Once upon a time, in my pre-wife and family life, I (and an ex partner) were foster parents to two young boys. They came to us at two and three and a half years old. Adorable, wonderful, sweet little boys. They had been through a lot before placement, but were strong and resilient. They soon fit right in and we grew as a family. In those days, foster care procedures and policies were much different from they were when Olivia was placed (and, I presume, today). Unfortunately, much of what happened to us (and my subsequent fight to change the system) is the reason things are different for same-sex couples who are fostering in my city today.
One thing that still hasn’t changed, though, is that case workers come and go at rapid pace. For J and N, we were lucky to have competent, caring case workers. Right up until the last one…the one that essentially stole my sons. The case plan for J and N had just been changed to adoption. Unfortunately, like was the case with Olivia, only one of us could petition for adoption because they wouldn’t allow a joint petition from a same-sex couple. I became the adoptive resource and we began the wait for the court to approve the new goal so that a homestudy could get underway.
Then we got the case worker from hell. The first time she came to visit our home, she was obviously uncomfortable with our family make-up. At the end of our meeting, she outright stated that she didn’t think that our “situation” was right for kids to be a part of. Whoa. I called the supervisor, asking for a new case worker, but was informed that there was not another available, the case worker would be talked to about what happened, and that we should not expect any more problems. On the surface–to our knowledge–this held true.
Until the day that the boy’s daycare center director called me into her office at pick-up. Apparently, the case worker had not been filing the proper papers for payment of childcare services. The daycare center had not been paid in two months. The director informed me that she had attempted calls to the worker, but was getting no response. She asked that I call and see if I might be able to get the situation resolved. I assumed that it was an oversight on the part of the case worker. Perhaps she didn’t realize that it was her responsibility to acquire the approvals for payment.
I called her and left her a message. She called me back almost immediately. When I explained the situation, she said it didn’t matter because she was having J and N removed from our home. The next morning. That she had a new foster family all lined up. And that’s when I knew we’d been sabotaged. Children in stable placements–adoptive resource placements–are not removed without reason. Other foster families are not lined up–not waiting for last-minute moves–for no good reason. I questioned the worker on the details, and she informed me that there was nothing I could do. She would be there at 8 a.m. the next morning to move the boys.
I called the supervisor, but had to leave a voicemail. I called my partner, A, and lost it. She left voicemails for the supervisor and the supervisor’s supervisor. We realized that we weren’t going to get through to anyone that late in the day, and knew this nightmare was going to happen. I threw up in the bathroom while A called my best friend to arrange for everyone to get together with the boys that night . What were we going to say to the boys? How could we explain to two preschoolers that they were wanted and loved by us and that we would be fighting to get them back, even while they had to go live with someone else?
The next morning, the case worker arrived. When she saw all the things–clothes, toys, books, bikes, etc–that belonged to J ands N, she said it wouldn’t fit into her car. It would be left behind. I refused. Yelled that it was bad enough that this was even happening and they sure were going to have the things that were familiar to them and BELONGED to them. It ended up that we had to pack it into OUR car and follow her to the new foster home to deliver it.
And that was where I last saw my sons. As I took their belongings to the porch of their new “home”, I hugged them, kissed them, and sobbed. I drove away and watched from my rearview mirror as the case worker held them back as they screamed and tried to run after the car. That image is forever burned into my memory. Occasionally, I still wake up in the middle of the night from a flashback of this trauma.
I did talk to a supervisor. It turns out that the case worker had outright lied in the case files. She had actually written–I saw it with my own eyes–that WE had asked for the removal of J and N. That was dated the same month that the daycare stopped being paid. Two months before they were moved. No amount of explaining this untruth made it go away. Apparently, if it’s written into the case files it is the truth. And if it’s not written there, it never happened. Which is why, when I tried to connect the dots with the discriminatory circumstances surrounding our first visit and follow-up calls to the supervisor, there were no dots to be connected. That supervisor (now long gone and replaced with someone new, of course) had never recorded any of that information in the file. And so it never happened. Despite my repeated requests to have J and N moved back into our home, the requests were always denied. The pain and stress of this eventually became a major contributor to the end of my relationship with A.
With a social worker at the foster care licensing agency, I worked to have changes made to the “system”. Today, case workers receive training on working with same-sex couples who foster children, foster parents receive trainings on working with LGBTQ youth, and sexual orientation is specifically written into the non-discrimination policies of all involved agencies. I’m glad that these are in place, but it still doesn’t bring me my sons back.
It does bring me to my current dilemma, though. J turned sixteen a couple of months ago and I wrote him a letter, like I always do on each boy’s birthday, and put it in my memory box with his photographs and artwork. As I wrote, it occurred to me that he could be on face.book. And so I looked. And there he was. His page has a “friends only” privacy setting, but he has a very unusual first and last name and the profile picture, while not a close up, appears to be him. I sit with this information, but I don’t know what to do with it. Would he even remember me? Care to remember me? Can I face the reality of what his life has been like–good or bad? I’m not sure.