Losing a Foster Child

Nobody has said it to us directly, but I always wonder if people are confused about how we are grieving the loss of our foster daughter. Do they think to themselves, “Well, they knew there was the possibility of not keeping her when they started, so why are they acting like this is a total tragedy?” Maybe I’m giving people too little credit. Maybe nobody is thinking this and everybody understands.

I know some foster parents who are wonderful with biological parents. They encourage phone calls between the children and the parents, they actively try to foster a good relationship between their foster child and their biological parents, they are great at not judging the parents and why the child was taken away. They look forward to the day when their foster child can be reunified with biological parents and somehow they don’t seem to worry about the child’s future in an iffy situation. I admire those foster parents and if we ever decide to become solely “foster” parents, I hope I can be like that.

But the fost/adopt role is a tricky one. Which is probably why it is relatively new. The courts understand that it is best for a child to be in concurrent planning for adoption while they are in foster care, so that if the reunification doesn’t happen, there isn’t another traumatic move for the child from foster home to adoptive home. But the court also understands that fost/adopt parents can look at things differently from straight foster parents. In my admittedly limited experience, I find that fost/adopt parents tend to act more like biological parents than foster parents. We get protective. We don’t tend to trust the social workers and the system and the “team decisions” as easily as straight foster parents do. We push hard for what we think is best for our foster kids. To sum up: we parent these kids with our full hearts. We parent them as if they were our own. We don’t trust what others say is best for the little person we cherish, we know them best and we want what’s best for them and we will fight if we have to fight to get it.

At some point in the fostering timeline, it becomes clear whether a child is going to reunify with parents or not. The time has gone past the court’s deadlines, the parents haven’t made anything close to adequate progress, and the adoption word begins to be tossed around. And once a child becomes “yours” in your mind and you let your heart go to that place, it is a whole different ballgame.

We were pretty good at guarding our hearts with Midge for the first eight months. But when she had been in foster care for nine months (and the court “officially” encourages infants to have cases wrapped up in 6-12 months) and there was no glimpse of her parents getting their case plans finished or their acts together, and there were continuing “incidents”, the social worker threw out the word: adoption. Of course we would have been heartbroken to lose her at any point during that first year. But we would have understood…the system is supposed to work a certain way and we would have understood and stood by that. But when, at the 12 month hearing, the judge set a hearing to terminate parental services, and when, at the 12 month hearing, the parents were nowhere near resolving their issues or following their case plans, yes, we got our hopes up. Because we thought the system would function the way it was set up to function to protect the children.

Of course, we all know now that that didn’t happen. For me, it is a loss of innocence as well as the loss of a child whom in my mind, we were “in the process of adopting.” A loss of innocence in realizing that the world doesn’t often function the way it is supposed to function or the way the people in charge say it functions. Social services does not watch out for the best interests of the child, but for the “rights” of the biological relatives. I see this confirmed over and over in the foster parenting blogs I read. I had hope that somehow in the end, somebody would speak up for Midge and advocate for her, like we were trying to do. But nobody did.

Yes, we knew when we started walking the fost/adopt path that we could fall in love with a child and lose her. Yes, when the social worker says it’s heading for adoption and the attorneys for the bio parents tell Greg it looks like it’s heading for adoption and the courts set hearings that point towards the case moving towards adoption, and the official timeline indicates it’s time to move towards adoption, she became ours in our heads and our hearts. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

Ultimately, God is in control of the courts and the timelines and the extensions and the judges and even the horrible social workers. In a way, it’s almost like He stepped in to work a miracle in the opposite direction of the one we were praying for. He wouldn’t have had to step in at all to let us adopt Midge in an appropriate time frame. We have to trust that He has a plan for her life, and He even has a plan for Midge’s father’s life. He wanted them together and He did what He needed to do to make that happen. Even the mediator at our last team decision meeting was shocked that reunification was being seriously considered this late in the game with an infant case. God stepped in on behalf of Midge’s father. It was a miracle. Just not the miracle we wanted.

For those six or seven months when adoption was a no-brainer result in the minds of everyone involved, we began to see Midge as our daughter. Our “real” daughter. Whose future we dreamed of and whose heart we nurtured with our whole beings. And when the new social worker started pushing for a new path towards reunification in month 19, I did have to turn over the reigns to God. She was my daughter, but she was in His hands. And although sometimes I just prayed that we could keep her, most of the time I prayed, “Lord, we want what is your best plan for our daughter, for our sons, and for us as a couple and us as a family. If you have to split us up for Your best plan to happen, then I guess we’ll have to live with that. But please, if you can possibly work it into Your will for us to keep our daughter and still have us all bring glory to You with Your plan for our lives, please do it. Please.”

The end result: prayers answered. Not the way I wanted them to be, but answered nonetheless. He knows the future like I don’t. He knows why she needs to be with her biological father. Whether it’s for her sake or for her father’s sake or for both of their sakes, I don’t know. Maybe it’s even for our sakes. He knows the future and He made it happen just how He needed it to happen for His glory.

Yes, she was our daughter just as much as our sons are our sons. She was our daughter for one year and eleven and a half months. We miss her like you would miss any child you lost and we mourn the loss of the dreams we had for her life and for our family of five. We didn’t lose her into the loving and protective arms of Jesus, but into the imperfect arms of another human being with his own flaws and challenges about which we’re way too informed. We don’t understand it and we wouldn’t have chosen it, but it was God’s will, and we have to accept it and move forward. Even if we’d rather stand frozen in time looking back at the years of sweet memories we have with our whole family, daughter included.


9 thoughts on “Losing a Foster Child

  1. Linn, I understand and echo these sentiments exactly. It is indeed a loss of innocence realizing that no one in the system is actually looking out for the child. It is so very hard, and yet we have to trust that God is still ultimately in control. I hope that as time goes on His plan will become more clear to you or at least that you will feel more peace about it. I pray the same for us. Blessings on you and your family – all of them.

  2. I identify with so much of what you wrote in this post. One of the hardest things for me after our babies left was that no one knew what to say so (even to this day) no one (but my mom-love her!) ever mentions them. It’s like they didn’t exist any more. That is so hard. Also, reconciling God’s will and my will. Ugh. Knowing the truth in your head and it translating in your heart are two different things. Sending prayers!

  3. I’ve prayed for you over the past few months. As we have contemplated fostering and as our new asst pastor is a foster parent, all you have written has been both heart-breaking and helpful. Thank you for being so open with us.

  4. I was imagining our precious daughter as I read your words, and remembering the terrible time we thought we’d lose her. Her parental rights were completely terminated right after her 1st birthday (she came to us as a newborn), so I can’t imagine how devastating it would have been for her case to go on that long and then turn back to reunification. Thank you for your heartfelt, gracious words, and your obvious faith in the Father despite your circumstances.

  5. Thank you for posting this! My husband found this today, doing a search on “Losing a foster child”. We have had our foster daughter since February, when she was 10 days old…right out of the hospital. So of course she feels like she’s our own. She is in the process of being reunified with her mom, and our hearts feel like they are going through a shredder!!! We went into this, KNOWING reunification was the ultimate goal, but somewhere in our hearts we have been hoping and praying that God will allow us to adopt her. We trust Him, even though our hearts are breaking. She really feels like she is one of our own.

    We have already adopted our two youngest through the foster care system, and we had stopped doing foster care in January of 2012, because we had a little one year old girl for 3 months and it hurt so much to lose her. But we felt last Nov. like God was wanting us to get back into it, and through our prayers, He made it very clear this was what He wanted. We decided that IF they call and say they are DESPERATE for homes, we will say yes. Well, two weeks after we said that, our homefinding caseworker for our other two called and asked if we were ready to get back into fostering, because they were “desperate for homes”. YES! Those were her EXACT words! “Why, Lord? Life is good. Our kids are potty-trained, in school, we are doing well? Why, do you want us to do this again, just to get our hearts ripped out again??” This is what we were asking? But then we fell in love.

    Mom has gone through rehab, is in a treatment home, and has been doing everything she needs to do to get her baby back. She has been doing hour long visits, in the treatment home, twice a week for a few weeks, after doing months of 1x per week, 1 hour visits, in the CPS offices. Now, this weekend, she will have the baby for the whole weekend…Friday to Monday. And next weekend too. And if all goes well, she will get her for 30 days, starting Oct. 11th.

    I don’t know how we’re going to handle this, aside from God’s grace and strength. Even my husband has been sobbing over this loss. He lost a baby girl who lived only two weeks, when he was just an 18 year old daddy. He says it feels like his own child is dying…all over again. UGH! Just reading your posts, we are feeling a tiny bit better. We don’t have our hopes up. Well, I don’t, but I think he does.

    Anyway, sorry to write a novel here. Thank you so much for your posts! Thanks for being so transparent and sharing your struggle, and your trust in our sovereign God.

    God bless you!

    Angie (& Michael)

  6. Im so glad to find this site.Our hearts are breaking right now over our baby girl thats been with us since three days old.Shes 8 mos. now
    We were just told she would be going with her step grandparents.
    And i have so many people praying,so i have to accept that its not Gods will that we keep her.We love her so much it hurts.Im just worried that we wont be able to continue foster care.

  7. Thank you for your website and for sharing your thoughts. I totally understand what you are going through. Only God knows the plan for us and these children even though we don’t understand.

    My husband and I fostered a little girl named Ireland back in May 2008, she was 2 weeks from turning 2 years old. the moment we laid eyes on her and saw her beautiful green eyes and blonde curls along with that sweet smile melted our hearts. After 2 years fostering her the social worker asked if we would be interested in adopting her and we excitedly said YES!!!! That is what we hoped and prayed for.

    During the time to prepare for court the birth mom made numerous threats to the worker and it was thought to be in the best interest to transfer this case to another worker. So there was a court date scheduled so the new worker would take the case after that. At court the judge was not able to change the goal to adoption due that the child’s GAL was not there, that he stopped practicing. So the judge appointed her one and rescheduled court in 6 months. So during this 6 months this worker decided not to take in consideration of the documentations of abandonment that birth mom had not seen/talked to her daughter in about 4 months and had not showed up for any meetings from the last worker and started working with the birth mom for reunification like this child had just became into foster care. Moving forward at court the cabinet was able to convince the judge that remaining the child to return back to parent was in the best interest for Ireland so birth mom got another 6 months to step up to work out her plan to get her daughter back. During the next 6 months nothing changed and after over dosing she admitted to the worker that she had a substance problem. So it was then that the social worker/cabinet agreed that adoption would be in the best interest for Ireland. So at court we got our prayers answered goal was finally changed to adoption. Moving on during the TPR process this case had moved to several different workers with all the workers wanted to work with birth mom. Adoption/TPR seemed to be at a hault and nothing was getting completed. After a year passed the case went back to court and the judge was confused why the TPR was not completed and questioned the cabinet. The judge remained the goal due to the case had been on going for 4 years and that Ireland needed permanency. We were please of his decision in hopes that the adoption would be finalized soon. Ireland would finally be legally ours. NOPE another year went by… yes another year. Due to the case moving to other workers plus new supervisor it seemed that the history of this case had been thrown out and the cabinet was working with the birth mother’s progress of rehab and since she had a baby during this time and thought she was doing a great job parenting for this baby that she can care for Ireland that is now 7 years. The case was going back to court for the third time and knew in order to get the judge to grant their recommendation return back to parent they needed to break the permanency. So that is what they did. Back in June 2013, Seven workers and state police came and took Ireland and another foster child that we have had for 2 years battling Leukemia (for which he was about to be reunited with his birth family since he was doing well and in maintenance/ remission.) They closed our home and said they have chosen to not want to work with us and in addition made some false accusations in order to be able to close our home. We were so devastated with our hearts crushed. Ireland our daughter that we have raised for 5 years, that has became part of our family since 2 weeks before her 2nd birthday that we have adopted in our heart and raised was taken.I will never forget the hurt and agony that these children were made to grow threw. Just being a foster parent our hands are tied and nothing we can do but put this in God’s hands. I know he knows best. I pray that he will work this situation out. In addition to this situation we are going through a private adoption of a little boy we got from birth and he is 4 now so this could make a impact on his adoption. His adoption has been at a hault since a guy has stated he could be a possible father and waiting for a DNA. Since he has been incarcerated for the past 2 years for trafficking our attorney believes that we may be able to move forward with out his DNA. Just found out that the birth mom is incarcerated as well and not due for release till Feb 2014. But now we have to wait for our appeal with this situation before we can proceed with his adoption.

    I am not able to have children, tried infertility and miscarried several times. My dr said my body just would not accept the embryo. For the love of children we felt that God wanted us to foster and guided in that path. We fostered many children. It is hard to love these children and see them go especially when we saw them differently than some of the foster parents. We treated all the kids like our own and tried protecting them. We tried not to judge the birth parents and tried helping them in the best way we could even if it was going beyond our limits – for the children sake. Nothing was ever appreciated.

    Today is our daughter’s court date to determine the goal. We were not allowed to be there since we are no longer nothing to her according to the cabinet. But thankfully God knows our heart that she is and always will be our daughter. Our sweet girl is in another foster home for which if the goal remains adoption this family will get to adopt her for only being in her care for 4months. If the the goal is reunification with birth parent there are concerns with birth mom not being in a stable environment for her. All we can do is put it in God’s hands. He knows what is best for our little princess.

    Sorry for writing a book. I wanted to explain what we are going through so if any one else is battling the same for the love of a child(ren) in their care that they are not alone. I believe prayers works so I would like to ask for everyone to join me in a prayer chain that God will open the eyes and hearts for these workers,attourneyss and judges that they take inconsideration of these children that come into foster care that they are loved and become part of a family that they will protect these children from more loss attachments, broken bonds and prevent instability in their life. Pray for the birth parents that if they are not able to provide for their children in such a way they deserve that they will have the heart to do what is best for their child(ren) and give them to someone willing to open up there hearts and home to become part of a family. Amen.

  8. Thanks for your honest post. We are dealing with the loss of a foster child and it’s devastating . It’s also a lonely kind of loss.

  9. Thank you! It’s hard to find help with this kind of loss. We lost our foster baby two months ago (we had her for the first year of her life). My grief is VERY similar to when I had my stillborn son. In both cases, I feel like people think it’s strange that I’m grieving (or still grieving). It’s also hard, because I know she’s still here, just not with me, and I still have in the back of my mind that she could come back.

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