I never expected to be a foster family. I honestly never gave it a thought. I still don’t really remember how it came up or what made us go to that first training class. We started getting calls for placements a few days after we learned we had been approved as a foster family. I had to say no a few times for various reasons, and a couple of times I said yes but then for one reason or another the child didn’t end up needing us.
This is the story of our very first placement.
It was 5:30pm on a Monday when my phone rang. I recognized the number right away as a Department of Children’s Services’ number. I answered and heard a placement coordinator on the other end of the line. Right off the bat she said, “I know you are going to say no, but I have no one else left to call, so I have to try.” She told me that she had a 14-year-old girl sitting at the DCS office. She had been there since 9:30 that morning — no one would take her. She woke up that morning to get ready for school but instead was taken to court and left there. She had nowhere to go and no one who wanted her. The placement coordinator asked me to take her for a week, just one week, while she found somewhere more permanent for her.
My heart broke.
I gave a yes for the week, and an hour later we had a case worker and a teenager on our doorstep. Thus began our first placement with foster care. We weren’t expecting any teenagers and we didn’t even have anything in the house for children above the age of three. We didn’t have a clue what to do with a teenager, and we certainly didn’t have any clothing for her. I took her out to Target that night. I took her down the cereal aisle and asked her to pick out what she liked to eat for breakfast. After standing in that aisle for what felt like a very long time, I finally asked her what was wrong. She answered, “I don’t know what to pick. I’ve never been allowed to have breakfast before.”
My heart broke.
We got back home and I helped her unpack the clothes that she had brought in a backpack – the same backpack she used for school. As I pulled out her dirty clothes, I noticed that they seemed way too small. They were a size six and she was a very average size 14-year-old. Her clothes and shoes were way too small. She didn’t have a jacket, despite it being November. The next morning, I went back to Target — this time on a mission to buy her clothes and food — things that would hopefully help her to feel more comfortable in our house.
The week was hard, but the week was so good. I didn’t know what I was doing with a teenager and somehow on day three I dropped her off at school an hour late with four bags of Chick-fil-A. It was an adventure for her and for us. But here’s the thing – when I said “yes” to this teenager placement, I thought we would get a teenage girl who would sit up in her room and do her own thing all the time. What I didn’t expect was a teenage girl who had never been part of a real family. A girl who just wanted to be included and be a part of something. A girl who asked for chores to do because she thought that was what kids who were part of families did. A girl who delighted in us doing homework with her; who said no one had ever done homework with her in her whole life. A girl who when asked what she wanted to do on a Saturday, replied with, “Make an apple pie because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
I expected foster care and kids in care to be one way, and our first placement taught me that my expectations were so wrong. Saying goodbye to that 14-year-old was one of the hardest things I did in foster care. She changed me, my family, and our views on foster care in the short time that we had together. It’s been four years since she came and left our house, but I still think about her all the time. I pray for her. I wonder where she is.
The day she left our house, I cried many tears and my heart broke. It was my first lesson in having to say goodbye and letting go on this path of foster care. Goodbyes and letting go are a very difficult part of being in foster care, but it is always worth it. Ask any foster parent and they will tell you that it is worth it to love a child well.