We got license to be foster parents in September 2010. We didn’t get our first placement until May 2011. We got a few calls for children during that time, but thankfully they were able to find family for those kids. It has been eight months, though, and I was chomping at the bit for a placement. We got the call on a Friday for two sister, ages 2 and 3, who had been in care a year but needed a new home. There were concerns about possible special needs for the older one. A week later I met them in their foster home, a week after that they moved in with us. My husband was out of town the whole first week they were with us. The older girl, J, was a handful, but after a week with them I was totally in love (yes, yes, I know, honeymoon period).
On their 10th day with us, we were playing outside in the backyard, just me and the girls. I had my back turned and was focusing on little B. It had only been a few minutes, but when I turned around, J was gone. The gate was still padlocked so I couldn’t figure out where she was. To make the longest 10 minutes of my life short, I called police, she was found 2 blocks away CROSSING A STREET and was almost hit by a car. The officer charged me with criminal child neglect. The girls were removed. I was totally, completely shattered.
I had just ended my first year of grad school and had been planning my summer solely around the girls. I suddenly had a ton of free time on my hands, so I basically ran away. I found an organization to volunteer with, got in my car and drove for 9 hours. Then I visited friends for a few weeks. Then I came home, picked up my husband, and we drove to the Midwest to attend a couple of weddings. I was gone about a month. Other than my immediate family, my husband’s parents and a couple of friends, I told no one. I was wracked with guilt and scared about the criminal charge. I was so sad about the additional trauma to the girls. It was not the high point of my life.
I was lucky. I had TONS of support from my agency and my friends. Four months, buckets of tears, panic attacks and thousands of dollars in lawyer fees later, we had court. The police officer chose not to attend. Apparently it wasn’t that big a deal to him. The case was dismissed. The representatives from my agency actually cheered, drawing a raised eyebrow from the judge. Less than two weeks later, we got called for A&N, who were the biggest joy of my life for 13 months. I also gained a new kind of compassion for birth parents. Now I know what it is like to face charges, to have children removed from my home against my will. It’s pretty freaking ugly.
People thought we were crazy for continuing to foster. My parents were not thrilled, mostly because they were worried about the liability for hubby and me. But fostering was my dream. We worked hard to get to that point. I was not giving it up just because our journey started with my worst nightmare. After all, it could only get better. It couldn’t get a lot worse, at least. I’m glad we stuck with it most of the time. But when I read about other foster parents facing (usually false) allegations, it breaks my heart for them and brings back all my old feelings of anxiety. It is always a reminder that what we do is dangerous for us. There is risk. There is great reward, but we can never forget the risk.