My husband, Mike and I got married when we were 21 and still in college. We loved to dream about the future and where we might end up. We considered Turkey, Africa, even a PhD program in Los Angeles. We talked about adopting children, and having biological children. However, after college, we didn’t end up in Turkey or L.A., instead we found ourselves in Burlington, VT.
Fast forward 2 ½ years and Mike and I are renting a house with another couple on East Ave in Burlington. Mike is working at IBM and I am directing an After School Program in Williston. We get a call one night from our close friend who is a social worker. He’s calling because he just found out that an 8 year old boy he knows who’s in the foster care system needs emergency housing. This little boy, Colin, attended the summer camp that I work at for the past 2 years. I knew Colin and that he was no longer living with his mother or father. I knew he had experienced grief in his life that no 8 year old should. I did not know that an opportunity to directly impact his life would land on our doorstep.
At that point, all our friend was asking was for us to take care of Colin for the weekend while the Department of Children and Families(DCF) found a new foster placement for him. Mike and I didn’t see any reason to say no and were excited to help Colin in this way. We called back to let them know we were on board but Colin’s social worker had already found a placement for him. Mike and I had gotten so excited that we couldn’t stop thinking about Colin. We talked to all of our close friends, our pastor, our families, and decided that we wanted to talk to Colin’s social worker more about his situation. His social worker explained that Colin’s family connections were still being explored. DCF does as much as possible to place children with family members once they are in custody. Before any outside foster parents are considered, family members are given an opportunity to parent the child in custody. When we got involved, family members were still being considered as a placement for Colin. We talked to Colin’s social worker and told her if Colin should need anything in the future we were interested. A month went by with no word from DCF. We thought about Colin and what might be in his future. We wondered if we really were called to help him or not. It seemed like the door to that opportunity was closing.
I got a call from his social worker in May. No family had come forward to take Colin and she wanted to meet with Mike and I. In the meeting it was very unclear whether Colin would need a home for a month, a year, or a lifetime. Mike and I had to come to terms with the fact that all we could do was love and care for Colin as long as we had the opportunity. We met with the social worker and explained that we would be willing to support Colin in whatever way he needed, including adoption and/or reunification with his parents. Over the next few weeks we visited Colin at the place he was living. We spent time getting to know his routine and boundaries. We spent time playing board games with him and building a friendship with him. Then Colin came to our house. We went berry picking, grilled hamburgers, and he spent the night in the room that would be his. In order to give Colin everything he needed, and to be fair to our roommates, we found a new apartment in Burlington. Colin helped us move in and set up his room. Colin officially moved in with us July 6, 2012.
Mike and I had no other kids at this point. I have an education degree and work with kids every day. I quickly realized that no career or time spent with kids had trained me to be a foster parent. Mothering Colin, who had experienced significant trauma, was unlike any of my previous experience with kids. I quickly had to develop a parenting style that worked for him, and met his needs, which were extensive and unique. Not only did I become a mother, I became a mother in a fishbowl. The second we decided to be foster parents we had social workers in our house evaluating our home and our family. We met with licensing and were questioned about every detail of our lives and why we wanted help Colin. We left the meeting not knowing if they thought we were right for the job or not. We filled out mountains of paperwork. DCF and everyone who worked for Colin would know everything about us. Not only was DCF directly involved in our lives, but we had Colin’s biological family in our lives as well. When you commit to being a foster parent, you are saying yes to being a mother to a child in need who also has a biological mother and father. As much as Colin needed Mike and I as a mom and dad, he needed his relationships with his bio-family too. We continue to support visits with family and allow them into our lives so Colin can create his identity and cope with his past.
People would occasionally ask us how we’re doing and we would typically answer, “Busy and tired.” Other parents would explain how that’s what happens when you have kids. Everyone is busy and tired. The “busyness” and “tiredness” associated with fostering a child is like normal parenting on steroids. Foster parents not only take on the typical parental duties, they take on weekly meetings with clinicians, social workers, and therapists, in addition to meetings with educational surrogates, special educators, and lawyers. All of that plus the looming uncertainty of whether this child, who is becoming your son, will live with you next month. We have people in our home 4 nights a week. We attend monthly Treatment Team Meetings where everyone is deciding what is best for Colin. Bio-parents don’t have to get permission to go on vacation or go home for Christmas. We did. We quickly found that we had accepted the job of loving, nurturing, and disciplining an 8 year old boy who had multiple traumatic experiences. This meant he wasn’t raised with our morals or beliefs. This meant he had been in multiple foster homes and developed habits and behaviors we would have to work through with him. Ultimately, this meant we had no control over what he had been exposed to for the first 8 years of his life.
At one point in January I was lying in bed with Mike and confessed that I didn’t know if I could ever handle taking in another foster child again. The ups and downs in the system are draining. The unknown future for the child is agonizing. The longer Colin lived with us the more I wanted to run away from the system and bio-family and just be Colin’s mom. It felt like forever as we waited to see if DCF would give Colin’s family more time to prove they could take care of Colin or terminate all parental rights. The second we were given paperwork to start the adoption process for Colin, we filled it out and turned it in. We were so ready to give Colin a permanent family. That’s what he needs, a permanent and safe place to grow. The more Colin lived in a consistent, loving home, the more he developed. His impulsive behaviors decreased. He improved his reading level by a grade and a half in 5 months. He no longer needed a one-on-one para-educator in the classroom. He learned how to express his feelings and talk about topics that make him sad. It was clear to everyone who knows Colin that what he needed most was for a family to give him a safe and predictable home.
On May 7, 2013 we walked to the courthouse downtown and signed the paper officially declaring Colin as our son. When I told people we were adopting, they would ask, “Oh where is your baby from? Are you flying to get him?” My baby is 42”, 58 pounds, and he is from Burlington, VT. He has been passed around as people said yes and no to taking care of him. He has been victim to many adult decisions that were completely out of his control. As of May 7, he has a mom and a dad who will never leave him. He is ours and we are his forever.
[typography font=”Delius Swash Caps” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]Written By Kindra[/typography]
I was born and raised in Colorado. I married my high school sweetheart in 2009, and after we graduated college, we ended up in Vermont! We’ve spent the past 3 years here building a community and seeing what’s in store for our lives in Burlington. I am 25 and the mother of a 9 year old boy, Colin. We adopted Colin May 7, 2013 and are expecting his baby brother in early July! I am currently Assistant Director at a child care center and Direct the After School Program. I love kids and cannot wait to be a full time mom this summer! Our family enjoys anything outdoors and have spent a lot of time hiking, biking, rock climbing, and taking Colin to sports like soccer and basketball.