On Saying "No" To a Foster Child

The idea that there are 16,000 foster children in NYC alone, each as unique and precious as my foster son, each needing stable, loving homes both temporary and permanent, actually hurts me when I think about it, makes it hard to breathe.

Sep 28, 2012 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

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Our (tiny) nursery

Yesterday, curled up in my sick bed for the fourth straight day, I received a phone call from a number I didn't know. I answered, excited by my recently recovered ability to do things like "lift my head" and "speak in human tones." It was our foster angency, calling to offer us a child for the first time since they placed our first foster child in our home in April.

"I was wondering if we could bring this child to your home this evening," the woman on the phone summed up.

I live in a two-bedroom apartment -- in one room, my fiance and I sleep, the other is our former guest room now converted to a nursery. Because we have only this one extra bedroom, we are licensed for one foster child. Because there are so many children in need, however, foster agencies will often pressure you to take more -- to cram an extra bed in a corner, to stack large sibling groups up in bunk beds.

But our current child's room is already small -- those familiar with NYC real esate might even call our apartment a 1 1/2 bedroom. Additionally we'd been foster parents for barely 6 months now, and to a much younger child than we anticipated. We both work full time and I already feel both stretched to capacity and barely able to figure out what I'm doing most of the time. I knew there was no way we could take another child at this point. I wanted to say yes immediately.

"Boy or girl?" my partner asked me when I called him at work.

"Girl," I said.

"I want that baby," he responded immediately.

"I KNOW, I DO TOO" -- I gushed, relieved that he felt as torn as I did. "But there's just no way, right?"

We spoke for a few more minutes, confirming what I already knew --  we simply don't have the space to take in a second child at this moment. I hung up the phone and cried.

For weeks now, I've been feeling this slow and steady ache growing -- the feeling that I am not doing enough, can never do enough. I know, rationally that most of us only have the time and resources to do a very little bit. But the idea that there are 16,000 foster children in NYC alone, each as unique and precious as my foster son, each needing stable, loving homes both temporary and permanent, actually hurts me when I think about it, makes it hard to breathe. I can do so, so little.

And honestly, if it wasn't for my much wiser and stronger partner, I would probably take every kid they called about, would have them stacked up in corners and extend myself way, way beyond my capacity to actually care for them.

We've started to talk lately, to fantasize about buying a ranch or a farm in the country somewhere, filling it with llamas and goats and kids -- 10 at a time, with a one-in, one-out policy. To really be able to make a sizable difference, to spend the rest of our life being of service to at-risk kids. It's an impractical dream, one we'll probably never be able to afford or accomodate. (Although if any wealthy philanthropists or Oprah are reading this and want to fund my foster ranch, you can email me at emily@xojane.com.) And while I love my job here at xoJane and hope it lasts forever, when I think to a time "after" this job, I wonder if my next gig might have something to do with these kids. (I'll be browsing the GIMME ALL THE CHILDREN job boards.)

I am trying to type through this, you guys, but honestly I'm heartbroken. I feel like I miss a kid I don't even know. Did I tell you she's 3? Three, which is still younger than the age we thought we might get when we stocked the house with Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Jello Pudding cups and those "magic grower" sponge toys you drop in a big bucket of water. I guess it's hard sometimes, this foster parent thing, hard and sad.

And I don't really know how you process the sadness of having to say "no" to a child, or how you learn to live with there being so much pain in the world that you will never be able to even make a dent. For now, all I can do is just keep loving the kid I have, and praying for the one I couldn't take.