My husband and I had been drawn toward Ashley (then 7 years old) since seeing her profile on an online photo listing of "waiting children," and we had become even more convinced that she was the child for us when we met her at a public adoption event. (See my guest post at Foster2Forever for more of that story.) We had taken the required class and our home-study was complete -- almost. We were waiting on just one thing: my fingerprints, as required by a new state law. I had "failed" one fingerprinting attempt, but I was scheduled to have them done a second time. I had been given instructions -- keep my hands dry; avoid hand creams, etc.
Since the fingerprinting was the only thing holding up approval of our home-study, and we believed that matter would soon be resolved, we had asked for and received permission for a draft of the home-study to be sent to Ashley's social worker. To our joyful delight, we were matched with her. The social worker informed Ashley that we wanted to adopt her, and we began visitation, with the intention of gradually increasing the visits until she was with us all the time. Everything was going great.
Everything, that is, except for the small matter of the fingerprints. My second set of prints failed to meet the standards. I was sent for electronic fingerprinting, and that set failed as well. I was informed that the department would not fingerprint me a fourth time; three strikes and you’re out, apparently.
We had seemingly hit a bureaucratic dead end, but both our social worker and Ashley’s remained hopeful that the matter could be resolved. They scrambled for answers. Because the law was so new no one was certain how to proceed, but surely there must be a plan in place somewhere to cover situations like mine. We continued visitation with Ashley, including a successful overnight visit on the weekend. Her social worker told us that the department was ready to move her in with us … just as soon as the fingerprint matter was resolved. Another weekend visit was scheduled.
Then everything fell apart. We received a phone call on Saturday, an hour before the visit was supposed to begin. The questions about our situation had worked their way up through the hierarchy of the department until they had reached someone in authority who said, "These people never should have been allowed to begin visitation without a finalized home-study. Stop the process, immediately." Ashley would not be staying with us that weekend.
Hearts broke on two sides of town. I cried. Ashley shut herself in her room at her foster home, refusing to come out. Ashley’s foster mother and social worker tried their best to explain the situation to her, but she couldn’t understand -- not really.
The weeks that followed were difficult and full of uncertainty. We were allowed to continue visits with Ashley, with a social worker present at first, and later, when someone in the department pointed out that they were holding us to a higher standard than babysitters and day care providers within the system, on our own. (To be a daytime-only care provider for a child in foster care you only need to have passed a CORI -- Criminal Offender Record Information -- check, which my husband and I had done.) But Ashley was not allowed to spend the night at our house, and she could not move in. We were in limbo.
I had made arrangements with my employer to take the month of August off so that I could have bonding time with Ashley before school began in the fall. But August passed, and then September, and still we waited for answers. It was an agonizing time; I cried, I prayed; I wrote to my state representatives; I lost sleep and weight. Ashley would sit on my lap during visits and pick up my hand to look at my fingers. "Have you fixed these yet?" she’d ask. At the visit's end, she'd ask, "Why can’t just I stay with you?"
|This photo was taken during our limbo period.|
I won’t keep you in suspense any longer; the FBI completed an alternate check on me in October, and Ashley moved in with us at that month. A little over a year later, her adoption was finalized. I probably don’t even need to tell you that I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Would I have preferred an easier journey? You bet! But I wouldn’t change the end destination.
In a recent guest post on the blog Foster2Forever, Rita L. Soronen, President & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, wrote “there are … many challenges that anyone jumping into the child welfare system faces -- unresponsive agencies, paperwork, system delays, and lack of post-adoption resources, to name just a few.... But we cannot give up.” I’ll second that. Our case was an extreme example, but there was never any question of giving up. And although the pre-placement experience was highly stressful, now it is simply part of our story. It was the path we needed to walk to bring an amazing child into our home.