It was a legitimate question coming from an 8-year-old who had been in foster care for half of his young life. The thing is, we weren’t there to find him a home. We were there as part of a child welfare outcome audit. Our role was not to find him a home but to ascertain the level of success the child welfare agency had in achieving positive outcomes for kids. As a courtesy, we asked if he had any questions before we started with our questions. “When will you find me a [adoptive] home?” That was the question from this boy, dressed in a neat, collared shirt and khakis, big brown eyes and a contemplative look on his face. (His therapist later told us he was insistent that his clothes be pressed in preparation for our meeting because he was concerned with making a good impression.) His therapist seated beside him did not attempt to intervene. We didn’t really expect him to do so but secretly hoped he might. My colleague and I did our best to explain that we were here to talk with him about his experiences in foster care, what had gone well and what might be better. The boy nodded when we asked if he understood.
We spent almost an hour with this boy. He was quite articulate for his age and very open about his experiences in multiple foster homes and now a group home. There were no negative comments about the foster homes or group care, just allusions to differences that had developed in the various placements. He had the ‘therapy-speak’ down, which was not surprising after 15 months in a group-care therapeutic setting.
If my colleague and I could have done so discretely, we might have discussed possibly asking the therapist to leave. We couldn’t help but wonder if the boy might be more, well, child-like, without a therapist sitting next to him. We didn’t hear some of the things we anticipated, like not being able to spend enough time playing Nintendo or wanting to go to a ball game. This child was somewhat plaintive in his responses, not exactly lacking emotion but definitely not bubbling over either. I liked him, despite the horror stories in his file about past behaviors. My colleague said the same thing when we debriefed after the interview. He was very likeable. [But was he lovable?]
We went through our questions, trying to take minimal notes as we talked so we didn’t distract from the conversation. As we were winding down, we shifted to small talk; did he like movies and what was his favorite class in school. It was easy to forget he was only 8-years-old; he comfortably made eye contact and recounted details of the last few years of his life.
As was our routine, we ended the interview by asking him if he had any questions for us before we left. He looked at us solemnly and said, ‘yes, I do….when will you find me a [adoptive] home?‘.
It struck me afterwards that it didn’t matter who we were or why we were there. In this boy’s mind, any adult he met was responsible for finding him a [adoptive] home. It didn’t matter that he’d never met us before and probably would never see us again; we were there, ergo, we were responsible for finding him a home, a family.
Frankly, I agree; we are all responsible for the children!
And in case you are a nay-sayer who read my previous post, “Permanency: Where It’s At, Baby“, I challenge you to convince this 8-year-old that permanency is not the most important thing in his life.