A teenage boy is coming to live with me. Today. In eight hours, I will be an official foster parent.
It’s been only a few months, but I have notes upon notes about my short experience so far with this child welfare system of ours. I can’t wrap my head around how we allow a child to fall through the cracks so frequently that he becomes invisible. How a child with no parents is surrounded by umpteen “service providers” paid for by the government, and yet, no one knows this kid or does anything to meaningfully help him. How we diagnose a kid with “anger issues” and force him to take medication strong enough to knock out a horse when, holy hell, he should be angry. If righteous anger about this system of ours requires medication, then someone better pass me some tranquilizers.
The system is broken. I know you know this. You know it’s bad, I knew it was bad, we all know that the child welfare system is one giant cesspool of absolute heart-breaking disaster.
My friends, I need you to know that it is worse than we thought. It is so much worse than we thought.
Sometimes this kid tells me stories about his life in the system that he thinks are normal and funny. They aren’t either of those things, and I don’t know whether to go along with it and smile, or whether I should wrap him in a hug while he figures out that this story is, actually, not ok, that some of his “good memories” aren’t very good at all.
The stories that he knows are not normal nor funny will break you. That’s a promise.
I think I am supposed to share this story of his. We talked about it, and he and I are going to write this together – at his pace, within his comfort zone, with him calling most of the shots. This is a very brave young man.
The plan is to get this his story out into the world in hopes that we can do some good, in hopes that this will heal him and do right by some other kids. That’s the plan for tomorrow and this coming week and for however long it takes.
But not today. Today, I’m going to buy some of his favorite foods – tres leches cake, Ritz crackers and American cheese – I’m going to tape a big, gaudy sign on the garage for his arrival and wrap up a present my son and I got him a few weeks ago. His room is set, his closet is full, and in eight hours, for all practical purposes, he becomes my kid.
He has a story to tell, for sure. My goal today is to add an honest-to-goodness awesome memory to that story.
Welcome home, kid.