It was a simple enough announcement. I’d received many like it through the years. Another friend had graduated a child from high school and was proudly announcing that said child is headed to college. In an age of drugs, alcohol, and more sex in one night on TV than my mother had in her lifetime, this is quite an accomplishment.
But this announcement was special because this child was very special. This child had not been born into the best of circumstances. This was one of those children who were not supposed to have a chance. This child came from two parents who never had a chance themselves. Their lives had been short and brutal. Nothing really beautiful had ever touched them – except for the children they left behind.
Long before their parent’s death, the children had been taken from them.
The brief time they had shared with their birth parents had been as sad as can be imagined. And mom’s drinking had left all the children at tremendous risk. They were not expected to achieve very highly.
The words “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome” had barely been heard when they were born. It’s not that those of us in the profession didn’t know that children who came from drinking mothers often had similar problems and symptoms. It’s just that the name had not yet entered the common vernacular.
So when these children were adopted, as each went to a family, the family was warned not to expect too much. They were asked to give the children all the love and support they could but to understand that in many ways these children had already had their lives limited for them.
Many of these parents refused to accept that their new child had to be limited. They didn’t hold out unrealistic expectations but they also refused to allow a preconceived notion of just how high these special children could fly to dampen their enthusiasm for all they could give.
It is a sad reality that many of these children are limited. They will never fully develop emotionally, physically or mentally. They will need help throughout their lives and they will always be vulnerable. But there are these others. The ones with the high school graduation announcements accompanied by little notes about the college they will be attending. The ones who, by some toss of the cosmic dice, managed to not be damaged with the full slam-dunk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Every one of these children started out as foster children with foster parents. Foster parents – the unsung, underpaid, under-appreciated heroes of the child protection system.
They take in children with more strikes against them than can even be counted – children with emotional, physical and mental damage. They love them and care for them as their own.
And every once in awhile, some connection gets made, some string gets tugged, and the children stop being foster children and become their children.
If the foster parents are lucky, they get to adopt the children. Along with that adoption comes emotional and financial risks that can never be fully gauged. But the parents don’t care because through some magic of love, these have become their children and no price is too great to bear.
These are the children who win in the crapshoot of the child protection system. Though to hear their parents talk, they feel as though they’re the winners.
Yep, it’s just a little thing really. A graduation announcement. A picture of a smiling young man or woman. A little note from the proud parents. And I know that one child has made it. One child has broken the cycle. One child will have a better life. One child at a time.
It is the gift foster and adoptive parents give to the world.