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Mother and child reunion shifts my view of foster care

We agreed to meet at the park of her choice, at the time of her choice. It was a tricky situation. He is her biological son. 

I was his legal guardian. 
She was young and confident that she knew what was best for him — as most mothers do. But the truth was, she hardly knew him anymore, just seven months into his foster care.
Inside Story | Laura AkinsShe chose to throw his first birthday party during his naptime at a park filled with strung-out adults roaming around playground equipment too advanced for a 1-year-old. She doted over him all afternoon, lovingly offering him a full can of Coke to wash down his uncut slice of pizza. 
It’s easy — too easy — to point fingers here. 
I believe this mother truly loves her son. She was doing the best she could for him with what she had.
After fostering five children, I’ve learned that foster care is more than learning to give up our comfortable life for “the least of these” Jesus talks about in Matthew 25.
Foster care can mean walking alongside a child’s birth mom — and allowing her to learn how to be a better parent — no matter how messy that looks. 
Katie Hayden, a therapist who leads my monthly foster care support group,cites research showing that children do better in their birth home than in foster care, assuming there is no threat of harm in the home and conditions of abuse and neglect have been eliminated.
Do I believe her? Wholeheartedly.
But that wasn’t my opinion four years ago.
When my husband and I began fostering children, our goal was to eventually adopt and be done. We were going to be a family with a large number of children — all obviously not ours through birth — and people would just know we love God. #AdoptionSavesLives. 
As we took in child after child, we began to see the bigger picture — and it didn’t include us posing with an armful of children wearing perfectly mismatched clothes with the caption, “Love knows NO bounds!”
We learned that, in our case, the bigger picture may not include us. It involves family reunification. While some cases do end in adoption, that is no longer my goal when I accept a placement. 
I am thankful that God put the desire to foster on my heart. As Romans 2:4 says, “God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
I believe he has done this for me — leading me into a radical life-change perspective of birth parents. 
And now it is my job as a foster parent to grab each of them by the hand and assist as God leads them into their own life-change. 
If not me, then who?
Four years and five foster children later, I agree with what the research and my support group were trying to tell me. If there were no threat of harm, and if the conditions had been properly addressed, my foster son would have done far better with his biological mom than with me. 
But sometimes, no matter how hard we try to lead someone into a radical life-change, it just can’t be done — such is this case with this birth mom. Although some might see her as a failure, I don’t. 
“The Message” paraphrases Luke 6:37-38 this way: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults — unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. 

Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back — given back with bonus and blessing.
This is my hope for all birth moms — to be treated fairly by everyone involved in their foster case, to not be criticized or condemned, but to be lead firmly by the hand into a radical life-change.

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Filed under: Inside Story Opinion

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