A week before the final court hearing, mom had VV for an unsupervised visit. She returned her to our home with VV’s hand bandaged up. They had been at a picnic, it was very hot, and VV unwittingly grabbed a hold of a metal leg on a grill and burned her hand. Alex had been certified in first aid and medical response in the Army, so he proceeded to question mom regarding what had been done in addressing the wound. Appropriate ointment had been purchased and applied right away, and the wound was properly bandaged. Mom reacted as expected, so we unwittingly thought that was that. VV was happy and smiling, so we decided to continue with our plan to transition VV without any undue headaches for her mom.
Still, the next day when I dropped VV off at daycare, I spoke with the daycare director about what happened. I showed her the wound and asked her if she thought VV needed to see a doctor. The director reassured me that “these things happen” and that it wasn’t necessary to take her to the doctor. Reassured by both Alex and the daycare director, and my own sense of lack of urgency, I gave VV a big squeeze as always and went to work.
I had completely forgotten that VV and her mom had an appointment that day to which a social worker was providing transportation. When the worker picked up VV and saw the bandaged hand, all hell broke loose.
She was taken the her pediatrician, who eventually washed his hands of the injury and referred her to a burn unit at a hospital. It was there that Alex and I were reunited with VV. She had been examined, observed, and treated, and the doctor determined that everything that needed to be done was done, and VV was released with instructions to essentially keep doing what we were doing.
The next day, we would drop her off at daycare for the last time. I got a phone call at home from the social work director notifying us that they were removing VV from our care pending an investigation. She made it sound as though this was a temporary situation, and that we’d get VV back. We had every expectation of her being home with mom that weekend. We had every expectation to be able to transition into an ongoing relationship with VV and her mom, without the interference of social services. But the last month of VV’s time in the care of social services was just awful, and I hate that we were unable to prevent it.
She was placed with the same emergency care provider from whose house we picked her up 10 months earlier. There, she was not given her medication or her regular clothes (provided by us), and she was in an environment with no child-proofing aside from a single gate. I know this because I was able to go visit VV before the provider got word that this was not allowed. I saw that she had at least 5 other toddlers running around, and there were countless choking hazards laying around on the window mantle within reach. VV wasn’t being fed through her specialized bottle nipple (she was in need of solidifying her liquids), and she was dirty and her hair unkempt.
She was happy to see me but sad to see me go. I cradled her in my arms and shushed her as I always did. I started singing our bedtime song, too: “Won’t you take me to, Sleepy Town!” It broke my heart to hear her cry and be unable to stay with her, and it broke my heart even more to see how completely unmoved the provider was about her tears or anxiety over separation. Notice I’ve called this woman a “provider”, and not a “foster mother”, because the title “mother” has to be earned.
In the days that ensued, it went from bad to worse. VV had an appointment at the doctors, and I used that opportunity to drop off some medication that I found I hadn’t packed in her original bags. Of course, I hoped for a chance meeting with VV in the process. And of course I was vilified for what I considered a normal reaction of a parent towards a child with whom one has developed a healthy attachment. They told us to treat our foster child as our own child, but when we did, we were “out of line”.
The provider immediately called social services when she saw me. I tried to explain why I was there, but she wouldn’t hear of it. You’d think I was some sort of criminal with a restraining order to my name. In the waiting room, it became obvious that VV was in need of a diaper change, yet neither the provider nor mom had brought any diapers. I tried desperately to play off the awkwardness of the situation, suggesting that I go get some diapers for her. I was told in no uncertain terms to leave. I sat in my car a bit numb, feeling ridiculed and vilified for loving this child that had been in my care for nearly a year.
When I finally gathered the strength to drive home, I received a call from the head honcho of social workers. To his credit, he was very diplomatic and expressed sympathy for my lot, yet he said that I wouldn’t be able to regain custody of VV if I didn’t abide by the restrictions of the investigation. I of course didn’t care about that originally, since I had expected VV to be going home, not back into foster care. But they had also launched an investigation of mom, and now I imagined all the horrible possibilities that may await VV, none of which would be “in the best interest of the child”, something social services claims it’s in the business of pursuing.
During the next few weeks, VV’s mom returned the favor of our attempt for a smooth transition by bringing VV to our house for a visit. It was so good to see her again, and we were so touched that her mom took this risk. But with hindsight, none of our actions during those last few weeks were very smart. We were operating with the assumption that parents and caretakers know what’s best for their children, but we were dealing with an agency whose job it was to interfere and enforce their own version of “ideal parenting” on children unlucky enough to have fallen into their custody.
In the end, VV spent an additional month in foster care. A week after being moved to the emergency provider’s house, she was moved again. The provider was leaving the country, something that was known at the time of placement. At the second foster home, VV was bitten on the shoulder blade by another child, and her mom provided us with a photograph of the scar. But thank God, VV is a resilient little girl, and the month of instability proved to be insignificant in the larger scheme of things. The investigation against her mom was resolved within that month, while the investigation against us continued for another month or so!
But God provided a most unexpected outlet for us in this time of need. Alex was given the opportunity to spend 3 months on a job in Germany, and as soon as my summer semester was over, I joined him. The time we spent in a completely different environment was just what we needed to readjust to life without VV. I don’t know how I could’ve recovered without this change of scenery. By the time we returned home, it didn’t hurt as much to be reminded of the many memories we shared with VV over the 10 months that we were her parents.
(Part Six to be continued...)