I have reached the point where I can’t take much more from the foster care system. It is hard to imagine it becoming any worse, though gauging from all we have experienced from social services thus far, I suppose it’s possible. We operate now completely on our own. We refrain from contact with our son’s worker and our continuing home worker. They have demonstrated to both of us not only their inability to do their respective jobs, they have shown that they are incapable of relating to us in a positive, productive and even at times, professional manner. I feel like a bad child when dealing with them and I am tired of fighting back. It’s funny that I used to take their side and insisted that they were underpaid, overworked, and functioned as best they could in a broken system. Now I realize that they themselves are broken. The system they operate in; the means with which they conduct business everyday; the culture that defines them and that they perpetuate; it all serves to make it nearly impossible for foster parents to survive this experience.
I believe now that the foster parents that have been doing this a long time, the same ones that BCDSS trots out over and over in front of us during foster parent training and for media events, are those that have been beaten into submission. They have watched the failed system and the failed people operate in their lives and in their homes with their foster children. They no longer have the will or the fight to address the wrongs and failures of the case workers and home workers and every other worker they have come into contact with. They love and care for their children and somehow manage to cope with the perpetual parade of mediocrity and mistreatment that they experience.
I have already abandoned this system in my head. I no longer have any desire to work towards a second foster-to-adopt. It is difficult to even consider any future prospects of serving as just a foster parent through Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS) to help kids through a rough period in their lives, something that we have always believed we would do. The difficulties we face in dealing with social services often outweighs the fear that Darrow and I face with our son’s uncertain future. Many times I am more troubled about having to interact with a worker then I am about not knowing whether my son will be with us on his next birthday. I am discouraged, but more than that, I am exhausted.
We’ve received comments from social workers throughout the country who have offered support and thanked us for being foster parents on both this blog. It is ironic that perfect strangers are compelled to respond this way but the people we support in BCDSS feel no need to do so. During foster parents’ recognition month in May, we received a gift card. It was completely lost on us however, by the soured relationships we have with the workers involved in our case. It meant absolutely nothing. What we would have appreciated is the intangible, non-monetary gift of common courtesy and respect. It felt like a small token payment that might look good in a press release but did nothing to absolve them from the abuse and neglect that we continue to feel. This is a thankless job that is given little respect from BCDSS and ultimately no one will care about how seriously we took our charge, how well we cared for our son, how much we gave of ourselves in trying to be foster parents in this system.
I have little hope for the foster care system. Intrinsically it is a failed system and I don’t see any real way out. We still plan to contact the Secretary of Human Resources for the State of Maryland to share our experiences. But we wonder how many foster parents over the years have done the exact same thing. And how many city and state officials have promised to fix the system. There is currently an initiative in Baltimore City called, “Baltimore Rebuild” which is supposed to reform the foster care system. In reading through the literature on this effort it is not unlike every other government reform, re-engineering or retooling effort. After a while the words lose their meaning. The sad thing is, in doing some research on this subject we discovered a similar initiative was developed by the prior administration just a few years ago. I wondered how much consultants made off of the plans that are now sitting in some dark closet in the basement of one of the old BCDSS buildings. Still the workers remain, unaffected by change, outlasting what amounts to a parade of paper and talk–well-meaning efforts that are lost on a culture that exerts more effort in trying to remain in tact, than trying to improve the level of public service. When viewed through this lens, you begin to realize that the difficulties that we face with our son are insignificant in light of the generational dysfunction of a system that has not been failing for years, but for decades.
We have always talked about having more than one child. As we plan for our second, we have eliminated the possibility of fostering again. We also look forward to the day when we can forever jettison the social services train wreck from our lives. But even as I write this, I can’t help but remember that there are one hundred thousand children lost in the foster care system in this country. Of those children, close to 8,000 live in Maryland and nearly 80% of those–more than 6,000, are living in Baltimore. There are so few of us foster parents around, maybe in time I might be able to reconsider, perhaps the needs will be too great to ignore, or the desire to help one of those faces on Adoptuskids.com will be too strong. For now I need space and time and the peace that comes from no longer having anything more to do with them.