of brilliant attorneys that could easily have enormous salaries, company cars, corner offices, these people (I want to kiss their faces) said yes to advocating for children. Children wounded first by their guardians and, many times, again by a social service system erroneously claiming to provide protection from harm. CR’s judicial reforms are now poised to remove the roadblocks I could never seem to get past in my home state, and are breathing new possibility into social services. For that, I’m grateful.
Because someone needs to stand up for these kids. Publicly invisible. Legally voiceless. Foster children. My children. And there just aren’t a lot of adults willing to say yes.
When my husband and I first thought about fostering, we assumed we would be instantly good at it, that it would only ever be sweet and precious. And that just isn’t always the truth. There are sweet and precious moments, there really are. But, there are also times of heartbreak and frustration.
But, even in those trying times, our journey has been entirely worth the effort. Our resilient kids are overcoming their tumultuous beginnings. They are beautiful, wonderful, creative, hilarious children. We have found them to be sensitive and compassionate because of their pasts. They are the light that survived the horror. And it is our joy and pleasure to traverse this life with them.
Fostering has taught our entire family what our yes really means. And sometimes we stick with it only because we said yes. It’s an excellent life lesson, yes isn’t always easy. In our family, yes means we are committed, no matter what. Through behaviors, through special needs, through learning issues. Saying yes means not giving in or giving up on a child—a hurting, lonely, scared child waiting for us, the grownups, to say yes.
Christy Irons, a mother of 9, is on Children’s Rights’ Advisory Council.
Published on May 8, 2016 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.