How do you explain reunification to a child who desperately wants to trade in his parents and be adopted by his foster parents? You can’t blame him for rejecting abusive/neglectful parents and wanting parents who keep him safe. But that’s not the court’s plan.
I was reading Maybe Days: A Book for Kids in Foster Care to my 8-year-old foster son Watchful. Maybe Days is a great book which explains in kid-friendly terms why children are in foster care, who are the people involved in foster care (like social workers, judges, etc.), what a child in foster care can expect to have happen, and how the foster child might feel about it. It’s a fantastic book and I highly recommend it for any children you may be fostering.
So I read the part about the people involved in foster care and I asked Watchful to identify who in our home was in foster care. He identified himself, his sister Joyful, and my son Silent One. I gently explained that Silent One is adopted, which is different than being in foster care. Adoption means Silent One was born to different parents, but is our forever son. My husband and I will be Silent One’s parents forever, Silent One will live with us until he is a grown up, and nothing will ever change that relationship.
“I want to be adopted by you, too,” Watchful whispered to me. He was snuggled up against me on the sofa. Looking into his brown eyes, my heart melted. Oh, how I wanted to say I could be his mom and keep him safe for the rest of his life!!!
Instead, I told him the truth of his foster care plan – reunification with his dad.
“I really like having you live with us, too,” I said and smiled at him with love welling up in my voice. “But the judge decided the plan is for you and Joyful to live with your dad. Right now, your dad is learning how to be a parent who can keep you safe. If he can learn to do that, then you and your sister will go live with him again.”
“But I feel safe living here with you,” Watchful said. He went on to explain why he didn’t think his dad would ever be a good parent. Honestly, I have doubts, but my job as a foster mom is to help the whole family – foster kids and their parents – on a path of healing. And somehow still be truthful.
So I said…
“Well, I don’t really know what your dad will do. Hopefully, the class he is taking will teach him how to be the kind of dad who can keep you safe. I know it can be really hard to imagine life being different than what it has been, but people can learn to act differently,” I said as gently as possible. We went on to discuss how Watchful hadn’t known how to read when he was younger, but eventually, he learned how.
Telling Watchful the truth about the current reunification plan was tough. I needed to let him know that it’s his dad’s actions that will ultimately determine Watchful’s fate. I tried to be hopeful without guaranteeing a particular outcome. I wrapped up by repeating how much I really love having Watchful live with us, so that he’d know I wasn’t rejecting him.
Because if I could be his mom forever, I would.
This post is part of Adoption Talk Link Up, where people interested in learning about adoption discuss a new topic every two weeks. Check it out!