Foster Parents: When to Help Bio Mom
By Diane Ponist
This is the week of our second foster child’s birthday. “Carmen” is turning 3. I wrote about him before, the child not adopted yet because my wife and I are a same sex couple of different races. He has been with us for almost one year now, and yet he is no further in the system’s process than when he was placed with us. Adoption is still being talked about, but it seems really far away.
Carmen still has unsupervised visits with his bio mom, recently increased to two times each week. The belief is that, if they show her more responsibility, the harder it will be for her to step up. We stressed concerns that were all missed by his prejudiced ex-case worker -and to the courts- that this approach is too little too late. Carmen has been coming home after each visit miserable, exhausted, and with belly aches. The court system must know that it will never work, the bio mom is too unstable.
We are struggling through this situation. The judge giving the mom tough love is heartbreaking. She is going backwards in her approach to get Carmen back, but the judge is giving her more time with him. At what point is there a concern for what this child is going through? This is all throwing him off his schedule and causing confusion. Carmen’s visits with her are supposed to be out in the community, but instead she brings him into her unsafe, shared residence.
Since my last piece about Carmen, we have become pretty close with bio mom. On multiple occasions she has told us -and the new case worker- that she loves us. She thanks us for raising her son, which really means a lot. We have even felt comfortable enough to tell her that if she is able to get him back, that’s it’s not the best for him, even just financially. She agrees with us but is still too stubborn to allow for what she knows is best.
The bio mom has shared that she, too, was a foster child and was never adopted. She does not know the identity of her bio mother, which helps us to understand why she does what she does. We continue to assure her that Carmen’s safety is with us and we will always keep communication open, no matter what happens. We even invited her over for holiday dinners through the upcoming years. She vents to us, saying she knows that the system is setting her up to fail. She understands that Carmen is loved here and has a forever family with us; Carmen will have a very different life than she had.
We have great sympathy for the bio mom. She loves Carmen, but having aged out of the foster system herself, she never received the proper guidance that most of us did. We invited her this past week to meet our whole family and have birthday cake together. I was excited to meet her, finally, in person, having only spoken on the phone. I thought it would have been great for her to see him interact with us and his foster siblings, and witness their connection firsthand. She expressed excitement but then canceled the night before. After raising hell about needing to spend Carmen’s birthday with him, she ended up not seeing him at all during his birthday weekend.
Now, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We know it’s important for her to stay in his life. The question is, is it safe for him? We know she will never have custody and this case will definitely go to adoption. She is being pushed to find a better place to live; if she doesn’t secure proper housing by the deadline proposed, then her rights will be terminated. But she is refusing to take the final steps necessary. We have even offered to help her find housing (hell, we are all family now!), but she is not reaching out, and right now, considering her total lack of effort, I’m not convinced she wants him back.
At what point do we stop coddling her? Carmen doesn’t even realize she is his bio mother. As far as he is concerned she is a woman with whom he occasionally has play dates. To him we are his bio parents.