I am honestly not sure exactly how to even start this blog entry. There is so much swirling in my head, God is truly bringing things that have been on my heart into fruition. I am excited and feeling blessed as we embark on these new endeavors that have been placed on our hearts!
When my husband and I decided to become foster parents we realized quickly that there were things that didn’t sit well with us. As time has grown and our journey in foster care has taken its own path, we realize more and more each day how much change is needed FOR the children. We are not speaking specifically to the children in our care, but more so in our own community and in the long-term, globally.
While that is not the purpose of my writing today, it was just too good not to share! I often times find myself standing in awe of God and how HE calls us and for His purpose. I also thought I would share the good before I shared something that has been heavily placed on my heart!
Over the past few weeks I have been hearing a lot of comments about how joyous or exciting it is to adopt. While I would tend to agree with those comments, I also feel burdened to share the entire picture with you. This week, via social media a fellow foster parent asked a question surrounding termination of parental rights (TPR) and feeling sad. This seems to be the theme in my heart for the past few weeks. So I thought I would take a moment to share with you the reality of what this leg of the journey looks like. Again, I do NOT speak in specifics to our situation or where we are in our journey, this is me sharing my heart, and reality of not only myself but others as well.
The post on social media surrounding the case of termination of rights and whether or not we should feel sad has sparked quite a few comments of varying degrees. As you may expect it varied quite a bit, from people who were elated that this occurred to people who were devastated and cried at the TPR hearing. These are foster families I am referring to, not biological families. I think that while I don’t find myself on either side of the spectrum, it is safe to say that like anyone grieving, there is no canned response as to how we are to react to this situation.
If you will, allow me to explain for a moment the process of (TPR) Termination of Parental Rights. TPR occurs when the courts make the decision that the biological parents are unfit to care for their children. The termination process begins with a motion to move to TPR, at which time the judge grants the motion. The county must then file the proper paperwork and advertise for any unknown fathers of the children. A “Show-up” hearing is scheduled. At this hearing the biological parents are informed of the intent of the courts to terminate their rights. At that point, the biological parents have two choices. They can consent to the termination at which time termination is granted and the goal is changed to adoption, or they can contest the decision. If the parent contests the decision it then proceeds to a full court hearing. From the show-up TPR hearing to the final TPR hearing things usually remain the same as far as visitations and any other items put in place. Once the actual TPR hearing is held and the judge makes a decision to continue or terminate, nothing changes. When the judge makes the decision to terminate the parental rights, all visitation is to end. Appeals are filed, in our state the biological parents have 30 days to file the appeal from the date of the TPR hearing. On average (again in our state) is about seven-eight months for the returned final verdict. Once that final verdict is read, the adoption, IF a pre-adoptive family has been fostering for six months, will occur roughly within a month. That is the general process, it may vary from state-to-state and you would want to speak with your agency caseworker, county caseworker, or child’s lawyer to have a better idea.
All of that brings me to the word, in Ecclesiastes 3:4 it is written that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” In this moment, it is a time to weep. We weep for the loss our children are experiencing, we weep for the loss of the biological family, we weep out of sadness for the entire situation. It is not a time to laugh or dance, it is a time of respect, a time to mourn a great loss in the lives of the children, even if they are not fully aware, there is loss! It is also not a time to laugh and dance in the face of someone else’s tragedy. Maybe it is a relief that it is over, but it is definitely not a time to celebrate! Please don’t bash me on this, it is my opinion and I FULLY understand that there are so many scenarios, but at the end of the day, no matter how horrific the situation is, loss is loss and with that comes a tremendous amount of grief.
ALL of that said, the process of termination is NOT a joyous occasion, in fact it can be downright heartbreaking. While outsiders (meaning people who have little or no experience and understanding of how the system works) this may seem wonderful and an exciting time… after all, they have been “rescued” from the trauma right? NOPE, nothing could be further from the truth. Typical children in care do not feel rescued or saved, typical children experience further trauma. They must confront their past and look to the future… and attempt to heal and move on!
Yes, you read that correctly, they must confront their past, as they have more than likely been doing all along while in care. Many of these children in care receive some sort of therapy (not all) and have dealt with the many issues they have going on. Many have more than likely acted out in response to what they cannot figure out or make sense of in their minds. It truly varies from child to child. They must also look forward to a future with a new family and may ask themselves where they fit in, in all of this. The children will have (depending on age) MANY questions. They will want to know WHY and most frequently WHEN. They themselves will go through the grief and loss process in their own way. As their foster parents, you should fully expect to go through that as well. As for the biological parents, I can’t even imagine the heartbreak. Even with any of the reasons a parent can lose a child, I cannot imagine their pain and grief.
No matter how horrific things may have been, no matter how much you may want to take the information you have gathered and want to demonize those losing their children, you can’t, well, you shouldn’t! It does not come easily in saying that. So if you are walking this journey and you haven’t reached that level yet, hang on, pray, it will come! Everything in your body wants to SCREAM out for these children you want to hug the pain away, but you can’t, you must embrace the past, honor (YES, honor) their past and find a way to begin to heal and move forward. You must realize that, even and a very young age, they are confused, angry and full of an entire bag of mixed emotions. It’s not all bad, but it is part of the grief and loss process. Children who are attached (there are children who do not attach) will have a more difficult time severing ties and beginning on a new journey! For some kids, they have been in one, long-term foster placement where those foster parents wish to adopt them. For others, they have bounced from home to home in hopes of finding forever. Remember, each time there is a change in placement, a child experiences grief and loss. What I think is common for ALL kids in care is that they truly wish to have permanency in their lives. No matter the age and level of awareness as time moves forward they become more aware that it has been a “long” time and surely the judge will make a decision soon. There are children who will seek to leave their past in the past and there are those who will leave kicking and screaming. Either way, there is grief and loss.
My caution to friends and family and well, perfect strangers interested in ones journey, be careful/mindful in your excitement, it’s not always the season that family is walking through! In fact, while most families walk this journey they tend to live in the land of ‘bitter sweet’ and that’s not always an easy place to live.
Yes, there is a season for everything and yes there is a time to grieve and a time to rejoice, but let the family lead you in that season. Ask questions before blurting out how exciting this time is for everyone. Ask how things are going, where they are in the process, ask them if there is anything you can do, but be gentle with your excitement, do not attempt to demonize the biological family because it is likely you don’t know the entire story. My final advice, be mindful and respectful of little ears, they need and deserve the most gentle of care always, but especially during this time. In the right season, there will be much rejoicing, and that will be for God’s glory!
Ecclesiastes 3:1 ~ There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens