Today I sat down and interviewed two amazing women who are at different stages in their fostering career. I'm writing an article that, originally, I had wanted to be light rather than overly informative; more about the people fostering rather than the numbers. But the interview went in another way entirely.
These two women are rare. I know that sounds funny, because it seems like everyone knows someone who is fostering. But realistically, these two women are a part of a whopping 4,500 people who foster in the state of Arizona. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? Well, put that number up against the 19,000 children currently in foster care or in need of it, and you start to realize how rare my two friends really are.
So why the title of this post? Well, a few years ago, my then 1 year old took it upon himself to go out for a stroll. He made it five houses down when the neighbors there saw him and brought him back. Brett was passed out on the couch and I was upstairs asleep as well. The older kids had knocked over the gate to the front door in their hurry to leave and didn't bother to put it back up. We had been living in our new house a total of one month.
Our neighbors didn't know us. We didn't know them. They brought our 1 year old back, but it wasn't without a stipulation. "If you keep letting this happen, we're going to call CPS."
The dreaded words that NO PARENT wants to hear, whether you're neglectful or not. I'd like to think we aren't. Regardless, it was awful to hear those words.
My mother in law hopped on the phone and called CPS herself, mostly to calm me down, but also because she, like me, was wondering, "Can someone really get their child taken away because of one slip up?*"
CPS told her that, while I may not have had any of my kiddos taken from me, there would be an investigation opened up. That for any family the CPS is sicked upon, they must open a case.
This was terrifying. Brett and I became hyper vigilant to the point of not being able to sleep for fear our little run away renegade would be at it again. And it wasn't long before, despite our pain staking efforts, he did it again. To the same neighbors house. And you guessed it, the threat was thrown at us again.
Now, at the time, I was annoyed. Why can't neighbors just be kind? Why can't they just bring him back and let it be that? Dozens of my friends rallied behind me, telling me their own scary stories of kids sneaking away (one made it all the way to a busy street on his trike, following daddy to work, and was brought home by a police officer.) But it didn't soothe my fears that the dreaded CPS would be called.
In the end, they weren't. I know that in their heart of hearts, they were worried for our little one. I was too! But throwing out the threat of having our family investigated, and possibly torn a part, made things must more stressful than they had to be.
Stories like this, though, have been all over the news lately. About neighbors calling CPS on parents who are, comparatively, very good parents. We were by no means alonein this trial.
So, back to the title of my post.
Listening to my friend today tell me about the little boys she's fostering, well, it broke my heart. I had tears spring up in my eyes. Not just for the boys. But for my friend, for the boys' mom and family, for their other siblings, also in foster care. This world that they all live in can be a very scary world, filled with so many unknowns.
I learned that parents whose children are taken away must take parenting classes to get their little ones back home. What a blessing! What a curse! Because if they don't comply with all that's mandated (maybe it's just taking classes, maybe it's getting a job, maybe it's getting out of jail, maybe it's stopping drugs, maybe it's getting the kids away from a molester...) after 18 months, their kids are up for adoption. The clock is ticking.
Now, a lot of the time, this is great. These kids get a new start at life with a family who wants them enough to jump through hoops to get them. I've seen it often, and it's beautiful.
But sometimes these kids go back home. Or back into the system.
The point of this post is not a warning, but a plea. Please, please don't bog down CPS with petty parenting mishaps. I can't imagine the hours that would've been wasted by a social worker having to make their way to our home often, to investigate a normal, albeit loud and slightly out of control, family. These people need to be helping those children I mentioned above. They need to be helping those families. That money, that time, needs to go where it's meant to go.
If you see a healthy child wearing nice clothes playing with a younger sibling at a park, let it be. Or, if you must, watch and watch them until they leave. Follow them home to make sure they're safe. I'm sure no parent would begrudge you this. But for heavens sake, don't call CPS on them. Just don't. Now, if they're covered in bruises, malnourished, wearing scanty clothes and no shoes in the middle of winter and play for hours and hours and night falls and they're still not leaving, maybe invite them in. Maybe find out what's going on. Sit on it, think on it, maybe pray on it. Maybe this child needs some extra help. Maybe the family does, too.
Let the system work for the people who need it. Don't bog it down with unnecessary burdens. And if you happen to see a red headed 4 year old wandering around our neighborhood, know that he's figured out the new alarm system, and kindly return him to us.
*I definitely do not belittle nor condone 1 year olds wondering around. Trust me, it scared me. I thought of all the horrible things that could've happened.