‘He’s Our Baby’: What Happens When a Child Is Placed in Foster Care

“Who should get to keep a child: the parents who nurse and tend him, or the parents who brought him into the world?”

Cris Beam | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | August 2013 | 23 minutes (5,787 words)

 

Below is the opening chapter of To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, by Cris Beam, as recommended by Longreads contributing editor Julia Wick. Thanks to Cris and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for sharing it with the Longreads community.

* * *

1. King Solomon’s Baby

It was an unusually warm October in Brooklyn; the men had switched their puffy coats for crisp white tank tops, and the young mothers pried back the plastic casings on their strollers. All two thousand people from the Roosevelt housing projects seemed to be tumbling outdoors, leaning on cars or gathering at the bodegas, slanting their faces toward the sun to soak in the last bits of warmth before winter. You couldn’t tell, on a clear morning like this, that the Roosevelt Houses still tipped the scales in the 81st Precinct with their homicide rates, that by nightfall the bodegas would fill with toothless addicts buying loosies for a quarter. A bright morning like this could make anybody grateful.

Slicing through the center of these projects is DeKalb Avenue, with its run of single-family homes and middle-class aspirations. But that fall, one of these houses stayed locked up tight against the sunshine. The eleven kids, most of them teenagers, weren’t allowed to go outdoors. In that house, in that family, outside spelled temptation, and besides, it was the Sabbath. So the kids, sequestered in their jewel-colored Nikes and their tight jeans, had to swallow their frustration and excess energy like a belly full of bees.

The house on DeKalb had a history. One hundred and twenty years before any Nike sneakers thumped up its three long staircases, and sixty years before the projects rose across the street, the place had been an evangelical “House of Rest.” Such houses dotted the East Coast at the turn of the century to provide divine healing along with rest, teaching, and “spiritual quickening” for the sick or the wayward. In a way, the essence of the place had reemerged. In a way, beyond the stone lions that flanked the stoop and behind the beveled glass front door, a kind of holy crusade was revving up.

Bruce Green, a tall black man of forty with round cheeks and a quick smile, had bought the house on DeKalb in 1999. He grew up in the Roosevelt projects on his block, and most of his children are foster kids, raised on the same rough street diet he was—in Brooklyn, or Queens, or the Bronx. His wife, Allyson, is from Belize, and, although she may be more stridently religious than he is, they both wanted a large home to raise a large family, to protect their children against the many dangers of their city through the power of their God and their unwavering attention. What they didn’t expect was that their children would come directly from the city itself, and that they’d be embroiled in several battles that would test their faith in just about everything.

The latest and largest battle was over a baby, born to a mother addicted to drugs and delivered to the Green family, after placements with a few other foster parents, when he was just over a year old. When I met baby Allen that Sunday some years ago, he was two and a half, and his biological father, also a former addict, was working with the courts to win him back. And at the core of this battle spun the core questions of foster care itself: Who decides the correct way to raise a child? Who makes the moves on the moral chessboard where a family’s right to privacy opposes a child’s right to protection from harm? And who should get to keep a child: the parents who nurse and tend him, or the parents who brought him into the world?

At the beginning, Allyson put the quandary in biblical terms. She told me the story of King Solomon.

In the story, two mothers are arguing over a single baby; both women believe the child to be hers. King Solomon procures a sword and offers to cut the baby in half so they can share. One mother agrees to the deal, but the second pleads: she’d rather have the baby alive and with the other woman than dead. Allyson is this second mother—she knows that if Allen were remanded to his birth father, destructive as this father may be, she’d rather have Allen physically and spiritually alive than eventually feeling imprisoned with her. Plus, she knows all of her foster children understand that if they leave, they can always come back. Allyson will always be “Mom.” She hopes, in fact, that some of the other birth parents orbiting the Green household can make bigger strides and do right by their kids.

“I was blessed to have four children of my own, that I gave birth to,” Allyson said, her thick Belizean accent pounding her harder consonants. Allyson is four years older than Bruce, and she’s pretty; makeup rarely graces her chocolate skin, but her hair is straightened and highlighted and it falls in loose waves down the fitted blazers and silky blouses she wears, even on warm days. Next to Bruce’s baggy jeans and T-shirts, Allyson’s leather boots and stockings render her the sophisticate at first glance. But she’s the one doing the dirty work: changing diapers and making dinner, wiping up the endless spills. “Then you have this other parent, who’s been through hell and back—the dad, the mom, any one of them—say they want to turn their lives around. It would be very inappropriate of me when I have the right to raise my own children to not give him that fair chance. Why would I want to take away his one little thing when I’ve got four of my own?”

But that was at the beginning. That was back in the fall, when the case with Allen’s dad was still theoretical and it looked as if the courts would lean in Allyson’s favor.

* * *

Bruce and Allyson fell into foster care the way anyone falls into the traumas or miracles of their lives: by a mix of happenstance and hope. The year was 2000, and they already had three kids of their own at home—two little boys, Jalil and Bruce Junior, and a daughter named Sekina who was just becoming a teenager. (Allyson’s other son, born to a different father, was back in Belize.) Then one night, they got a phone call from the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS)—the organization that handles child welfare for the five boroughs of New York. Bruce’s sister’s kids, then two and four, were being removed from their home; it wasn’t safe for them to even stay the night. Could Bruce and Allyson take them? Of course, they said. Anyone would.

Bruce, who looks a little like Jay-Z with his bald head and soft jaw, stayed pretty private about the exact circumstances surrounding his sister’s ordeal, but typically, this is the way a child is removed:

First, anyone who suspects abuse (by seeing marks, hearing shouts, noticing absence from school, and so on) can call a hotline. There are certain “mandated reporters”—doctors, police officers, teachers, daycare workers, and social workers, mainly—who are legally obligated to make these calls, but really, anyone can do it. The local city or county agency sends an investigator to the house to interview the parents and the kids, and to look around the rooms. A child abuse investigator can enter anyone’s home at any time without a warrant.

Usually, the investigator just opens a file on the family and follows up on anything that seems suspicious or untoward on that first visit, but if the parents pose an immediate danger, he can take the kids then and there. This is what happened with Bruce’s nephews.

Then the investigator has to find a place for the kids to go. He brings them back to the office, where a social worker starts making calls—usually to family members. In child welfare-speak, this is called “kinship care,” and New York State law requires it as the first line of outreach, though this law is often ignored. Still, it’s why the boys were placed with the Greens. If the child is older, say, a teenager, he might be able to indicate some adults with whom he could stay, if they’re willing to foster him. This works only in some places, however; several states require that all foster parents be licensed via weeks of state-approved parenting classes before they can take in kids, even if they’re related. Luckily for the Greens, ACS provides emergency licensing; Bruce and Allyson could shelter the boys first and take parenting classes later.

Once a child is settled for the night, his case gets passed from ACS to one of the roughly thirty foster care agencies the ACS contracts with, each with its own mission, style, budget, possibly a religious affiliation, and so on. At this point, ACS pretty much gets out of the way, and the foster agency handles the licensing, any troubles with the kid, connections with his birth parents, and so on. Which agency the child is assigned to is usually a matter of sheer luck, as they vary in aptitude as much as they do in approach. The kids too are subject to this roulette; if the ACS worker can’t find a kinship match, the child is shuttled to whichever agency has an available family on its roster.

After Bruce and Allyson took the call and accepted the nephews, they were sent to an agency near their home for their licensing. Because Bruce’s sister terminated her parental rights without a fight, they were able to adopt the older child. But the process took six years. The younger boy, who was severely autistic, ultimately had to be institutionalized. With four other kids in the house, Bruce and Allyson just didn’t have the extra reserves to take care of him.

But still, they wanted more kids. Or rather, their daughter, Sekina, wanted a sister; the house was full of boys. When I first met Sekina, she was a bubbly and outgoing sixteen-year-old. She looked like a girl version of Bruce: same round cheeks and full lips, same large dark eyes that could spark with mischief or anger in turn. But Sekina’s hair was what got her attention. When I met her, it was shoulder-length and streaked through with pink and neon purple, but I would see it red, blue, platinum, short, shaved, and razored through with her name curled around her skull.

Sekina started pestering Bruce and Allyson for a sister; now that they were licensed with an agency, she reasoned, they could just go back and ask for a baby girl. But Allyson was tired. She started longing for her life before motherhood, when she could go out with her friends on Friday nights, or take some space to herself. But with these desires, Allyson said, came illness.

The doctor called it depression. She called it her “mental battle”: between what she wanted to do, and what she was supposed to do. “I didn’t want to be tied down with no children. I was crying all the time; I wanted to be free. So I get down on my knees and I pray, saying Lord help me. And after that is when the dreams come to me.”

* * *

In Belize, Allyson was raised primarily by her grandmother, along with thirty-two brothers and sisters (“My father was a bit of a rolling stone,” she admits), and her grandmother had dreams, too. Her grandmother’s dreams were prophetic, or instructive, so Allyson learned from an early age to trust their messages.

Allyson’s dreams were full of children, sitting on the floor with her grandmother. Her mother served them homemade apple juice. “I said, ‘Ma, why are you giving them that? They don’t want that stuff.’ And my grandmother says to me, ‘It’s not what they want; it’s what you have to give them.’ And finally I got up and understood.”

We were sitting in the living room, which, like most of the house’s common areas, seemed designed more for quiet contemplation than for entertaining children. The couches are low and comfortable, the lights dim and soothing. In the bathroom, a tile mosaic covers the large domed ceiling, and candles circle the tub. Allyson interpreted the apples in her dream to be symbolic of appreciation and knowledge, the gifts you give a teacher. “I’m here to be a teacher to these children—the same thing that was given to me by my grandmother, I’m supposed to give back.” Allyson told Bruce she wanted more children and the depression went away.

But what of her desire to be free, I asked, to live her own life? Allyson sighed and shook her head. “My will was to do what I wanted to do, but God’s will—God’s will was for me to do what I’m doing.”

So Bruce and Allyson called the agency. Per Sekina’s request, they told them they wanted to adopt a little girl. Or maybe two. Somewhere between the ages of six and ten, but definitely younger than Sekina.

“But they called us with a baby, sixteen months. A boy,” Allyson remembered, saying that at first they wanted to decline. “But when they told us he had been in three different foster homes already, it hit something in me. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, no. Bring him.’”

The baby was Allen. Sekina loved him right away; he was a baby after all. But then the agency kept calling. Their real emergencies were teenagers; couldn’t the Greens take in a few more kids?

Unfortunately for Sekina, the calls coincided with more of Allyson’s dreams. She dreamed of a woman saying, “This is my daughter; you have to take care of her.” That daughter was the Greens’ first teenager, Chanel, nearly two years older than Sekina. Then Allyson dreamed of a girl who looked like her niece, and a foster child named Fatimah showed up. And a white man, who was “spaced out” and followed Allyson everywhere. That was Russell, an autistic teenager. The dreams, and more kids, kept coming. Sekina never got her little sister; all the kids, save for Allen, were older than she was.

But Allyson couldn’t resist her dreaming. “Because when I resisted it, that’s when I got sick,” she said. “And ultimately, it’s not what you want, it’s what you’re supposed to do. This is what life is supposed to be. We’re supposed to be of service.”

So Sekina, in losing her place as the oldest child, became perhaps a little bit bossier, a little more specific about her position with her siblings. “I tell them all the time they’re not just adopting parents, they’re adopting a family, and if it weren’t for me, if I didn’t let them be here, they’d be out on the street,” Sekina told me one afternoon early into that next spring. She was straightening her hair, heating up the comb on the stove. The pink and purple streaks were gone, and she had decided, for the moment, to go for a natural brown. One of Sekina’s four foster sisters was sitting on the kitchen stool watching her, and she rolled her eyes. Sekina caught the look. “It’s true. But I like to help people. That’s why I want to be a pediatric nurse.”

Sekina had a particularly proprietary hold over baby Allen, claiming to anyone who would listen that he was the only foster child she originally wanted. And Sekina, maybe even more than Bruce or Allyson, was terrified of losing him.

“I’ll go crazy if Allen goes to his father’s—did you hear about Allen’s brother?” Sekina said, her eyes flashing as she ran the comb through her hair. “He’s HIV positive—and he was in the system before he was even born! They called us and asked if we wanted him and my mother said yeah, but the thing is, unless Fatimah gets adopted or something, we already have too many people here.”

Sekina was right: Allen did have a new baby brother, born to the same drug-addicted mother and a different father, neither of whom wanted him. The logical placement choice for this baby would be with the Greens, so Allen and his brother could grow up together. But there was the issue of space: even with four thousand square feet, the Greens were already at the legal maximum capacity with all of their foster kids. And there was the issue of Tom, Allen’s biological father: if he got custody of Allen in a few months or years, he’d separate the boys, potentially adding more trauma to Allen’s young life.

Sekina wasn’t the only one on DeKalb who adored Allen; in a house full of teenage tension—especially a house with such strict rules about staying indoors—a toddler was a welcome distraction. That spring and summer, Allen could bumble around the warm house clad only in his diaper, reaching for anyone who would pick him up or keep him from bumping into the big glass table in the center of the living room. On nearly every surface there’s a sculpture or painting or something equally appealing for a toddler to yank on; Allyson says decorating is her way to de-stress. A wooden elephant stalks the center of the table; a curlicued stand draped in gray cloth props up a painting of a lion; a gold Buddha perches atop the television screen. But Allen focused on people more than things. He was a quiet child, and trusting, sticking one of his feet into a conversation with a half-smile on his face and then running away, hoping someone would engage in a game of chase. If no one did, he’d scramble back, still without a sound, and climb into an open lap, settling his head into a chest or neck to suck his thumb. Everybody loved Allen, but he wasn’t an easy baby at first.

“He used to cry a lot, and he was always angry—I’ve never seen a child who was so little with so much anger,” Allyson said, remembering that the first week he was with her, he only wet his diapers and didn’t soil them once. She thought he was constipated because of the poor diet in his last foster home. She still felt bad that a kid so young had been through so much change.

There are a lot of reasons that kids, even babies like Allen, end up shuttling from foster home to foster home before they get adopted or go back to their biological parents. In New York, the conflicts and the chaos start within twenty-four hours. After the child has been removed and placed with either relatives or strangers, the parents have the right to plead their case. The parents do this with ACS in a meeting called “family team conferencing.” The biological family, the ACS caseworker, and a community advocate together determine what would make the home safe enough for the child to return. Does the stepfather need to move out? Could Grandma move in? Does the family need help with food stamps or vouchers to get heat and hot water? Does the mother need anger management or rehab? The team draws up a plan and they set a date, generally several months away, to present it to a judge. If the parents disagree with the plan, they can get their own lawyers, to fight for their side. After this come the court procedures, the promises, the reunifications, the battles, the multiple placements, and all the things that foster care is famously bad at, which is safely sailing a child through a temporary boarding while everybody waits for a fairy-tale ending.

In this time period, which can be months or many years, everybody gets a different social worker—the child, the biological parents, and the foster parents. In this time, more lawyers step in and draw up more plans: How often will the parent see the child; what will visitations be like? Where will visits be held; what are the milestones toward reunification? Throughout this, a judge, who in New York City sees about fifty family court cases every day, makes the binding decisions as to who must do what by when.

Meanwhile, the kid has been living in a real house, with real foster parents, placed at a moment’s notice. If the foster family is a bad fit, if the kid doesn’t like her new family, if they don’t speak the same language, if there’s abuse, if they live across town (and sometimes across state lines), if the foster parents practice a different religion, send the kid to new schools, have unfamiliar styles of discipline, or if the kid simply misses her biological parents, there can be conflict. Foster kids run away; foster parents terminate relationships. It’s not unusual, while waiting for somebody to kiss the frog and the real parents to come home, for a foster child to live in ten or twenty different houses. Fatimah, Bruce and Allyson’s sixteen-year-old daughter, had been in twenty-one homes since she was five years old—and before she was placed with the Greens.

In Allen’s case, Tom wasn’t around for the family team conferencing meeting with ACS when his son was removed. He was in an inpatient rehab facility. ACS removed Allen from his biological mother when she skipped out on her own drug treatment program, and Tom didn’t find out about it until several days later. By then, Allen was living with his first foster mother. That woman, the story goes, found Allen too taxing and sent him back to the agency. The next mom wanted to go to Puerto Rico and couldn’t take Allen with her, so back he went again. By the time Allen was placed with the Greens at sixteen months, he had lived with four different “mothers” and his future was still uncertain.

Tom had followed Allen through all of his placements; he saw his son during supervised visits at the agency. He graduated from rehab and started taking parenting classes. Allen turned two at the Greens’, and then two and a half; he was talking more, smiling a lot, and running, running everywhere. And then a judge upgraded Tom’s status: he could start bringing Allen back to his apartment for weekends.

* * *

When I asked Allyson how the weekend visits were going, she changed the subject. “The dad’s white,” she said, her face inscrutable. “You’ve seen Allen. He’s darker than me.”

I tried to push her; was she concerned that if Tom got custody Allen would lose some sense of heritage? Did she, like many people, resist the notion of white parents raising black children? But I had entered icy waters and Allyson wouldn’t budge.

“The dad will call here because Allen will be crying,” was all Allyson would venture. She fussed with the snaps on Allen’s brother Anthony’s onesie; the HIV-positive newborn was, after all, allowed to come live with them, and he required much of her attention. “Allen will get on the phone and just say, ‘Mama, Mama.’”

Sekina, as usual, was more blunt. “The dad doesn’t feed him the right food. He gives him adult food—things he can’t digest. He puts Allen in front of the TV all day. And when Allen comes back here, he’s all upset. Of course—he’s been here for a year. He’s our baby.”

Still, Allen and the Greens are an example of foster care working exactly as it should: a foster home is meant to be only a temporary holding place while parents get the support they need to get back to being parents again. The foster family should provide the kind of bonding and love that the Greens gave Allen and then, wrenching as it is, let the child go. The biological parents may be imperfect—they may feed the kids inappropriate foods or leave the TV on too long—but as long as there’s no abuse, a child belongs with his blood. It’s not the state’s role to interfere with the way we raise our kids.

And apparently, a judge thought Tom was doing well enough. As Allen inched toward his third birthday, the courts claimed that Tom could indeed have custody, as soon as he’d accomplished a few more weekend visits. Allyson was stoic about it on the surface, but Bruce unmasked her.

“She’s gonna cry like a baby when he leaves,” Bruce said. He was eating pot stickers from the Chinese place down the street, shoveling them in quickly before one of the older kids could catch him with the takeout box and demand her share. Allyson shot him a look.

“He will too; he talks about it every day,” Allyson said. Her prior easy acceptance of a King Solomon deal seemed to be slipping. “I don’t believe that this parent has shown overwhelmingly that he is ready, not overwhelmingly. And this child requires a parent who shows overwhelmingly that he’s ready. Because Allen’s no ordinary child. He has his issues.”

For instance, despite all his progress, Allen still hit the other children when he got enraged. Allyson doesn’t allow hitting in the home; she had been working steadily with Allen to soothe him and had trained the other kids to react only with words. She wasn’t sure Tom had the patience to continue this trajectory. Allen also needed constant attention and reassurance; he was slightly regressed for his age, though that too had been steadily improving. Attention abounds in a house of ten older children—less so, she said, in a small apartment with Tom and his adult roommates.

“The courts are saying that the father’s taken his classes, he’s met his minimum requirements, he’s clean—no problem,” Allyson said, forcing her tone to soften as she spoke of God’s will and prayer for right action and surrender to whatever will be. She snuggled Allen’s baby brother closer to her chest. “This is one of the reasons why a lot of people go straight for adoption, that they don’t bother with foster care. It’s because of the investment—you see your investment go down the drain in months.”

* * *

The basic tenet of foster care, and its core complication, is that foster care is meant to be a temporary solution. It’s a waiting room, tended by temporary parents, while the “real” parents scoot off to the back quarters to try to boost their skills or mend their ways, and then come back in and retrieve their children. Sometimes the parents just walk out the back door, and sometimes a judge orders them out, and then the temporary parents get a new title and can adopt the children. With other babies, in other waiting rooms, the cases aren’t so clear. Sometimes, the birth parents won’t, or can’t, come back and the foster parents don’t want to keep the baby—they’re generally trained not to attach, and very often they don’t. The babies, however, weren’t privy to this contract and can suffer great losses when they’re shuttled off to strangers. Logically, these babies should have been put up for adoption from the start, with any of the thousands of prospective parents in this country who are eager for newborns, but the conundrum is this: no one can tell from the outset which biological moms or dads will manage to emerge from the back rooms intact and able to retrieve their kids.

And this is where the experts weigh in. Some child advocates lean heavily on the side of social services, and keeping mom and baby together from the beginning. When a mom is homeless, drug-addicted, and mentally ill but expresses interest in keeping her child, they argue to shore up her treatment, medication, housing, and counseling. Others look upon this mother as a disaster waiting to happen—they advocate for a swift and permanent removal so the baby can be placed in an adoptive home and avoid foster care down the line. What happens, usually, is a mushy middle compromise. The mom (or dad, like Tom, but it’s usually the mom) is provided services, and the baby is removed temporarily—and placed with foster parents who don’t want to adopt. The kid ends up in purgatory—often for far too long—with no lifetime parent to attach to.

To counter this, social workers hedge their bets. When they hear about a particularly marginal birth mother, they try to place the newborn with foster parents who might be open to adoption. With moms who seem more capable, they call experienced foster parents who won’t fall in love and can hand the child back after some months or years. But it’s all guesswork and hope.

* * *

Sometimes, on the front end, cases seem more clear-cut. There are birth mothers who don’t want their babies but who don’t sign up with private adoption agencies either. These moms choose to sign away their rights and their children are put on a fast track to adoption, with a special type of foster parent called “foster-to-adopt.” My good friend Steve Wilson is one of these parents—a parent who wanted a kid from the system.

Steve and I have been friends for more than fifteen years; he is unassuming, shy, and a book nerd like me, with an eye for the weird and offbeat. In the stuffy corporate offices where we once worked, Steve and I would find ourselves in the elevators alone and spontaneously dance a riotous jig, or swing each other around in a mock square dance, composing our faces and bodies to neutral just seconds before the elevator doors opened again onto a fresh group of suits, who eyed our red faces suspiciously. This game never ceased to amuse us, and I knew, one day, Steve would make a great dad. He was a kid at heart.

Steve moved to Austin with Erin, his partner of more than ten years, so she could take a magazine design job and they could buy a house and have some kids. They wanted to raise children who were already here, who needed parents, so they planned to adopt right from the start. They named their first son Wilson and gave him Erin’s last name, and his adoption story went smoothly. Wilson’s biological mom was a teenager who wasn’t ready to care for a baby, and although she visited Wilson some in her first year, she signed over her parental rights without a hitch.

When Wilson had just turned four, Lutheran Social Services called Steve and Erin to tell them they had another baby available. Oliver was four months old, born to a teenage mother and a homeless father. In the several months that Steve and Erin would have to wait for the adoption to be processed, chances seemed slim that either parent would fight for, or receive, custody.

At first, Wilson raged, slammed doors, and threw his toys all over the place at the announcement of a brother; he didn’t want to have to share a bedroom. And Oliver wasn’t an easy baby. Born with drugs in his system, he cried a lot and couldn’t sleep through the night.Wilson regressed some, stealing Oliver’s bottles and pretending to be a baby too. But Steve is a stay-at-home dad, a professional writer who works from his own bedroom, and he could nurse these grievances and tend to Oliver’s needs at all hours. He started waking up early to run with Oliver in a jog stroller, which was a way to get him to sleep, and then be home before Wilson woke up, to make him his breakfast and play with him. Slowly, the boys bonded.

Oliver is a round baby, with slightly crossed eyes, a mop of soft brown curls, and a drooly wide grin. He wants, and needs, to be held all the time, preferably belly to belly. When he’s in his crib or high chair, he tracks Steve with his eyes and reaches for him with sticky fingers. All babies do this, but with foster babies you watch more, looking for signals of trauma, vestiges of unmet needs. Would Allen have always thrown ragey fits? Would Oliver have clung so much? the worried new parents ask. And they make up answers, trying to repair the world they’re building.

Erin and Steve had Oliver for seven months; he started meeting milestones—crying less, clinging less. He was sitting up, then crawling. He watched Wilson with delighted, drooly glee, as Wilson marched around the house in capes and face paint, or stuck out his tongue, which was covered in chewed-up breakfast burrito from the taqueria down the street. At his low-key, hippie-ish school, Wilson was known as a troublemaker, but at home, Wilson was quickly becoming Oliver’s hero.

I was happy for Steve, who called or wrote me e-mails about his growing family. At that time, I believed that Child Protective Services, in general, removed far too many children from far too many parents. These parents, if they were provided proper social services, could raise their own children; agencies should be in the business of supporting families rather than ripping them apart. I believed, based on my research with foster kids and my own experience, that separation from a family of origin is a wound that never heals. If the parents were so troubled that children had to be removed for a time, every effort should be made for a fast reunification. A biological parent’s rights trump a foster parent’s rights every time. Cases like Oliver’s fell outside my rubric: Oliver’s mom, Caitlin, had proved herself unfit early on, and she didn’t want the child. Some good parents, Steve and Erin, swooped in for the rescue, to raise this unwanted baby in a house filled with books, and natural light, and a stay-at-home parent. So I was happy for Steve—he had taken a risk by choosing foster-to-adopt, and it seemed he was literally saving a life.

And then the agency started calling. Caitlin was getting better. Caitlin wanted Oliver back.

* * *

From To the End of June, copyright 2013 Cris Beam, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Purchase the full book here.