I know some people don’t know/understand Gotcha Day.. I had never heard of it until I started reading foster related blogs. Today is our Gotcha day.. the day we finally were able to go get our grandchildren from South Carolina Foster Care. I will tell you that we were incredibly blessed to have our grandchildren placed with a foster mother who had a strong faith and an endless supply of love and patience. It also helped that she was a school nurse and knew which medications should not be mixed. But a GOTCHA day it was.. the kids were running out of time in the foster home they were in, and we had to go get them.
I look back now on the emails, so full of desperation back and forth with the foster-mom, the ICPC folks, the local county DSS agents, and eventually some national level bureaucrats! It started with my stepdaughter the bio mom heading to jail for a series of poor choices. She “said” she had asked that the children be placed in our care, but instead they went to an intake facility (which still gives them nightmares) and a short term placement in June 0f 2010 at the world’s most wonderful foster mom. The placement was only supposed to be for two kids for less than a month.. it turned into all three kids for more than eight months!
For many years prior to getting them, my husband and I begged my stepdaughter to move with her children here to Maryland. We had almost convinced my oldest grandson to move up and stay with us the Christmas of his 8th grade year. There were always requests for more money, more help, and then silence.. until she needed more money, more help, she moved often, bouncing from couch to couch, dragging the children over and across the state of South Carolina. and then our oldest grandson took his life and her chaotic life spun even more out of control.
In June 2010, when they first asked us if we would be willing to take the children. we prayed and thought about what it would do to our lives. We thought it would be temporary while my stepdaughter finished her jail time and then got herself together. We told her that it had to be for a minimum of a year, so that the kids could settle in and have some stability. We had the financial resources and the community support to take on this challenge (so we thought!) We planned and prepared to have the kids at the start of the school year.
My husband and I are not licensed foster parents, nor had we ever had any dealings with DSS. We were unaware of the severe staff shortages and the red tape that envelops the system. We didn’t know about the worn out caseworkers who juggled so many kids they have a tendency to let good placements get overworked and put on the backburner. We believed if we were told the wheels would be set in motion.. they would be. (all current/former foster parents /kinshippers go ahead and have a good laugh at our naivete)
I was finally given the phone number of the foster mom in October. She knew we existed and believed that the kids would come with us soon! We sent so many emails back and forth. She willingly shared stories (both good and bad) and information about the children. We started an aggressive campaign to get the children to our home. The children were granted a two week visit during the Christmas break to our home in MD. It was a crazy wild visit and we cried and cried when we had to return the children on January 1st 2011. We fully expected to have the children back within a couple of weeks. They had met teachers, friends, cousins and were also ready to move. They looked forward to snow and family. The days turned into weeks. I despaired, the foster mom despaired. Her family was worn out. They needed the break. Her husband needed a break from the two very rambunctious boys and sad little girl who had taken over their small home. Faced with a terrible decision, she gave the county the ten day notice that the children needed to be placed somewhere else. (I knew about and supported her decision because it was what was best for her family and we hoped it would help the system work a little faster at releasing the grandchildren to our care.)
On Feb 18 2011, we had just about given up hope. I had promised my granddaughter that we would have her birthday party at our house and it looked like it wasn’t going to happen., instead, she would have her birthday party with the wonderful foster mom and then head to a new placement. I called the national ICPC office and sobbed as I tried to explain the situation once again in desperation. It worked. On February 19th we got the long awaited call and adjoining email. It was taken care of. We could head south to pickup our grandchildren! So, on February 20th we drove the 8 hours to the foster mom’s house with a van for kids and a pickup truck for the stuff the kids had accumulated and things their mother had in storage for them. We laughed and cried and hugged the foster mom until we were exhausted. And the grandchildren became part of our home permanently.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to pass this day without remembering all the struggles it took to get to that point. I’ll never be able to thank the foster mom for hanging in just a little longer, for fighting the system with me and for holding the hands of very sad children each time a court day came and went without a decision. Today is day to be grateful for all the prayer warriors and the very patient over worked social workers who did the best they could with the limited resources they had. I know I was horrible, I know I was relentless, but I know that I would advise any other grandparent in our situation to do the same. to fight until you have no more strength, pray for more strength and keep on fighting. Our grandchildren were with a wonderful, wonderful angel who loved them, but she also knew she couldn’t keep them, she held them and loved them until the fight was won.