I learned long ago that a very good metaphor for foster care is a bandage.
When you see someone with dressing around their arm or their forehead, you know that something has gone wrong. Likewise, when a child enters foster care, something has gone wrong.
The “thing” that went wrong can be as varied as the cause of the wound beneath a bandage. Addiction that leads to abuse or neglect. Loss of income resulting in the loss of adequate housing or nourishment. Loss of life that makes a child into an orphan.
There isn’t a singular source for the wound, but wounds remain, and bandages are required.
Foster care, as tragic as it can be, is a bandage over a wound that needs dressing before it can heal.
Because of the triage nature of the system, those involved with foster care experience tremendous heartache. The child, the most vulnerable of all involved, cannot remain in the family they know. There is the heartache of a mother or father or caregiver, who must endure the silence of their child’s empty bedroom. There is the heartache of the child welfare workers, who feel the pressure to intervene and question time and again if they are making the best decision for everyone. There is the foster family, whose lives are disrupted by a new, traumatized little soul in their home. (And there will be more heartache if, after loving that little soul as one of their own children, the child leaves the foster home.)
Heartache exists all around us, but it is always magnified when children are involved. And every engaged, feeling individual in society groans with the weight of it all. I think our Creator must weep over it all as well.
But, I think there must also be moments when the Creator’s mighty heart leaps within His chest. Because, hidden in all the mess of the bandages, stitches, scars and bruises, there is hope.
There is hope!
Let me tell you about a family we know. I have permission to share this story but I will leave their names out regardless.
One of our roles as a foster family is to provide emergency care to kids right after they are removed from their home. This has meant many little strangers on our doorstep both coming and leaving. The leaving is very hard and so several years ago we let our social worker know that we would love to accept a child into our family who would stay with us permanently.
Now, I’ll admit, this produces a tremendous amount of internal conflict in my soul. How do you wish for a child to live with you permanently knowing that it means they couldn’t remain in their birth family? It’s tricky to navigate. However, the reality of our wounded world is that many kids do need permanent homes and our desire was to have a child we could raise.
Eventually we got a call. There was a 13-month-old who needed a home. I don’t know the circumstances of his apprehension but we eventually found out his mother struggled with addiction and his dad was a pretty rough guy, historically in and out of prison.
When we first saw the boy, we fell in love immediately. We felt we had the security of giving our whole hearts to this little guy because the nature of his mom’s addiction was such that it would be very difficult to recover from.
But she did.
Somehow she got herself out of the situation she was in and found solace in a shelter for women. When she left that home, she relocated to our area and once she was situated here started attending Alcoholics Anonymous for support.
I admit, with some shame, we thought the moves and decisions and support groups were just a temporary ploy to try and get her little guy back. But one by one, the conditions set out by Child and Family Services were met and they no longer had a reason to keep her boy in care.
This was so hard for us. Oh, we wept when we said goodbye to our little man. And, as in the past, we assumed when he left our home, we wouldn’t ever see him again.
And we didn’t, for four months.
After four months, somewhat unexpectedly, I received a message on Facebook from his mom.
This was the message, “Hey I was wondering if there is anyway u could help me find a bible n also I honestly thought by now I would have received a call from u’s I was honest when I said that u n ur wife can still see baby I know he’s missing u’s too.”
We simply couldn’t believe it. Tara had actually tried to reach her but her cell number had changed and I’m very cautious about messaging people on Facebook so we assumed that the lack of contact was intentional.
That started an amazing and hopeful new chapter for us! We have celebrated with them for his 2nd and 3rd birthdays. We have had him over for night. I was able to dedicate him to God in a special ceremony. Tara and I have been named his godparents. Our hearts overflow! Possibly the biggest miracle to me is the remarkable recovery, our friend, his mom has made.
Here’s the thing. Given the proper care and attention, wounds can heal. Scars may remain as a reminder of the wound, but scars are not wounds. Our lives are richer because we have gotten to know this precious family. ALL of them. Baby, baby’s mom, baby’s brother and sister and even some of their family friends.
The Bible tells us that when Jesus came to earth, a sliver of light shone in the darkness and that darkness has not be able to conquer it ever since. Light is a universal symbol of hope. In the darkness and heartache of foster care, we need these slivers of light to remind us that hope is not lost and that it pierces the darkness and the darkness will not be able to conquer it.
Thanks to baby’s mom, who was willing to let me share this story with you. You are amazing!
Thom Van Dycke has worked with children and youth since 2001 and is a passionate advocate for healthy foster care. Together with his wife, since 2011, they have welcomed 30 foster children into their home. In 2017, Thom Van Dycke was trained as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner.