This evening I have filled in a foster carer's report for Baby Girl because she is being fast-tracked for adoption. Paperwork must be in by early February and court date must be arranged by March at the latest. Such speed and efficiency!
Since I started fostering I have stopped counting the number of times somebody has said something like "I could never do that - I would never be able to give them up!" I do understand what people are saying, although, as Krish Kandiah says in his book, Home for Good, it would be possible to feel affronted at the implication that there's something about me that makes it easier to 'give them up' than it would be for other people! I choose not to hear that!
Is it easy to 'give them up'? No! Do I want to keep them all? On some level, yes I do. There's a part of me that wants to just gather in all those faces in the magazines and get bunk beds and be like the old woman that lived in a shoe. At least ten different people have suggested to me that perhaps I could adopt Baby Girl - after all she's the perfect age to be OB's sister!
And I'm not going to deny that there's a part of me that thinks it would be lovely for OB to have a little brother or sister (and by that I mean sister!) to grow up with. If they came to me and said that OB had a sibling coming up for adoption, would I consider it? Absolutely.
Watching Finding Mum and Dad the other night I was, like everyone else, heartbroken for the children who kept not being chosen time and time again. But my heart also went out to the foster carers who had loved these children for so long that they were torn between wanting to find that forever family for their charges, and wanting to say that they'd keep them just to make the process stop, to end the cycle of hopes raised and dashed; to call time on rejection.
So why don't we keep them then? Well, quite a lot of foster carers do just that - I am a case in point! But where this doesn't happen, there are so many reasons, and circumstances are different for each foster family. Maybe the foster carers are older, with grown up children, and wouldn't be able to adopt younger ones even if they wanted to because of their ages. Perhaps it is an issue of finances. However mercenary it sounds, caring for children is our job - it's how we put food on the table. If we adopted all our charges, how would we manage to support our families? Would we adopt these vulnerable little ones and then put them in daycare while we went out to work? Foster carers are self employed, so when we adopt, we don't get statutory adoption leave or pay. I didn't care about that when I fell in love with OB of course, I just went ahead assuming we'd manage somehow. And we did. But there might be a limit to that!
But I think mostly it's about where our hearts and heads are. Foster caring is not about the foster carers' needs and dreams. We long for the best outcomes for the children we love and care for and we recognise that staying permanently with us whether by adoption or through long-term fostering might not be the best possible outcome. Matching for adoption is a much more thorough process than matching for fostering! I suppress the urge to keep them all because, on one level, it is a selfish urge. Certainly in my mind, there is an image of a forever family hoping, waiting, praying for their quest to become parents to reach that longed-for conclusion. Or there is the birth family, jumping through all the hoops placed in their way, hoping desperately that if they can just do this or that then their children will come back to them.
These are the images that make it possible, necessary, for me to 'give them up'. Images of parents-to-be anxiously waiting for that phone call, for that panel date. Wonder-filled faces, arms outstretched to hold their new baby for the first time. Or nervous moments, crouching down to the toddler's level, wondering if he will come close, recognise them, let them in.
And at that moment, we know that our job is done. We have stood in the breach and provided a pivot point from one life to the next. We are foster carers. That's what we do.
So, as I did with OB (the first time!) and with NB and with LB, I will give up BG. We hold them close, but we hold them lightly.