It has been nearly four months since I’ve written a foster care update. After a house flood, three funerals in three weeks, welcoming a newborn into our home, and a (scheduled) surgery—I was lacking the time and energy to send updates.
But March was less traumatic in the Johnson household, and I literally get messages every single day asking me what’s happening with our case, so here we go.
January: We had a permanency hearing. These are scheduled every six months, so this was our second hearing. We had the opportunity to meet F’s dad for the first time and talk with him after court. He was grateful, respectful, and kind. E’s dad did not come to court, which was expected as he has not been involved in the case in any way since May of last year. Nothing changed at that time, but some of the things that came out in court led us to believe that Mom was not going to be able to accomplish her goals for reunification.
February: Mom gave birth to Baby K on February 3rd, and it was decided at the hospital that she would not get to take the baby home with her. We obviously knew the baby was coming, so we wanted to prepare as best as we could.
As a family, we had a lot of things to consider. First, we know the importance of keeping siblings together. Secondly, Mom had asked us to take the baby because she was worried about her floating around in the system. We took both of these things into consideration in making our decision. On the other hand, our oldest, Will, has expressed in the past that he feels four kids is the right number for our family. Scott also felt like four was our capacity. Ben and I live in La La Land and believe we should take ALL THE BABIES, so we need Scott and Will to be our guides in this area.
The biggest factor in deciding whether or not we would take the baby full-time was the fact that we have orders to move to WA this summer. Starting a new case with a new child (because that’s how this works) would extend our commitment to staying in the state of IL. We have currently been involved with the girls for sixteen months with little to no end in sight, so taking Baby K would definitively mean splitting up our family. (More on this later.) If we chose to take her at birth, we would have to disrupt her case this summer and move her from the only family she knew (us) to strangers. That didn’t seem the best interest of the child, which we believe should take precedence.
So, we thought the best course of action would be to find a family for her who was willing to allow us to be a part of the baby’s life. We searched and prayed and found the best family. The only hitch in our plan was that they knew they were leaving for a Hawaiian vacation the first two weeks in February. Feeling at peace about everything else, we told them and the case worker that we were more than willing to take Baby K home from the hospital and transfer her when they returned from their vacation. This plan has proven to be an incredible blessing, as we acquired the greatest foster-in-laws on the planet.
Kelly (Baby K’s foster mom) and I are like summer camp friends—fast and furious and lifelong. We try our best to get the kids together every week. She and her husband have three biological children—two boys and a girl—so when we’re all together, it’s the best kind of wild, heart-filling fun. Baby K is thriving, and our family is completely assured that we have done the right thing for her.
March: We found out that a legal screening passed for E. What this means is that the state’s attorney has found enough evidence for her parents’ rights to be terminated. Wait—I should clarify that there is enough evidence to go to trial.
The legal process by which parental rights are terminated is lengthy. It’s frustrating, but honestly, the process should be thorough. We are talking about severing ties between parents and their children. That is not a decision to be entered into lightly. For E and her parents, this is absolutely the right decision. Neither her mom nor her dad have complied with their service plans. Every effort has been made to accommodate E’s parents, and I can say that we have traveled every avenue to make reunification a possibility. It is easy to look at the details of the case—why the children were taken into custody, choices and behaviors we have witnessed—and get angry that this is taking so long. I have to remind myself that this is how foster care works—the initial goal is always reunification, and our case worker has been very thorough in making sure that he has done his job with integrity.
So the answer to the question that everyone ask is this: yes, E will be available for adoption if the termination goes through, and yes, we will adopt her. If you’re waiting for the fireworks to go off, hold your punk. I’ll believe this possibility exists when I see it. If that sounds cynical or pessimistic, it’s not—I am at my core a realist, and there are any number of ways this could go sideways, so pardon me if I restrain myself from getting overly excited. That said, this is the closest we’ve been to resolution, and of course, we would be thrilled to add E to our family forever if given the chance.
That brings me to F. Her case is still wide open because even though Mom has not done what is necessary to move toward reunification, Dad has accomplished enough to stay on a reunification track. He is not making significant progress beyond meeting minimal parenting standards, but he is still here. This is how cases like ours end up open for years on end.
I want to caution everyone against demonizing F’s dad. He is her biological father. It is easy to get angry with him for not making more progress, but that’s wasted emotion. There are many, many reasons why we believe F would best be served by not returning home. There are many, many reasons why we believe F would best be served by remaining in our home. I can list them without disparaging her father in any way. 1) She has been in our home for fourteen months and has healthy attachments to us as parents, our biological children, and her biological sibling who will likely become part of our family permanently. 2) We are providing a safe, stable environment that allows her to thrive physically and emotionally. 3) We have the ability to care for her psychological needs and address prior traumas. 4) She is approaching three and thus understands the dynamics of what is happening more and more every day making it even more crucial that she not be in limbo any longer than she has to be.
April: We have the first of several termination hearings on April 17th. At some point, when the goal is changed to adoption instead of reunification, we will have to fill out paperwork in order to take E with us to WA. Of course, if F’s case does not have some kind of resolution, we are living this dilemma:
I tried to explain the scenario as objectively as possible. What is not written in those short paragraphs is the gut-wrenching, tear-filled conversations we are having daily around here. At my core, I know the best thing is for us to stay in IL for F, but making that choice also means our other three kids will live apart from their dad. It means I will be flying solo. It means Scott will be taking command without the support of his family. If someone could tell me right now that we would have resolution in six months, nine months, a year—the choice would be obvious. We stay until F has permanency.
BUT the way foster care works, she could literally be in limbo for years. There are cases that stay open until children turn eighteen. Think about that. Babies get passed around the system while the world breaks them, and then they age out. It’s not uncommon. So what do we do then? Stay in IL while Scott moves around the country every two years until he can retire and live with us again?
This is us. Right now. Living under this weight every day.
Believe me when I say that we are trying to focus on the positive. The courts have made great strides toward making E’s life better, and for that we are immeasurably grateful. We hope that that part of this case continues to move in the right direction.
But F’s fate hangs in the balance, and it is cold under this cloud. I can tell you what I’ve been doing to find some sunshine. First, I wake up every single day grateful to see her face. She shines so brightly in the morning that it sometimes hurts my eyes. She and Scott are the loud, happy morning people in our house. Secondly, I start every morning praying for her dad. He is not healthy, and he is under a tremendous amount of stress. I pray for his body and mind. I pray for his heart. EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING. And when I feel rage bubbling about what feels like injustice for this baby, I pray for her dad. People ask often what they can do to help us, and the only thing I can think of right now is this: if you are a praying person, pray for F’s dad.
(Nearly) sixteen months down.