Robyn Glick loved children. And she missed having them in her home.
At 45, she had been married for 20 years to her college sweetheart, Hank, until he passed away after a long battle with leukemia two years earlier. The three children they shared were either away at college or living on their own. Robyn felt such love and pride for each one of them as they forged their own path based on their passions and strengths. She trusted their choices because she trusted them, and told them so frequently when they met or spoke on the phone.
But the house felt so empty.
For the first time in 23 years, Robyn felt all alone. Her job at the public library kept her busy during the week. Yet, despite filling her life with tennis, bunko and church fellowship with her many friends, she wanted more.
She wanted to give back.
Robyn decided to become a foster parent. After discussing with her children and a few close friends who were supportive, Robyn applied at the local child welfare agency. She felt a little apprehension at the intimidating process: Fingerprints, Child Welfare checks, Driving record, Medical and TB exams, multiple home inspections. Although the inspections seemed intrusive, Robyn understood that the agency wanted to ensure that she was a safe and stable caretaker. When Robyn completed the pre-service training classes, she learned that foster parenting is so much more of a calling than she had previously understood. Caring for foster children meant dealing with trauma behavior, emotional disturbances brought on by the trauma and parenting children from hard places. The stories and videos Robyn saw in her class, tapped a place in her heart, and cemented her desire to care for these hurt children and help them to have “felt safety.” After 3 months of inspections, training and documentation, she got her certificate. Robyn was an approved foster home for the state of Alabama.
She got the first placement call while shopping in Publix. Robyn, excitedly left her buggy and stepped outside to take the call. The social worker informed her that they had picked up a 5 year old little boy who had been neglected and subjected to substance abuse and domestic violence. His name was Freddie. Because he had just entered care, the worker did not yet have an assessment of his functioning or his behaviors.
Robyn agreed to take the little boy without hesitation, setting up an appointment to meet the worker at her home in an hour. She quickly finished her grocery shopping and hurried home to prepare for Freddie. As Robyn freshened up the spare bedroom in anticipation, the doorbell rang. Opening the door, Robyn greeted the social worker, who introduced herself as Kelly. Behind the young lady, hid a small dark haired child, staring blankly at the ground in front of him. Robyn could tell he had been crying recently as his eyes were red and swollen, with dried mucus around his nose.
” Who is this?” she asked the worker? “Is this Freddie?”
The worker confirmed that the child, was Freddie. Robyn then turned to the timid little boy.
“Hi Freddie. I am Robyn. I am so glad that you are coming to stay with me for a while. Do you need some help bringing in your things?”
It was then that she noticed that the social worker held a black garden trash bag. Kelly explained that Freddie’s mother did not have luggage and that all she had to put his clothing into was the trash bag. Robyn nodded with understanding and ushered them both into her home.
Robyn led them into the den where they could get acquainted. She could not imagine how scared the child must be to be taken to the home of a stranger. He had not looked up once since she had seen him. No matter how hard she attempted to engage the little boy in conversation, he continued to stare silently at the floor. Kelly briefly went over some paperwork with instructions about schooling, medical care and scheduled visitations, along with a business card with her name and phone number. Then, glancing at her watch, Kelly stood to leave, patting Freddie on the shoulder and telling him she would be back to check on him in a few days. Noting his lack of response, she squeezed his shoulders again and then she left.
Awkwardly, Robyn felt herself rambling as she tried to make Freddie feel welcome. She told him about herself, showed him pictures of her grown children and mentioned that they were eager to meet him. His eyes looked up suspiciously, but he remained silent. Robyn, then realized that it would be a mistake to push him into talking before he felt ready. So, she took Freddie around the home, pointing out all the rooms, the fenced back yard and finally his room.
Freddie’s room was a large guest bedroom painted a soft blue but little other decorations. There was a closet, a dresser, a double bed and a toy chest. She told Freddie that she hadn’t decorated the room yet because she wanted to find out what his favorite things were so they could decorate it together. Again, he looked up at her with sad but wary eyes. Opening the garbage bag, Robyn took her time, taking out each worn pair of jeans and stretched out T-shirt like they were the highest fashion, and hung each one up in the closet. She noticed he had only two pair of underwear and no socks; the only shoes were the tennis shoes on his feet. She would most definitely have to buy him so more clothes the following day. However, the fact that these things were packed by his mother, meant that she could not look down on them.
“My, you have some cool things here,” she exclaimed. “It’s a shame that tomorrow we have to spend that clothing money that Kelly gave us and buy you some more things, because the stuff you have is fine.” His face still downcast, she saw the glimmer of a smile. She thought she had gotten through to him, until she followed his eyes. Perched at his feet, Morgana purred and rubbed her face on his shoes.
“I see you have found that pesky cat of ours. And it seems like she really likes you.”
His eyes softened as he took in the gentle animal. But he made no move to pet her or to speak. Robyn spoke up. “How about we eat dinner and watch some TV before your bedtime? If you feel like it, you can help me feed Morgana tomorrow morning.
He didn’t protest, so she led him into the kitchen, where they ate hot dogs, french-fries and (Publix bought) apple pie. Robyn noticed that the little boy ate with little enthusiasm, and she wondered when he had eaten last. But she knew she could not possibly judge as she didn’t know the child’s journey. So, she let it be. After dinner, she put on the Disney Channel, and he watched a few minutes of Moana before the exhaustion of his trauma took over and he fell asleep. Normally she would have him bathe and change into pajamas before bed, but she didn’t want to disturb him. Therefore, she picked him up and put him in the bed, taking his shoes off and covering him with the soft blanket.
And that was Freddie’s first day in foster care.
As I continue to tell the story of Freddie, and his journey through foster care, I must divulge that I purposefully used the word “placement” instead of home. For most children entering the foster care system are angry, sad, traumatized, scared…and functioning as if in dream. The events that led to their being removed from their biological family and placed with foster parents are traumatic and the children…well, they are grieving. Some studies suggest that small children actually view the separation from their parents with the same grief as one associates with the death of a loved one. So despite the caring and attention of the foster parents, the children do not initially think of the placement as of home.
As we continue into Freddie’s journey, the reality of rebuilding attachments and the feeling of safety, will test Robyn, and demonstrate how strong her commitment is to Freddie’s well-being.