Names are changed to protect the confidentiality of the children.
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting on my deck drinking some coffee, encouraging the dog to “get that squirrel,” and getting ready to head to church. I just finished my Bible reading for the day (I’m telling you all this so you’ll know just how super-spiritual I am) and was thinking about a boy who lived in my home for a short time. Benny is on my mind because today is his birthday.
I said before that generally I only take teenage boys for placement in my home. Well, that isn’t totally true. Besides needing homes to take kids for long-term placement, there is also an intense need for homes that can take kids for just night or two, or a few days. This is because it may take a few days for the workers to be able to find a long term placement when they come into placement, or maybe the long term placement needs a little break (every parent sends their kid to Camp Grandma on occasion), or perhaps the child is in between long term placements. Sometimes these things are pre-planned, sometimes circumstances dictate that it is a last minute thing to avoid yet another kid sleeping on a couch in an office somewhere.
Anyway, that is how I originally met Benny. I got the first call later in the evening on a Wednesday asking if I’d be willing to take an 11 year old for the night. Now 11 year olds aren’t really allowed to have any “self care” (unsupervised) time which is why I only take older kids. School gets out around 3, I get home from work around 6-they gotta be old enough to take care of themselves for a little bit. However, I can certainly keep track of a kid for an evening until the workers pick them up in the morning again.
Then another call came on Thursday. “Could you take Benny for another night? They’re still looking for a long term placement.” I agreed. And since I don’t generally have to work on Fridays and I know how terrible it must be wondering where you’ll sleep each night, I told them he could stay through the weekend to give them a little more time.
We had a fun weekend that weekend. We went to a college baseball game, he rode with me in a parade, and we went for a long hike by the lake. Because I figured it was one weekend, I decided I could forgo the chores and things I would usually take care of over a weekend to show him a good time and hopefully help him forget about some of the more difficult things going on in his life for a little bit.
A funny thing happened over that weekend. I started liking him! I realized he was a pretty cool kid and he was fun to be around. Usually when a kid is picked up in the morning, I’m able to just realize that sometimes it is part of the deal that you just don’t know for sure where they’ll be placed-it’s one of those crappy things you have to recognize and move on from. But this time, I was genuinely worried about where he’d end up. (Not that I don’t usually care, just this was somehow different.) As he showered before getting picked up, I wrote him a note and snuck it into his backpack and said a prayer.
…And I started thinking, “Can I take him?” “He’s 11 and in 6th grade-what about child care after school?” “I saw that he had a very difficult time maintaining in school before, what will I do when he gets in trouble?” “Can I really take care of a kid this young??”
Monday afternoon I got another call- “Can you please take Benny again for the night? He had a great time there over the weekend and we still haven’t found a long term placement for him.” Naturally, I agreed.
To make a long story shorter, I did end up agreeing to take Benny as a long term placement in my home. This was right at the beginning of Spring Break. I didn’t know why, but I genuinely felt that is what God was asking me to do. (By the way, I still feel that He was asking me to take Benny at that time.)
I was very excited but also a bit freaked out.
Over time we developed a routine and a lot of days went pretty well. We had lots more fun and I got to help him have several more firsts, such as going to a basketball game, riding a horse, camping, and going on a boat among others.
But other incidents eventually told me that I wasn’t the best long term placement for the long long term. It was a painful decision and hard for me to admit, but I genuinely felt that it was best for Benny to move on after the school year was through. I told the workers that once school was out they would need to find another placement for Benny. Usually I would have been required to only give two weeks’ notice, but Benny was doing incredibly well at his school (in stark contrast to previous schools) so I did not want to ruin that for him.
In the weeks preceding the move, I went back and forth on whether I had made the right call. Had I made a mistake agreeing to take him in the first place? Was I really not the best placement for him longer term? Was I being arrogant thinking I might be the best place after all? Were the workers really going to try to find a good home for him? Or was I not trusting God in to make sure he ended up in the right place after mine? (At one point, I realized that while I did believe that God was big enough to create the universe and save us from our sins, I was struggling to believe He would be able to also make sure that Benny would end up in a good placement. (How crazy is that?))
So we toughed it out until the end of the school year, with plenty more highs and lows along the way. Benny graduated from the 6th grade, and earned a certificate for academic success along the way. Over time I realized that, if nothing else, Benny was supposed to be at my home for this season, in order that he could taste and know what being successful in school was like, and finish out elementary school on a high note. But with the end of school and graduation and all the happiness for his success loomed the day that he was going to have to move, and I was terrified.
I was terrified because I know that there are plenty of times a child is disrupted on (what an apt term) and ends up bouncing around from placement to placement. I know that there are times that, due to so many kids in the same situation, they just don’t have time to start making the calls until the last minute. I was worried that this fate of bouncing around from day to day would befall Benny.
Even on the day he was supposed to be picked up in the morning, there was a snafu with the transportation arrangements and this just heightened my worry and fear for what was going to happen to Benny and made me wonder if I had actually made the right decision. I considered calling the worker and telling her I had changed my mind, because I was so freaked out about what his fate would be.
Here’s the reason I’m sharing all this:
When the worker finally showed up to get him, she told me that they in fact DID have a placement lined up for him, and that it was in the same home where his younger brother had already been living for a couple months! I was so relieved I literally shed a few tears. I was so thankful that he was going to be able to live with someone from his family and I knew this family would be more prepared to meet some of his ongoing needs than I was as a single foster dad.
Since the move, I have been told that Benny is doing VERY well at the new home. I cannot express how happy that makes me feel for him.
To wrap up this long post:
I learned a couple things through all this. I truly believe that sometimes the kids are placed in our homes for just a season, and then it is OK for them to have the opportunity to move on. I believe that Benny was supposed to be here to learn that he does have the ability to be successful in school, and to learn that not all men are awful. I also don’t understand the full reasons of the timing of everything, but I think him being here for the short time he was, and then me saying “ok, it is time to move on” is what allowed him to go live with his brother. I don’t know the circumstances of that family, other than knowing that for some reason Benny couldn’t go there a couple months prior, but was able to go there after having been in my home for a while.
Oh, yeah… Also I was reminded that God is in fact bigger than a very flawed foster care system!
While I do believe that sometimes the children are placed in our homes for a short time only, for a reason, I do want to emphasize that a disruption is just that-disruptive. It can set the child’s progress back, because they have to re-do that whole process of getting to know yet another family, rules, etc, not to mention likely changing schools. It is something that should never be taken lightly, but should be agonized over and prayed about and discussed at length with your confidants.