Editor’s Note: Today on Foster Friday, we are honored to share a true story from a friend of Upbring, Jami Amerine. Jami is a loving mother and a passionate advocate for foster care and adoption. With years of experience under her belt, she lends support and advice to those interested in becoming foster parents. The following story is told by Jami in her own words and from her personal experience with foster care.
As I sat in the waiting room of the local Child Protection Services office, the little girl lying in my lap never stirred. I watched her sleep and wondered if her mother, now three minutes late to the visit, was as heartbroken.
Moments later, the mother bolted through the door with her caseworker walking closely behind her. She dropped to her knees in front of me and snatched the sleeping child from my arms. She buried her face in the child’s curls, rocked her back and forth and sobbed.
She looked at me with fury.
“Don’t you dare cut her hair!”
“I wouldn’t,” I promised. “I would never do that.”
She barked, “Is she eating?”
“Yes, she ate two pancakes for breakfast, a few bites of bacon, and she slept through the night, both nights.”
The child opened her eyes, examined the face of her mother, smiled and dozed off again.
She softened, just a little, “I heard that you have sons. Teenage sons?” Her voice cracked. “No offense to you, but I don’t want her in a house with boys. I am sure you’re nice, but I was molested.” A tear escaped her, “I don’t want that for her. I don’t want her to be hurt anymore because of me.”
This was not the first time I was aware of the turmoil faced by parents whose children were removed from their care.
The little girl in this story? Well, I was able to have a decent relationship with her mother. Unfortunately, this was not the case with her birth father.
However, I learned a few things in my fostering journey. One thing that has helped me in every situation is to recognize the humanity of the birth parent.
Believe me – I understand the frustration and outrage we as foster parents encounter. I have had two injured children placed in my care. One child’s family was indignant, they were never sorry, and they were furious with me. In their minds, I took their child. The bottom line, in that case, was this: I cannot control what other people think or feel. I was available and kind to them. Everyone is capable of anything. This is paramount in exuding a spirit of compassion and empathy.
In the second case, the mother who had, in fact, hurt her child was sorry. That is the first thing she said at the post-72-hour meeting. “I am so sorry. I am so sorry.” This was vital to me in the months that proceeded. She blamed no one else, and she wanted to do whatever it took to get her baby back and be the stability her child needed.
For me, looking at the birth parents with an open mind helps advance reunification (when possible) and progress in exponential ways.
In the moments upon meeting each parent for the first time, I would remind myself that the situation was not about me. Except in incidents of sexual abuse or severe neglect and physical abuse, I tried to remember that I had made mistakes in my parenting. And, personally, I can think of nothing more terrifying than being away from my children, knowing they are with someone neither of us knows.
Most certainly, with parents who have suffered abuse, like the mom who did not want her little girl around teenage boys, being a good listener is critical. In that case, the birth mother was not only separated from her daughter, but her fears were tangible based on her own childhood abuse. Identifying with those fears and communicating with respect and compassion took the mother from a place where she wasn’t just wandering through the motions of reunification but was fully invested in progress.
Once she realized my commitment to her daughter and to her, she got very serious about making the changes needed.
I have found that when foster families can convey compassion and a non-judgmental stance with birth families, we alleviate the terror and replace it with sanctuary. Indeed, this is not always possible. However, as much as I love children, I was richly blessed by the restoration stories I partook in.
Disclaimer: Jami did not foster through Upbring Foster In Texas.
At Upbring, we put the safety and well-being of the children in our care first. Relationships with biological families are encouraged as long as it is safe for the child or children involved. The primary goal for CPS is to reunite children with their biological families after the families can correct the issues that resulted in the removal. What this means is that while the child is in foster care, CPS offers services and creates plans for the biological family to regain custody of their children. Ultimately, if the biological family complies with all terms of the plan and is involved in regaining full custody, the children will be returned. Maintaining healthy relationships and supporting the biological family while in this process can create a smoother transition if and when the child is reunited.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jami Amerine is an author, speaker, blogger and artist. She has two books, Stolen Jesus, an Unconventional Search for the Real Savior and Sacred Ground Sticky Floors: How Less than Perfect Parents Can Raise (Kind of) Great Kids. She and her husband, Justin, have six children and live in North Houston. Jami holds an undergraduate degree in Family Consumer Sciences and a master’s degree in Education, Counseling and Human Development. She and her husband are advocates for foster care, adoption and foster care reform.