April 14, 2014 by greenhouse04
On Tuesday or Wednesday morning each week I wake up, make sure Baby M. is fed, change his diaper and clothing, and pack a diaper bag with diapers, formula, bottles, wipes. I make sure his binky is clipped to his shirt and that his face and ears are clean and his nails haven’t grown too long. Then, I jot down when he ate last and slip the note into his bag, and wait for the social worker to come.
Once Aaron has arrived I buckle Baby into the foster agency car seat, tuck a blanket around him, give the worker any needed instructions, then kiss M. goodbye. Aaron carries Baby M. and the diaper bag out to his company car, and drives away.
This weekly ritual is called Parental Visits, and is an inescapable part of fostering.
Parental visits are required. Parents are supposed to have at least a one-hour, once-a-week visit with their kids as long as reunification is the goal. How many visits and how long they are, as well as where they are held, are up to the discretion of the social workers and are largely dependent on how well the parents are progressing with their case. Baby M.’s visits started out as one hour long, twice a week, at the foster office with supervision by the social worker. He now spends three hours with his mom at her home, unsupervised, then three hours with his dad. The social workers “monitor” his visits now, meaning they drop in to make sure everything is ok, but don’t stay to supervise.
Parental visits almost always bring some emotion or other along with them. When a child walks out the door (or is carried out) for a visit, I’ve been left feeling relieved, empty, hopeful, worried, sad, and once I even felt bereaved.
I have to admit that with our first two foster kids, parental visits brought relief. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. I’d never been a parent before, and then overnight I became the foster parent of an almost 2-year-old and an almost 4-year-old. We didn’t know each other, they were bewildered and frightened . . . needless to say, it was a welcome break each week when they were driven off to see their parents.
As time went on, the parental visits grew longer and longer, and I began to really anticipate having an entire day to myself. Before long, we were enjoying an entire day and night to ourselves each week, then two nights . . . and finally, shortly before the kids were reunified, they were with their parents exactly half the week – four days and three nights.
But while their lengthening visits brought relief, they also added lots of stress. It was difficult for the kids to go between homes, between parents, between schedules and expectations and lifestyles. Bad behaviors that had almost disappeared began to resurface in the kids. Added to the difficulty of going back and forth was the uncertainty of the visit schedule each week. For some reason, their social workers weren’t very reliable with visit communication and transportation, and many times I’d get the kids all ready to go, only to wait several hours for the social worker or driver to show up. We even had visits cancelled at the last minute, which left the poor kids in quite the emotional dither – and myself in a dither, too!
During this time, I realized how important communication is between foster parents and social workers. I’ve learned that there is no such thing as too much communication, and I now religiously email the social workers about appointments, visit schedules, etc.
Also, during this time we learned the value of partnering with the parents for the sake of the children. After several evenings in which our foster kids were brought back from a long visit right at bedtime, only to go spastic until 10:00 from the stress, we talked to their mom and asked if she’d drive them to our home and put them to bed. This helped the kids transition from one home back to another, and showed them that both sets of parents liked each other, increasing their security.
Two months after these kids moved out, little Eddie entered our lives. After our experience with our first foster kids, I viewed parental visits as a way to gauge how the case was progressing. So when, after only three months, Eddie’s visits with his mom moved to one overnight a week, I was sure this meant he would eventually go home. His visits brought me sadness, as I was sure they would eventually lead to him leaving our home forever.
Sure enough, his visits slowly lengthened. Nine months after he had entered foster care, he was spending half a week with his mom, the very length our first kids had spent with their parents right before completely moving home.
These long visits were hard on him, too. At our home he was a moody little boy, going from happy one day to depressed the next. At his mom’s home he was an angry, confused boy who lashed out violently at his mother.
Then one week we experienced something in foster care that we’d never experienced before: Eddie’s visits were dramatically shortened. They went from four days and three nights to only one night a week. This was the turning point in his case, and it was only two more months before both his parents relinquished their rights and we began the process of adopting him.
Emma’s parental visits never brought anything but negative emotions. Without her around I felt sad, worried, and empty. At one point, the her visit symbolized my worst fear: the loss of our little girl.
This was when little 9-month-old Emma was carried out the door by a driver to go to her first day-long visit with her birth dad. She had never had more than a half-day visit once a week and the fact that her visits were never lengthened spoke clearly that her parents were not progressing in their case. But, after months of court delays, angry phone calls to the state capitol, the declining health of a therapist, and general lack of evidence, Emma’s birth dad managed to get his termination hearing (at which they’d hoped to terminate his parental rights) postponed and his visits with Emma increased to two full days a week.
I was heartbroken. I was hopeless, confused. And as Emma was driven away to go to a stranger’s home, I felt completely empty and lost. Bereaved.
Thankfully, it didn’t last. Only two hours later Emma left her birth dad’s house for the last time, and has never seen him since. That’s a different story. But I was so relieved that her parental visits were over.
Now that we’re doing parental visits all over again with Baby M., how do I feel when he’s carried out the door?
I usually feel a little empty; one child is missing from our home. I also feel a little sad; I know that these few hours of separation may someday get longer, and might eventually become a separation that lasts forever. I have to admit that relief sometimes surfaces; I now have a few uninterrupted hours to homeschool Eddie and get some housework done. I sometimes feel hopeful; it’s been three months and the visits haven’t lengthened yet. Maybe they never will. At times I feel worried; will Baby M. miss me? Will he be cared for properly?
I almost always feel confused. I don’t know exactly how I feel; I don’t know how I should feel.
I go to my room, kneel down by my bed, and ask God to show me how to feel, to guide my thoughts. I plead with Him to be a rich protector for little M., to be close to M. wherever he’s at. I thank Him again for the two children who are done with parental visits and are safely in my arms.
Then I get up and leave my room to be a mom to those two children, while I wait for my other child to come back home.