Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saying Goodbye To Molly

This post was first published in MEM's MEMOS on April 21, 2008

"Molly" is our foster child who was placed with us last August when she was just 4 months old- just 2 weeks before our daughter, M. was born. M. is ours for keeps. I can’t even express in words how much that means to us. Molly, on the other hand, has to leave our lives. My husband and I have been preparing to say goodbye to Molly for some time now and that time has come. Here are some of my thoughts on seeing her go:

FM 100 and Two Baby Girls

One morning a couple of months ago both babies were up before 7:00, so I changed their diapers and made a bottle for each of them. I laid Molly down at my feet on a blanket since she can hold the bottle herself and I held M. in the rocker as I fed her. I decided to turn some soft music on in the hopes that at least one of the girls might go back to sleep after having a full tummy. I wanted to select something soothing, but I was getting tired of the lullaby CD and the Primary CD I usually play before bedtime, so I decided to turn on the radio to FM 100 in the hopes that there would be something soft enough to lull them to sleep.

After a couple of minutes a Chicago song came on: “If You Leave Me Now, You’ll Take Away the Biggest Part of Me . . . Woooh Oooh Oooh Oh No, Baby Please Don’t Go.” As I listened to the words and especially the phrase “Baby Please Don’t Go” I immediately likened the song to my own life and thought of Molly. After all, she is literally a “baby” and I knew that she had to “go” someday and it wouldn't be easy.The next song that came on was “I Knew I Loved You Before I Met You” (I don’t know the artist- some R&B group). I immediately thought of M. because it’s true- I knew I loved her even before I ever saw her or held her in my arms for the first time. Now I know all of this sounds extremely cheesy, but as I looked at those two baby girls that morning I almost burst out into tears of gratitude for having them both in my life. If somebody would have told me a year ago that I would be able to care for not just one but two babies I would have been giddy with excitement and overwhelmed with joy.

The Service Plan and Permanency Hearing

Molly was originally supposed to be in our care for 7 months- until the end of March. She had spent nearly a month in a sheltered foster home before she was placed with us. For babies, eight months is typically the amount of time that the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and the judge assigned to the case set forth in what is called the “Child and Family Plan” which basically outlines what needs to be done in order for the birthparents to regain custody of their children, such as getting counseling, taking parenting classes, getting drug tested on a regular basis, and having secure employment and a place of their own. So, if the Permanency Hearing [The Court Hearing to determine whether the birthparents have done all that they need to in the Child and Family Plan to get back custody of their child] was last month in March and it is now April, why do we still have Molly in our care? Well, there is a piece of legislation which states
“According to the Federal Adoption Safe and Families Act (1997) and the Utah Code (Section 78-3a-312) the family has no more than 12 months [8 months if the youngest child is 36 months of age or younger] from date of initial removal to resolve the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement of children and achieve the goal of reunification. If this is not achieved, parent(s) may lose permanent custody of the child through a termination of parental rights or transfer of permanent legal and physical custody to a relative or guardian."
That seems easy enough to understand: If there is a child under 3 years of age and that child’s parents don’t resolve whatever needs resolving within 8 months, their parental rights may be terminated, thus leaving the child legally free for adoption. Right? Well, actually not. I talked to some other foster parents who told me from their past experiences that that particular piece of legislation was a “joke”. Evidently there are some amendments to this Code that a 90 day extension may be given to the parents. It’s all up to the almighty judge.

Last month at the Permanency Hearing, that is exactly what happened: The judge in charge of the case decided to grant a 90 day extension since Molly's parents hadn’t met all the requirements of their Service Plan. I was somewhat surprised that this particular judge decided to grant the extension as I recently found that he has been dealing with Molly's mother in his courtroom from the time she was 13 years old! My husband and I were relieved when we heard about the extension. We both understood that Molly could stay with us for up to three more months so we have been planning on having her in our care until sometime in June when the final Permanency Hearing is scheduled to take place.

I have mixed feelings about extending her time with us: I feel like the longer she’s with us the more attached we will become to each other and it will be all the more painful to say goodbye when she finally leaves. What could be more painful than saying goodbye to a baby you have been caring for over the past 8 months? Logically I know the answer: It has to be more painful for a mother to have her own child taken away from her and then see a complete stranger take over her role as mother to her child. But I don’t want to be unselfish or rational and think about things from someone else’s perspective. Right now I just want to be selfish and overly emotional and feel sorry for myself. Care to join me?

Welcome to My Pity Party

I know that foster care is not an adoption agency. It’s a service project and a gamble: Foster parents must be willing to care for a child in their home with the expectation that the child will most likely be returned to his or her parents. [At least in the state of Utah where child welfare policy leans towards reunification rather than adoption] HOWEVER, the foster parents must also be willing to adopt the child if things don’t work out with the parents. Talk about an emotional roller coaster!

Because of the stress and complications involved, it’s been way too easy and automatic for me to compare myself with Molly's mother and make this a contest of “me” versus “her” in “Who Would Make the Better Parent?”.

ME vs. HER:
  • First of all, who has been caring for Molly for the past eight months? Molly's mother had her for the first three months of her life (who knows how much of that time she was stoned) but I have been caring for her for the majority of her life thus far: two-thirds to be exact as I’ve had her in my care since she was four months old and she just turned one year old this month.
  • Who was it that was with Molly when she first learned to roll over, sit up, crawl, get her first teeth etc.? Was it her birthparents? No, it was us.
  • When Molly first learned to say “ma-ma" and "da-da” was she referring to her birthparents? Nope.
  • Has her mother been the one to get up in the middle of the night for feedings, change poopy diapers, or comfort a teething infant? Nope- me again.
  • Who would make a better parent?: A mother with a criminal record who has already had two of her children taken away from her, has two more children currently in the foster care system, and has recently given birth to another baby while she was in jail OR a mother who has had to get a background check, doctor’s notes, reference letters, and go through training, interviews and complete MOUNDS of paperwork, provide proof of financial stability, and pass a yearly home safety inspection in order to become licensed to care for a child?
  • Who would make a better mother: a woman who is a high school drop out OR a woman with two bachelors degrees, whom, I might add, has taken classes such as child development, parenting theories, and family policy for her degree in HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND FAMILY STUDIES!
  • Who would make a better mother: An unmarried woman who finds herself pregnant as a teenager OR a married woman who has waited years to become a mother?
These are the kinds of questions that run through my head whenever I play a mental match of “Who Would Make The Better Mother.” I always come out the victor, (Of course!), but then my prideful satisfaction turns to shame and disgust when I realize just how self-righteous and judgmental I’ve been. If there’s one thing I really hate it is self-righteous and judgmental people.

Sometimes I rationalize and feel justified with my smug attitude when I hear family members or friends say something like, “ It should be so obvious who can provide a better life for Molly- Why can’t the Judge see that?” The answer is because it’s NOT a contest! We have no say or consideration in the matter. The only party who may be somewhat interested in J. and I is Molly’s Guardian Ad Liteum [the lawyer who represents the child and acts as an advocate for what is in the child’s best interest]. Tragically, in many cases such as this, the issue at hand is not always necessarily “What is in the child’s best interest?” but rather “Is it safe enough for the child to be reunited with the birthparent(s)? Not even “Will the child be well cared for and happy” but simply “safe enough”. As long as the child is being fed that’s good enough.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Over the past two or three months Molly’s supervised visits with her parents have evolved to unsupervised visits in their home. First they started out as four hours once a week rather than the regular one hour supervised visits at the DCFS building. I thought it was bad enough that Molly would smell like a mixture of her grandma’s cheap perfume mixed with everyone’s cigarette smoke after the supervised visits, but whenever we pick Molly up from her extended visits she totally reeks of smoke and we have to immediately give her a bath and change her into some clean clothes.

For the past couple of months Molly has been visiting her parents on the weekends- eight hours on Saturday and eight hours on Sundays. Two weeks ago Molly’s caseworker called to inform me that her birthparents were ready to start overnight “transitional” visits to prepare her to return home to them. Last weekend was the first transitional visit which went from Friday night to Sunday night. This weekend was her second overnight weekend visit, again from Friday night until Sunday night. Of course we had mixed feelings about extending these visits. On the one hand it means her parents are making enough progress to get her back and that means we have to let her go. On the other hand, it’s best for Molly’s sake to start preparing to be reunited with her parents and get used to her new environment.

Unexpected News

Two days ago Molly’s current caseworker came to our home for a monthly home visit. I say “current” caseworker because this case has been shuffled around between 3 different caseworkers over the past eight months. Ever since the Permanency Hearing in March the big question we’ve had is “When’s the date of the next Permanency Hearing?” I’ve asked this caseworker a couple of different times and she has always said. “I don’t have that information right now, but I’ll have to get back to you.” So I asked her yet again last week when she called to inform me that we would start the extended overnight visits and she said, “There’s a court hearing coming up at the last week of April and we'll know by then if the parents have done enough to start a trial home visit. [A "home trial visit" means that Molly's parents would have Molly returned to them and they will care for her in their home even though the State of Utah still technically has custody of Molly]. It's basically a trial run to see if the parents are ready and if the child adjusts well. I was surprised at this news as I didn't think Molly would be returned to them until the final Permanency Hearing in June. The caseworker went on to explain that although the final permanency hearing in June would determine if Molly's parents would regain custody of Molly, there were some “review hearings” before then to check the parent's progress.

When the caseworker came for the home visit last Friday one of the first things I did was ask her specifically for the date, time and courtroom of the next hearing. She told me the exact date and proceeded to give me the information about the time and courtroom. Then she was a little quiet and said, “But Molly is going to be returning to her parents before then.“ I’m sure she didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news but it’s her job. I felt a lump in my throat but tried to act casual and just said something like, “Yeah, we’ve been preparing for her to leave. It’s going to be hard.”

I'm still a little confused as to why Molly will be returned to her parents before the next hearing, but all the caseworker told me was, "It has been decided that the parents have made enough progress to start a home trial visit."

Friday will be our last day with Molly. That night we will drop her off to her parents. Only this time we won’t be able to pick her up again and bring her “home.”

No comments: