There is a man that stands at the top of the escalator as I emerge from the subway every morning. Just before I hit the street, I can hear him calling out affirmations for the day to all the passers-by as he hands out free newspapers.
“Have a good day!”
“It’s going to be a cold one!”
“Bundle up, be safe, make this the best day of the week!”
He must have a few dozen lines of them that he recycles everyday and if you stood by him long enough you would hear them all. I wondered for a moment whether what he has to say matters or is he just part of the busy street clamor, no different than the bus grinding away as it pulls from the curb or the clatter of heals along the sidewalk. Why any of the buttoned-down, bundled-up, shivering commuters trying to face another Monday in the middle of winter–why would any of them care?
It made me think of our situation and the realization that when we speak, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not so much what we say but that we open our mouths at all. I am just another foster parent in a pool of foster parents; my foster son is just another foster kid in a pool of foster children; and we are all caught up in the great sea that is the foster care system. That system moves as it has always moved. We aren’t anymore significant than any of the other thousands of foster kids or parents in this State. What we say is of little consequence to anyone.
It’s no longer a source of sadness or of consternation. It is a fact. I only wished that we had arrived at this conclusion long ago. Instead we have been buried under our own notion of who and what we are. We’ve been misled by the Baltimore City Department of Social Services (BCDSS) training rhetoric that somehow we were part of the “team”. We deceived ourselves into thinking that because everyone thought we were “amazing foster parents” that that would translate into having a role in this process, that what we had to say mattered. The reality is that nothing we have ever said, ever mattered. I’m just not sure why I never recognized it before.
It took us nearly a year to get Social Services to change the weekly visit time for our foster son so that it didn’t coincide with the day care center’s scheduled nap-time. It wasn’t until he started having behavioral problems at day care that anyone began to listen. And it wasn’t until our day care provider said something, that his worker changed the time. But still I was able to ignore the obvious–they aren’t interested in what you have to say.
Then there was the Citizen’s Review Board. This group made up of volunteers, was established through legislation to ensure that the Permanency Plan being followed is in the best interests of the child. We thought finally, we have a forum where someone will listen to us. We used the form they provided to produce several pages of written justification for changing the Permanency Plan. They asked us very few questions and sent us a response by mail stating that BCDSS had followed all procedures. There was no acknowledgement of our justification. We discovered that even the Citizen’s Review Board had no interest in what we had to say.
Even though we have been at every court proceeding since the beginning, we have only been included in this stage of the process. By law we are invited to attend and to make a statement at Permanency Plan hearings. But what we’ve discovered is that most foster parents don’t speak up in court. No one–including the judge–wants the input of the foster parents in the case. They want to know that the child is being properly cared for; that BCDSS is providing any needed services; and if it comes down to it, whether the foster parent would be willing to adopt. That is all.
The thing is, no one tells you these things when you become a foster parent. Why not just come right out and say it. Why not put it in the brochure or on the web-site under FAQs? I wish I had known many things before beginning this process. I wish I had known how difficult it would be to manage the emotions that come with this role. I wish that I had believed that really, these things can literally drag out for years. Most of all I wish I had known that no one would care what mattered to me. I may not have the most impartial point of view, but ultimately whatever happens to our foster son, I only have our son’s best interests at heart.