Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"The Right Fit"

It was an afternoon class, and usually there are two or three of us teaching at one time... but this time, it was just me.  So, there was no one there to balance my occasionally raw opinion regarding foster parenting or adoption.  It was still the usual content... I hadn't gone rogue or anything, but as the three hour training went along our discussion began to open up.

One couple in particular expressed that they had no intent to adopt and simply wanted to foster children as a ministry.  I affirmed their idea since our family started with the same premise but challenged it regarding the application towards children that would become adoptable.  It appeared the wife was now questioning their approach for the first time.  It hadn't occurred to them that sending an adoptable foster child to another family could potentially do as much harm as it did good.  We forget kids get attached too, and after experiencing an initial removal from their bio family, another move to another family is rarely a step in the right direction.  It wasn't until one of our foster daughters who had been with us seven months and was moved to be adopted by an aunt and uncle turned back up in our lives three years later we realized that an adoptive placement isn't always a permanent one.

So, what happens to a child in foster care when they can no longer be reunited with their immediate or extended biological family?  The foster family is first in line to give that child a permanent, nurturing home, but if fostering is just a ministry or "the plan" for a family is set in stone... have we really ministered to this child in the way God commands?

At one level, I don't want to deal in extremes knowing there are exceptions to every rule, but at another level, it's beneficial for us to start from the perspective of the child rather than the parent and move from there.  As adults, we want to help these kids, and we say we're willing to do whatever it takes with a kind of naive passion.  When we ask couples about behaviors like physical aggression, sexual exposure or abuse, bad language and a host of other issues, reality begins to hit home.

We talk about "the right fit" which becomes code for "we were willing to work with this child's behaviors temporarily, but now they're adoptable and another family needs to be found."  Or, "we're using foster care as a kind of survey to find the perfect child that matches our family."  To my shame, I can think of multiple conversations I've had in the past where I propped foster care up as a kind of testing ground for families uncertain about the choice to adopt.  It's true more than 60% of the time a foster child won't be adoptable, but that doesn't equate foster care to a trial run for families.  What does this idea of "the right fit" communicate to a child, and is there anyone that can even define what the phrase "right fit" means without compromising their soul?
In case anyone's interested in forking over $50k
I'll take one of these...

This isn't a game of M.A.S.H.  We often have a vision of the perfect car, career, spouse, or home in our minds.  We may even find what appears to be the perfect match to our vision... until reality sets in.  The perfect car always needs an oil change or new tires or a repair along the way.  The ideal career may be in the right location with the right salary, but your co-workers are hard to deal with or the added responsibilities aren't quite what you had in mind.  The picture perfect spouse looks great dressed up like a jungle cat on your wedding night, but six years and three children later that picture changes (love you, honey).  The home feels customized to your every specification... but the lawn still needs mowing, the paint will wear thin and no limited measure of up-keep is necessary.  Pick your comparable allusion... nothing is as perfect as it seems on the surface until we learn to appreciate the imperfections or limitations with the rest of the whole.  You don't get to pick and choose the parts of your child that you like anymore than you get to pick the parts of the Bible you want to follow.
...and a job where I get to where this
9 months out of the year...

I understand these situations aren't cut and dry.  Dad may not be on the same page as mom or vice versa. Other children already in the home need to be consulted.  Finances, bandwidth, medical and other therapeutic needs are all factors, but rather than look at all of these as barriers we must overcome, why not start by asking what's in the best interest of the child?

I continually move towards the conclusion, it's not the child's issues that are too difficult for the family but the family's issues that are too difficult for the child.  Many parents are as narcissistic as the children, they've just learned to hide it better... not dealing with their own buried trauma, misguided expectations, marital problems, socio-economic materialism, submerged racism, etc.  So, an abused/neglected child exacerbates those hidden problems then takes the blame for them by being sent away, and that's not to say these kids don't have their issues... they certainly do.

...and a multilevel prairie style home
with mature trees and acreage while you're at it.
They often come with a host of acronyms... ADD/ADHD, OCD, ODD, RAD, FAS/FASD.  While these acronyms don't adequately describe our children or how they achieved such marks... the labels are given providing some indication of what they've been through and how they've coped.  But the kicker is...God placed these children in our homes.  We aren't the only hope for orphans everywhere, and we aren't meant to adopt every child... but the ones who come into our home we are accountable for.  If we're faithful participants in this foster and/or adoption journey, these kids won't be in the same place one, two or three years from now... and neither will we.

Children who experience neglect or abuse don't want to wander from family to family while adults figure out what suits them.  At the core of their identity, every child deeply desires to know they have value and are loved. God has created us in such way so we can heal even from incredibly deep wounds... therefore, change is not only possible but probable.  If a capacity for being valued and loved is the criteria for children to fit into a family then we can start a new conversation about what "the right fit" is, but as it stands, we should begin to change our approach to ask how our family can become "the right fit" for a child not the other way around.