- Family and Parenting»
- Foster Care
A Human Canvas-in the darkness of childhood abuse and neglect-Volume 12-"Bartered Betrayal of Baby Boy Blue"
A Social Worker's Journal
I'm sure some of us are familiar with the Mother Goose nursery rhyme, "The Old Woman in the Shoe...she had so many children she didn't know what to do". **Note below
This particular case reminds me of that rhyme, as the birth parents fell into the role of not knowing what to do with all of their children either. Or knowing, but not choosing to do what they needed to, to keep their family safe. (For the purpose and content of this article I'll break down the word familiar into 2 parts...famili (aka family) + liar. The child in this case would most likely agree that "family liar" was most appropriate in my description of his family, specifically, his mother. And in sticking to the nursery rhyme correlation, I will refer to the child in this case as Baby Boy Blue.
Let's take this newborn Baby Boy, and have him come into this world addicted to the drugs that his dear old mom passed to him during her pregnancy, add some alcohol on a daily basis, and stir, don't shake, because Baby Boy had that covered in the womb. Actually he was born with the "shakes", 3 weeks early, testing positive for the drugs his mother had shared with him. Yes, he's familiar with his life already, because he's known it for just over eight months in his mother's womb. Or should I have said tomb? I mean, really, does this child have a chance? Let's see.
Baby Boy's mother left him in the hospital two days after she gave birth to him. His family is no stranger to the local department of social services. They've had years of open cases with this family, with all of their children. All 7 of them, and now all 8, including Baby Boy. Little history on the case-dad's a Veteran who suffers from severe PTSD, and mom is addicted to drugs (variety) and alcohol. For a time, she was prostituting, so she's not 100% sure if Baby Boy is her husband's, but he signed his name on the birth certificate, so legally, he is.
The siblings of Baby Boy range in ages 2-11. Dad has his sister help him out by bringing the older ones to school, and with dinner in the evenings. I will say, that dad seems to try the best he can. But is it enough? With the pending case now open on Baby Boy, he is found to be in stable health, so he is released and placed into the legal custody of social services. They in turn call my agency, and we find the perfect foster home for Baby Boy. The at-home foster mom is able to take him to his medical appointments and chart his development and growth to make sure he is meeting developmental milestones, as he should be.
I was blessed with this foster family. Foster dad worked at his own business and they had a young, pre-school aged daughter. Baby Boy was nurtured, cared for, and adored. The foster parents made sure he visited with his birth parents and siblings every week, and took phone calls when the birth parents called to check in on their son. It wasn't often that they did, but they were always encouraged to. Baby Boy's birth mom continued her substance abuse, and went missing for days at a time. Dad couldn't commit to taking Baby Boy home because he had his hands full with the others, so he agreed to keep Baby Boy with the foster parents for the time being. Time being? Almost 2 years later, and Baby Boy is still in care. Mom missed her weekly visit, again, and we were told that she had given birth to her 9th child. This child, I'll call Baby Boy 2 was also placed with the foster family his brother, Baby Boy 1, was placed with. The social services case manager approached the birth family and requested that when Family Court convened on the next scheduled date, that they consider voluntarily surrendering Baby Boys 1 & 2, and concentrate on their other 7 children. The response? Dad responded with a "yes", as long as there could be future contact with his sons. Mom responded with a barter.
As I sat in Family Court, I couldn't believe what I heard coming from her mouth. She looked at the judge and explained that since she never really bonded with Baby Boy 1, she'd be willing to sign-off, if, and only if, he would allow her to keep her newest child, Baby Boy 2. I felt sick to my stomach. I had always known that Baby Boy would be better off with the foster family who wanted to adopt him, but I never imagined it would play out like this.
Well, there we all sat, waiting for the judge's decision. He looked squarely in the faces of the birth parents, and told them that they would be taking BOTH of their sons home with them that day! You could have heard a pin drop in the courtroom, if not for all the heartfelt cries coming from the foster family, who had been Baby Boy's true family these past 2 years. Their daughter cried and cried at losing her brother, and nothing seemed to calm her down. My heart broke for this family, and for Baby Boy. This was his family. The one he had bonded with. The mother he had cried for when he was sick, teething, hungry, or tired. These were the parents he took his first steps with, said his first words with, and needed when he woke up in the deep of the night. How could this be happening? I mean, I wanted to tell the judge, let's talk about this for a minute. But the gavel hit the bench and ate my think time, as my audience stood and left, without as much as a glance. Just like that. One judge, one final decision. One major disaster in one child's life.
It took months for the foster family to even consider fostering again. I mean, they were grieving the loss of a child. I understood that, so I gave them time, along with offers to do anything I could to help. How does one help someone who is grieving the death of a child? A figurative death, but a death all the same.
In my profession, when a family decides to foster, I always explain that the plan is usually to return the child to their birth family (reunification). In many situations, that can and does happen. Parents do change for the better. They get the treatment they need, and with support, get their family back to live a healthier life than they had before placement in care. In some situations, birth parents never get it to where it needs to be. Their own addictions and needs take over, and their children suffer for it. In these cases, surrendering a child for adoption is the best choice for the child. That's what would have been best for Baby Boy. Would have, should have, could have, been the best...but Baby Boy did not have a happy ending to his tale.
Instead, Baby Boy experienced grief at a very early age. With all that research tells us, because he was so young, he may never remember the good thing he lost, or the future he could have had. I'll know. The foster family will know, and maybe somewhere deep inside, his birth parents will know too. It's too late for Baby Boy, but not for others in similar situations.
Our Family Court System is lacking, and in need of strong mending, and change. Children's needs and rights require more consideration by the judges assigned to these life changing tasks.
With all due respect to those birth parents who recover and reclaim responsibility, they deserve respect and a second chance. But in those cases, like Baby Boy, there are no more second chances. Not when there have been countless chances, countless mistakes, and the institution of a barter system, by a birth parent, that includes a trade off of one child for another. This was one of the most horrific injustices I have witnessed involving the welfare of a child. Whereby, the "system" traded ethics and morality, for what? I don't really know...can you decide? And I will leave you with the question I started out with. Does this child have a chance? I have my answer. Do you?
NO BABY OF MINE
Baby Boy all dressed in blue,
his fairytale is old, yet new.
Born of drugs,
he needed hugs,
but mommy was a local thug.
No love to give.
No life to live.
So, off he went with no forgive,
into the arms who wanted him.
The chance he had was oh so slim.
He took his newfound family role,
but back to court, would take its toll.
Sometimes crime does state a claim.
This Baby Boy-returned to bane.
He lost his spot in family new.
He was reclaimed, Baby Boy blue.
Where would his life most likely go?
It's turn to sadness, crime, and woe.
When will the system ever learn?
A life of crime just shouldn't earn.
Until that day we all will pay,
with wallets, hearts, and graves outlaid.
Kim Diaz 2012
** Several versions of this nursery rhyme have been written, with only suggested origins/authors.