Friday, November 23, 2007

The Feeling of Failure

Some of you may wonder why I wrote the post about Ann. I wrote it because I wanted to talk about feelings when placements end. Carl and Evan moved out with their own plans. They were each a bit past their 19th birthday. They had graduated from high school and were headed off to something else.

That's the way I like it.

With Ann I had told the social worker things were not going well. I expected her to be moved in a month or two, but she left within one week.

David, I believe, really wanted to move out on his 18th birthday but could not bring himself to do that. The only way out for him was for us to kick him out. We fought that for a long time. In the end I complied. He of course would not see it that way, but I do.

Both of those endings were hard. I believe that they were hard in part because I fought the kid so hard. Both Ann and David were attached to me and wanted to be somewhere else. The endings were emotionally exhausting. I spent a lot of time going back over things wondering what I might have done differently. I was miserable. I felt that I had failed.

And when Frankie left, when I sent up the red flag and asked for them to find him a more secure placement, I was confident I was doing the right thing. When I wondered later if there was something else I could have done, things were much more clear to me. I knew some things that I should have done differently, some services that I think it would have been helpful had he been provided, but I don't think it would have made a difference in the end. It would have been a different path to the same place.

But I still struggled with the feeling of failure.

The rhetoric around foster care does not help. On one hand we know that moves are not good for kids. I hear some foster parents and some advocates say that we should have a system in which a child's first placement is his or her only placement. When I hear accounts of a child's past and hear about the times the child has been moved I always shake my head sadly and feel that someone has failed the child.

Moving a foster child = failure.

And yet sometimes children need something that one home cannot provide, and sometimes families need things that are not consistent with meeting the needs of this child.

And the fundamental truth in the heart of this is that there is a child who has been traumatized who will feel once again that he or she is being thrown away. No matter how good, how reasonable the explanation of the move is, it is still true that there is something wrong about moving a child from one home to another trying to find the "right" one. When you have children by birth you don't get to pick what they will need. You don't get to match one child to the children already in your family.

And yet... and yet.

I don't know.

Emotionally I am feeling better than I did just after Frankie left. I was slowly feeling better anyway, but spending the day with Evan and David was what I needed.

And yet...still there is a boy in a treatment center who has no real family. There is an aunt he can talk to on the phone, a mother who says she wants him back who will not get him back, a father he could send a letter to if anyone can find him.

But if and when the doctors and therapists tell him that he is ready to leave, there will be no home for him to go to.

And I cannot help but feel that we have failed him. I believe we did the right thing, and that right thing was not enough. So I feel better than I did before. Big woop. I felt sad. Poor me. In all that time when I felt sad I could pull my family close to me. I was safe and confident that I was loved. I was never in danger of anything worse than having a face made splotchy from crying.

It is Frankie who is alone in this world. Social workers, counselors, treatment center staff, foster parents all come and go. No one stays.

And that is the reality of foster care.


  1. I think the reality is that there are no real good solutions. Some kids, because of disability, abuse, or trauma need more than what a "regular" foster home can give.

    The problem is that it's not possible to find that out until after the child is placed and it's not working out. There are no crystal balls in this business, and no way to know if a child is a good match for a home until they are already in it. All the pre-placement discussions in the world can't truly predict whether a child will be a success in a particular home or not.

    There's a fine line, it seems, between matching kids with the right homes and making it seem as if we are "shopping" for kids as if they were shoes.

  2. You know... some kids are beyond repair. It sucks, it's sad, horrible, and there is often nothing we can do.

  3. I don't know how I happened across your blog, but I am glad I did. I am already enjoying going back and reading through these posts. I'm a little confused, but hopefully I'll figure it out. ;)

    I am a mom to 10, 4 of them adopted, and 2 of which we adopted from a dissolution.

    We are in the process to adopt again.

    Thanks for your hard work. SO many children need homes like ours.


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