Sounds simple, right?
Since becoming a foster parent, I've found that many people have incorrect assumptions about the foster process. Some people think that if a child is taken away, he can never go back. Some believe if you take a child in, you are automatically planning to adopt him. Some even believe the kids in foster care are given up or abandoned by their parents, rather than forcibly removed. (It *is* true that a tiny percentage of kids in foster care were abandoned, but the overwhelming majority are removed against the parent's wishes.)
At first, I wondered how people could have so many misconceptions. How do people not understand how this works? Why don't they get it? Doesn't reunification make sense? Then we went through a long, painful process with our first foster placement and I realized something important: Nothing about this makes sense.
In a perfect world, kids would always be able to reunite with their parents. Scratch that, in a perfect world, kids wouldn't need to be removed from their parents in the first place. But this isn't a perfect world, and reunification is not always the answer.
Now don't get me wrong. I believe in reunification. I believe parents should be given the chance to parent and families should be reunited whenever possible. I do. But the truth is, successful reunification is rare. The reasons why would take another whole post (and I might do that one day), but sometimes one of the biggest barriers to successful reunification is the fact the child has been taken to begin with: Once the child is gone, the parents lose the motivation that was keeping them afloat. Once the child is gone, they start to sink. Once the child is gone...chances go up that he's never coming back.
If this all sounds rather bleak to you, that's good. Foster care should never sound happy - there's nothing joyful about families disintegrating. About trauma. About loss. And on one hand, bleak is about the only word I can think of to describe this whole foster care business.
On the other hand.
Every time a child is removed, every time a parent says they will do whatever it takes to get their kid back and then disappears, every time the system bounces a kid around trying to find something - anything - that will help him, there is hope. Hope that this time it will work out. Hope that the systems in place will do what they were meant to do. Hope for reunification. Hope.
No matter how many times promises are broken, families are left in limbo, kids are jerked back and forth in a terrible tug-of-war...I still have Hope. And I don't think I could keep being a foster parent, keep caring, keep getting up every day, without it.
"We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield." Psalm 33:20