“Vicki” self-identified white, in her late twenties, with both her children—a toddler and infant—in foster care. She and her husband live in a small city in the northern U.S. Nearly every answer included the phrase “we want are [sic] kids back.” Her responses were scattered with pleas for help getting custody of her children back. Her answers were not very thorough, but I want to include her story because firstly, she asked me to; and secondly, her story reveals an important problem of miscommunication or misleading families. She self-identified as middle-class, but as having a family income of less than $20,000 a year. Her story is not always coherent in places, and I have left her syntax and grammar intact so that the reader may interpret some of the unclear portions.

When asked about what she could have done differently to keep custody of her children, Vicki said, “Not hang out with people that have a background I wish we could get are kids back.” She felt no one was there to represent her in court: “They were not on are side they workd agins us. We had a bad experiences with court we were lied to they told us we were gettin them back if we moved to my inlaw that happyend plz help us to get are babys home.” When asked to describe her interactions with foster families, she replied, “Well they were rude sometime to are they been in 2 foster homes and the last 3 year i want to get them back.”

Perhaps the most salient thing, besides the pain of her desperation, that Vicki shares is that she reveals that she doesn’t understand what has happened to family. The survey asks if her parental rights were terminated, and she answered, “No.” Then the next question asks about how much time passed between when children entered foster care and termination of parental rights. She replied, “we gave up are right cuz they made us do it.” Vicki and her husband “gave up” their rights. This is the same as parental termination. Perhaps she thought that this is different than their rights being terminated, but it is ultimately the same, especially if the court “made them” do it. She may be describing pressure she felt, or maybe they were left without options, although she claims they were asked to move in with their in-laws, and they seem to have complied. It is unclear what other mandates may have been issued and complied or not complied with. Vicki is still hopeful that she can regain custody of her children. Somewhere in their proceedings, someone took advantage of their naivety or failed to explain that she can never get custody of her children back.

Insights:

Based on what Vicki has shared, I am making the assumption that they do not have many resources at their disposal. Most families with children in foster care have lower than average wages and lower levels of education. In theory, their court-appointed lawyer should have explained the process and outcome to them. But this does not appear to have happened for Vicki—as she is holding out hope of reunification. This is terribly cruel. It is unclear if they were intentionally misled to speed up the termination process or if the outcome was insufficiently explained to her, but in either case, the injustice of Vicki’s story is (minimally) that she continues to hope for reunification.