We got a call on May 25, 2011 from DCS placement asking if we would be willing to take in a 16 year old boy. That one was a no-brainer for us because we’d been hoping for a boy for a while, especially Derrick, who was convinced the only children in foster care in the state of
were girls. Tennessee
Chris’ situation was a bit different than any of the other children we’d had placed in our home, either permanently or temporarily, in the past. He was removed from his home at the request of his grandmother who was having health problems and felt she couldn’t be a good custodian to him any longer. Sadly, she had no one else who could take him, so he was brought into foster care and we were asked to be his foster family.
He showed up at our house with his duffel bag of clothes and toiletries and a very heavy heart. He had no idea that his grandmother had asked for him to be removed and thought he was going to court that day to answer for a charge that had been brought against him. He did have to answer for that charge, which was very minor, but he was also removed from his home. His life had changed in the blink of an eye and he felt so betrayed by his grandmother; he was upset, angry and lost.
We tried to be a support system for him and encouraged him to look at this as an opportunity to change the path he was heading down and learn to make something of himself while he was with us. Our girls told him about their past mistakes and how far they’d come in the nine months they’d been with us and about how much love and attention they got from us (even when they would have preferred to not have so much attention) and how much they loved being with us. The whole family also tried to explain that his grandmother did what she had to do, for him to get the care he needed, even if it wasn’t handled in the best way at the time.
Chris quickly bonded with our whole family and we with him. We were ready to make him a permanent part of our family and even told his case manager that they didn’t have to look for another placement for him; we wanted him to stay with us. At first, that was what seemed to be happening, but at our first team meeting at DCS, we found out they were planning on sending him to a group home three hours from Knoxville. I cannot begin to tell you how much that hurt us all; we’d come to think of Chris as one of our own and now they were taking him from us. That 16 year old boy sat in the meeting room and hugged me so tight and cried on my shoulder because he was being forced to leave his home with us; it was heartbreaking.
We tried everything we could think of to stop him being transferred to the group home, but it was in vain. His transfer was pushed through and on May 27th, we took him to DCS so he could be taken to his new placement. I asked his case manager if there was any way that we, as a family, could take him there since it appeared we had no other choice but to let him go. She got the approval for us to do so and told me just as we arrived at the office. I hadn’t said anything to him or the kids because if we didn’t get the approval, it would be one more heartbreaking disappointment and I didn’t think any of them could have handled it.
When I told him that we were going to be the ones taking him to the group home, he grabbed me and held me so tight and once again cried on my shoulder. We were completely surrounded by the other kids and Todd who turned it into one great big, family hug. It was a bit overwhelming for the case managers who were standing nearby and they all went inside to give us some privacy and, I’d say, to wipe a few tears from their eyes.
That drive was one of the longest and shortest of my life. It felt like Chris had been sentenced to serve time for a crime he didn’t commit and we wanted nothing more than to drag out the day so that we could spend as much time with him as possible. Because of traffic and bathroom stops, it took us about four hours to get him there, but it felt like only 10 minutes had passed. None of us wanted to let him go, and he didn’t want to go.
We spent the next three months visiting him whenever we could, even though he did get into trouble the first time we visited. The group home decided that we brought too many people with us, that at least one of our girls was Chris’ girlfriend and that he had encouraged them to wear short-shorts. For clarification: all the kids we brought were ours, none were (or are) his girlfriend, but rather his SISTERS, and they monitor every phone call and letter into and out of the home, so how in the world could he have encouraged them to wear anything without their knowledge? On top of that, *I* don’t allow short-shorts to be worn, and they weren’t. My girls dress respectably and above reproach at all times. The home was just looking for something to get on to him about. That incident resulted in a few phone calls between me and Chris’ attorney, his case manager and the home; they didn’t have any issues with us after that.
We wrote letters as often as possible. I lost a few before they got mailed, and I had to apologize profusely for the lack of communication that week. He was able to make two phone calls a week: one on Tuesday to his grandmother and one on Thursday to us. Those phone calls were 10 minutes each, and it’s impossible for him to say everything he needs to say, or for you to say everything you need to say to your child in 10 minutes, much less give each of his siblings the chance to even say hi to him. We did our best, though.
Because we already had six children in our home, five of which were foster children, we were at the limit as far as DCS was concerned and they told us there was no way they could place Chris with us again. Never mind that we were about to adopt two of those children within a month and the other three by the end of December, Britt would be 18 in a few months and would be considered an adult, and we can actually handle a small army. With DCS, policy is policy. Common sense is out the window.
So, on the advice of some great and wonderful women, we filed for custody of Chris through the juvenile court system. Thankfully, his grandmother was all for us getting Chris and after a many tense weeks with his case manager, she came around to supporting our petition as well. His attorney was on our side from the beginning, as was our family social worker. Even though everyone was pushing for us to get custody of him, we had no way of knowing what the judge would decide, so we were on pins and needles sitting in his court room. Thankfully, the judge saw it our way and knew we could handle him and our other children and granted us full custody of Chris on September 19, 2011 and he officially became one of our children. It took everything he had for Chris to not jump up and shout for joy while in the court room. I just did my best not to cry a river.