When you think of the foster care system, what is your first thought? Is it images you have seen in movies or read in books? Well, I can almost guarantee that whatever you are thinking is wrong. Now, that is not an offense on you, because it isn't your fault. Not really. It is the fault of every Hollywood director who failed to do their research, and it is the fault of everyone who assumed that they can guess what the situation is like without ever experiencing it first-hand. Just like you can't assume to know the struggles of a person of another race, you can not assume to completely understand the lives of children and families of those involved in The Department of Human Services (DHS) to people on the outside.
My family has done foster care for almost as long as I can remember. It has been a constant steady in my life, which is ironic since the whole nature of the service is to be transitional. Before we started doing foster care, we looked like any other typical American family. A dad who went to work every day, a stay at home mom who would always be there when we got off the bus from school, and three kids. One boy and two girls. Looking in we seemed pretty complete. The American dream.
Growing up, we were always religious. We would go to church every Sunday, youth group on Wednesday, the works. I assume that is where my mom and dad picked up the idea. There was probably a presentation from a charity organization about children overseas who needed help, who needed to be sponsored. That presentation planted the seed in my mom's head for adoption. My parents struck forward on that mission and discovered a few things.
Firstly, it was super expensive to adopt from overseas and secondly, there was a huge crisis in our own country of children that needed to be adopted. Currently, in 2019, there are over eight thousand children in foster care in Oregon alone, and two hundred of those are up for adoption. Multiply that by fifty states and you have a big problem. Some of those kids are newborns and some are people that are about to age out of the system. The major problem is there are not enough people to help and the ones that do are underpaid and underappreciated.
I'm now twenty-one years old and have been a foster sister since I was seven years old. To the best of my knowledge, we have had over forty-five kids come through our house. Primarily, they are babies and children younger than 5 years old. Our family specializes in children who are medically fragile, which basically means they are the worst affected. We have had children who were born addicted to meth and others who came to us in a body cast. There is no easy way to deal with seeing a human being that is not even six months old in full body cast; there just isn't.
The idea that someone could look at a child, maybe not even a week old yet, and choose to hurt them is beyond me. It fills me with so much sadness and so much rage if I am being completely honest. In the past when I would be so fed up with seeing the kids like this I would imagine creative punishments for the parents who committed the wrongs. One idea that my ten year old brain came up with was getting pushed out an airplane, preferably over water where sharks will eat them. My 14 year old brain thought that every wrong that they committed to the kids should be done right back to them. Now while I don't believe my fourteen year old self was entirely wrong in that regard, I am a little calmer. the phrase "an eye for eye will make the whole world blind" really resonates with me. Instead of becoming the monsters that the parents were, all I focus on now when I have the chance is to love the kids like they never have before with the time we were given.
Whenever we tell people what we do, there is one of two responses. The first is a look of awkwardness and not knowing what to say/disgust and disapproval. Those don't appear very often, but I promise they are there. The second is less mean but just as equally infuriating. It is the response, "Oh, that's so amazing that y'all do that, but I could never do it. It would suck to bad to have to give the kids back." When I first started hearing that I would get frustrated, like did these people think I enjoyed it? That I didn't mind giving the kids back to parents whose choices will put them right back in the system?
Now, I just smile and say "Yeah, it really does suck and it is really hard, but you know what, it is the right thing to do. To give the kids some semblance of normalcy and love where they have never had it before. It's worth it." Life isn't fair and it will never be, but there are things you have to deal with in order to get through life and to help others flourish. So yeah, having foster siblings really did suck sometimes. Forming bonds with people who you know you might never see again. But you know what, it's worth it and made me a better person than who I probably would have been without it in my life. It taught me to be less selfish, more understanding, more charitable and how to love people despite what they have gone through. One day, I complained to my mom about how those comments made me feel and she didn't respond how I thought she would. She said something along the lines of "Buck up buttercup because the babies crying and we got stuff to do."
If you are interested in becoming involved with the DHS foster system, click here.