The room has a clammy, industrial air-conditioning chill despite the fifty people seated at long tables. A nervous buzz rises and falls in pitch, people whispering to their partners. I smile tightly at the younger woman to my right patting a baby on her shoulder, and glance at her bright pink name tag folded into a tent in front of her.
“Megan – R”. I know the “R” stands for relative caretaker and I ask her softly if she’s caring for a relative’s child.
“My sister’s baby. We’d like to adopt her, but it’s a mess.”
I’ve printed my own place card in careful letters. “Stacey – F”. F for foster.
“Make sure you’ve signed in at the back,” the freckled social worker reminds for the third time. “If we don’t have your name on the sign in sheet for a class session, you’ll have to repeat it.” This is my first pre-service foster licensing training. I’m nervous and not at all sure.
I’m not sure if we really want to foster. I’m not sure I’m ready. I’m not sure we can do it. I’m not sure I want locks on all my cabinets, or to buy a new non-recalled crib. I'm not sure I want to change our lives and our parenting to meet the requirements of a confusing and often impenetrable agency.
We begin by going around the room, telling in a few inadequate sentences why we’re here. I’m amazed by the diversity in the room and also by the common threads.
There is infertility: shy couples, choking on the words to describe a long struggle and their dream of parenting through the foster to adopt program. There are people like me who have had our own children and feel we are prepared to care for some who need us, however temporarily. There are relatives ready to step in—grandparents, aunts, cousins, sisters—who love a child and know the parent has lost his or her way for a time.
And then there is one thread I do not expect. The first teacher speaks around tears of a little boy in her third grade class whom she helped. He’s now in the fifth grade and in the system. She wants to be licensed so that he can live with her. I note the different story, the natural plausibility of it. A connection with a child, fear for him, a longing to help.
The second, a few minutes later, is a special education teacher. She wants one of her students, currently in state care, to live with her as well. By the third teacher I am in tears.
I learn more than the required court process for children taken into state custody or Child Welfare’s regulations governing day care for foster children. I learn that teachers are on the front line of understanding what’s happening with our children and our families in a way that I didn’t fully comprehend. I learn that many of them care about the children they see every day enough to drop everything in their own lives and scramble to meet often onerous licensing requirements in order to provide a safe home. I learn that when you know a child in crisis it’s hard to turn away when they need you and it’s our teachers who really know them because they see them six hours a day Monday through Friday.
It’s late when the class ends. I can see my overwhelmed exhaustion in the faces of the people around me. Taking a traumatized, possibly abused child into our home is a lot to contemplate. I left with one truth: once a specific child walks into our lives and I know them, it won’t be hard to want to help.
Thank a teacher today—for all of the children they’ve seen when no one else wanted to look.