Another week slipped by. I began calling any number I could find and still, no contact, no returned calls. I decided to start over. I back-tracked to the DCFS website. Someone answered and after a quick explanation that my husband and I are interested in getting more information about foster care licensing and, more specifically, foster care adoption, I was told I needed to talk to So-In-So. Naturally she wasn’t in but would be returning in an hour. In an hour I’d be knee deep in second graders and teaching a social studies lesson so I asked to leave her a voicemail. Another voicemail. Four days later I was leading a discussion on why good readers read many different kinds of books when my cell phone buzzed to life on my desk. I glanced over and recognized the area code. She was returning my call. There was a real live person on the other end ready to answer my questions and, hopefully, finally, get us moving in the right direction. My insides twisted. Answering wasn’t an option so I reluctantly watched it from the corner of my eye slip into voicemail as I reminded Miss Chatty to please raise her hand if she has something to say. Sigh. Tag, I’m it. Again.
I returned So-In-So’s call as soon as I could but, of course, it went to voicemail. (Doesn’t anyone answer phones anymore?) I’d be happy to send an email instead but there were never emails listed! In the message I desperately explained that I’m a teacher and that I am not always free to answer my phone. I told her I was happy to call her between 11:50 and 1:45 or after 3:30, just to let me know what worked for her but another day went by and I didn’t hear back. On a whim, Friday afternoon as I was packing things up I called her again. My heart leapt into my throat as there was a simple, “Hello, how can I help you?” on the other end. Those moments always catch me off guard. You know, when you’re preparing your message in your head and are caught completely unprepared for a live person to pick up.
Now, keep in mind that this is the second time I called DCFS with the same request but soon I found myself answering questions like, “What age child are you interested in? Are you open to sibling groups? What’s your religious affiliation?” None of the questions were particularly disarming, Mr. Something and I had previously discussed every one of them which made me silently pat ourselves on the backs for being prepared and having had these conversations. What was disarming was the fact that the last time I called and requested the exact same information, no one asked me any of these questions! I also discovered that the reason that I wasn’t getting ahold of anyone and no one was calling me back is because there are no agencies in my county that focus on foster care adoption. The first woman that gave me the phone numbers of local agencies clearly didn’t even listen when I said that we were interested in foster care ADOPTION. The agencies that are in my county focus on foster care with the ultimate goal of reunification and will only assist in adoption if parents’ rights are terminated and the foster family is interested in adopting. I’m not knocking reunification but what about the thousands of kids whose parents’ rights have been terminated and it doesn’t work out with their foster family? They are just sitting in the system? Is working to help them any less noble? I’m starting to see why there are so many children simply waiting.
So, this new DCFS lady said she’d write a referral for us and forward it to an agency that handles foster care and adoptions. Oh how real it became, answering those questions knowing that they were going into a form letter providing a quick profile of The Somethings, interested in adopting a child or children from 0 to 8 years old. Willing to take on special needs and learning disabilities. No racial preference. No children of their own. I’ll be getting something in the mail from this agency within the week. Part of me is ridiculously excited. Almost 6 months after that conversation over chimichangas on St. Patrick’s Day the ball is rolling, ever so slowly, but rolling. Another part of me feels like we are pretending to do this grown up thing. Why did I make that call? We aren’t ready financially. The logistics of where we live and how far away we work are still an issue. But I know that if I didn’t have that conversation soon, if I hadn’t given that ball a gentle nudge, I’d feel stuck. Because every day I think of the face of that sweet little girl we met over the summer, a face that has come to represent every child that isn’t getting the chance to be a kid and know love and safety and stability. My heart just might have burst if I hadn’t made that call.
Eyes on the mailbox. New and exciting baby steps forward.