Foster Mom: The Child We Couldn’t Keep

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After a few weeks of respite care, Susanna was becoming more accustomed to our house rules and seemed to be adjusting well. We were scheduled to go to the beach that May and asked to take her along. We still had that nagging doubt in the back of our brains but had done all the research we could on Susanna’s case.  She would be with us for an entire week and this trip would either make us or break us.

This was Jack and Susanna’s first time at the beach. We had an uneventful trip down and had a great time until late Wednesday afternoon. All the kids wanted to swim in the hotel pool so I prepared an early supper of hotdogs, fries, and cookies. Susanna refused to eat. I told her that if she didn’t eat, she couldn’t swim. She refused so I told my husband to take the others down and she and I would stay in the room.

As the others were getting ready to go down, it happened. Susanna came unglued. She started screaming and crying, kicking and thrashing. When I got near her, she let out a blood curdling scream that made my hair stand on end. I ordered my husband and other kids out of the room immediately. When they left I went to her to try to calm her but she only got worse. The fear and rage in her eyes conveyed what her words could not. I bit the bullet and picked her up from behind, pinning her arms to her sides to protect myself and her. When I did, she shrieked like an animal. She kicked me, kicked the wall, tried to bite me, bit herself, pulled her own hair out and SCREAMED.

I plunked her down on her bed and she jumped up and ran towards the door, trying to get out. I picked her up and put her on the bed again. She screeched like a banshee, declared she was leaving and went for the door again. I lunged to stop her because I knew that if she got out I’d never catch her. I put her back on the bed and this time I held her as she screamed. When she had calmed a bit I left her on her bed alone but hovered near the door, drained. She calmed down enough to doze and I went to my bed in our adjoining room. I sat down, completely bewildered. I was confused, angry and terrified…for myself, my family and for her. Was this new behavior or was this normal when faced with confrontation? All I knew for sure was that nagging doubt in the back of my brain seemed to be right.

This episode came in waves for two mind numbing hours. When her storm would subside a bit, she would sob. When a wave would crash over her, she would scratch herself, bite herself, and pull out her hair. When it completely stopped, she came to me with an apologetic look on her face. We talked about how her behavior was unacceptable and what she could do to make it right. I then took her downstairs and made her apologize to the front desk, and then to the pool to apologize to my husband, kids and other guests. I left her with my husband and returned to my room. I was shattered and collapsed in a ball of tears and guttural sobs because I knew we could not keep this child. She needed more help that we could provide and it wasn’t fair to her or my children for her to stay with us. I cried for what had happened to her. I cried because we couldn’t keep her. I cried because I couldn’t help her.

That evening and all the next day, I was completely wrung out emotionally and physically. I was just ready to go home but we still had another day. Susanna seemed fine but I now knew what was bubbling below the surface. We made the trip back, took her back to her foster family and we went home.

A couple of days later, our family service worker called to see how the trip went. Everything spilled out through a sea of tears. I felt like we were letting her down but I kept telling myself she needed more help than we could give her. She agreed to call Susanna’s caseworker and let her know and that was that. We never saw Susanna again.

Letting Susanna go was one of the hardest things we have ever done. We would take an extensive course in parenting traumatized children later that year and learn that she is a textbook case for PTSD in children. She needed specialized care for her specific needs and we were right to think we could not provide them.

Letting children go is the hardest aspect of fostering but this time it was a necessary evil. We had to let her go in order to help her and because we had to protect our other children. But I will always worry about her because for that one week, she was my daughter.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

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