It was around 4pm on my second day in the office. My colleagues were moving in all directions – answering phone calls, following up with individuals and families in crisis, doing home visits, getting ready for court, offering support to one another, and managing whatever else the day was throwing at them. While it is a pretty fast-paced, sink or swim environment, I’m not too surprised to see the behind the scenes of the foster care agency world.
We fostered. I have a good friend who was a caseworker. I’ve delivered donated items for years and I’ve seen a little bit of what their employees do.
And I’m connected to other foster parents. I’ve been trained to help other parents raise kids from hard places. I’ve attended conferences, lead support groups, and preached sermons about the Church’s need to engage with this messy system.
What I hadn’t yet seen, however, was specific kids waiting to find a new home. And this, my second day of work, was the day.
I was sitting at my desk reading through policy manuals and implementation plans, when our licensing supervisor came into my office. She asked if I had some time to hang out with two girls who were moving from one foster home and needed to be placed into a new foster home. I immediately said yes and followed her down the hallway to the visiting room.
The girls were on the older end of the age spectrum, not babies or toddlers or early elementary students. They were sitting quietly at a small table, each with a bag of belongings near her feet.
I walked into the room and the supervisor introduced me, explaining that I’d be sitting with them while they waited to find out where they’d be heading.
The room was mostly equipped for younger kids with blocks, coloring pages, and some picture books lining the shelves. Among the toys, I noticed one game I was familiar with that could appeal to older kids.
I made a mental note to donate a few games that older kids would enjoy and took a seat across the room from the girls.
And then I just waited. I let them acclimate to the room and the circumstances. I asked a question or two, aiming for noninvasive and connective questions that hopefully would break the ice a bit between them and me, the stranger who has now been assigned to supervise them until a suitable new home could be found.
A few minutes after my arrival, the younger girl asked about the card game I’d seen on the shelf. I told her I knew how to play and could explain the rules to her. She agreed and we started a game.
The older girl just drew in her notebook. Who could blame her? I tried to imagine the big emotions these two girls must have been experiencing. What would I want to say to a complete stranger who had just entered my story in the middle of an extremely difficult chapter? Probably nothing.
Another co-worker came in and offered to go get the girls some McDonalds for dinner, which I’m guessing she just paid for out of her pocket.
I made a mental note to ask our church to do another gift card donation drive, so this type of circumstance would be covered in the future.
A few minutes later, their case worker came in to check on them. Immediately, I watched the older girl’s demeanor change. She softened and relaxed just a bit. I could tell she felt known and loved by her caseworker.
I made a mental note to let my colleague know that she was making an obvious difference in the lives of her clients.
The caseworker told them that they’d found a home for the younger girl (she’d be heading that way in a little while) and were trying to figure out a good fit for the older girl.
After she spoke with her caseworker, the older girl decided to join us as we started another round of the game. We played for a little while, all of us halfway engaged, but mostly just waiting to hear what the next steps would be. School was going to start the next day, so I’m sure the girls were each wondering how this major change was going to impact their first day.
Before I knew it, it was almost 5pm, and my work day was scheduled to end. The caseworker who had gone to grab the girls some dinner returned with the food and took my spot supervising them. A home for the older girl still hadn’t been found.
I grabbed my water bottle, said goodbye, and prayed a silent prayer for their future. I grabbed my belongings from back in my office, went down the stairs, and got in my mini-van. I sat in silence. I reviewed the last hour in my head and thought about those precious girls still sitting in that room.
I’d been hired to recruit foster parents, specifically for teens, sibling groups, and kids who have specialized needs, and this was the reason why. Those girls sitting in that room waiting to hear what their next steps would be, they’d now be my specific motivation as I begin my new job.
Their story deserves to be told. All of the stories of children in our community deserve to be told.
And I believe that it’s time for our community to step-up. It’s time for us to engage a system that only works if we all do our part. It’s time to lengthen the list of families who are ready and waiting for a child. It’s time for us to support those who are currently fostering, so that they can continue to care for these children. It’s time for more than enough beds and more than enough homes.
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a licensed foster parent, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to get to know you, to help you understand the ins and outs of the system, and to invite you into a journey that will change your life and the life of a child.