Season 1 / Episode 6
THE WALLS STARTED TO COME DOWNWhen one family’s hopes and dreams shifted from building a family to keeping a family together.
Hear about the loving relationship that developed between one foster family looking to adopt and one family fighting for reunification when they moved past the status quo and let their walls come down. Brett and Jessica Crisp decided to abandon their original plan of adoption to help a little girl placed in their care reunify with her parents. See what’s possible when this foster family decided to put their personal agenda aside and shift perspective to “what would I want to have happen if I were the birth parent?”
How do children in foster care bond with foster parents?
Meet the Crisps as they describe their euphoric moment of expanding their family and quickly realizing the bond between London and their family would take time. Brett Crisp describes their first family photo they took after London came to stay with them.
“Our faces are very telling in hindsight,” says Brett, “Issaac [their son] has this big cheesy grin like “I finally have a sibling” and Jessica Crisp and I probably have this mixed emotion, like super excited but also ‘oh my goodness what did we just get ourselves into’ look on our face and then London has this like ‘who are you’ and ‘what just happened to me’.”
Brett recalls being told that the “official goal” for London was temporary placement as her social workers seemingly worked towards reunification with her birth parents. Unofficially, however, he was told that it would be best if London stayed in their home.
Hear from the Crisps’ about the first visitation with London’s parents as they recall seeing their joy in seeing their daughter, but also fear of letting their guards down.
“We on both sides were encouraged not interact with each other. We were encouraged to be very limited in what we say [to one another], and her parents were encouraged to only smile, be polite, and pass London back and forth,” says Jessica.
At what point did the Crisps’ relationship with London’s parents take a turn?
Hear from Brett on the emotional side of his family bonding with London’s birth family.
“Seeing how much her parents loved [London] and wanted to provide for her and how much they were going above and beyond to prove that they were worthy parents to parent their own child, I think it became obvious to us [that] we no longer saw her parents as bad people who didn’t deserve to be parents anymore. And they no longer saw us as enemies that were trying to take their daughter from them,” says Brett.
As London’s parents and the Crisps’ relationship improved over time, both families found themselves having a deep connection.
“As much as the system is supposed to be about the best interest of the child, it really is set up against the parents of the children,” says Brett, “We wanted not only what was best for London, but also what was best for their family. We moved closer to them, and they moved closer to us.”
The court issues a continuance on London’s case for an additional three months after a 14-month separation. Seeing the emotional toll that ruling had on London’s family, the Crisps decide to take it upon themselves to help London reunify with her parents.
“Instead of us being something that’s restricting the progress, we need to speak out and we need to advocate for what we’re seeing because what’s in London’s best interest is for us to not be silent either.”
How can foster care families advocate for birth parents and families? Hear from Brett on what their advocacy looked like for London’s family at a child and family team meeting with social service workers, the birth family, the foster family, the guardian at litem, and others.
“I felt like for the first time we did something right,” says Jessica. “I know we’ve been checking the boxes but that movement and [Brett] sharing that [message], that felt right. Like we were fighting for the right team.”
London’s case is suddenly dropped and the Crisps are told that within a day, she needs to go home to her birth parents.
Shortly after London reunified with her birth family, her parents reach out to the Crisps to stay connected. This allows their relationship to evolve. Today, Issaac still calls London his sister and loves spending time with her.
“It feels like our family grew it just looks so different from what we thought,” says Jessica.
Where are Brett and Jessica today?
What do the Crisps want people to learn and take away from their story?
“Whether you’re a foster parent, a social worker, or whatever your role, we have to value parents more than we are,” says Brett. “I think we have to encourage as much partnership and communication and allyship between foster parents and [birth] parents.”
Matt shares his final thoughts.
- Growing Families through Foster Care to Permanency | Children’s Home Society of North Carolina
- Working With the Courts for Permanency | Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Birth Parent/Foster Parent Relationships to Support Family Reunification | Child Wefare Information Gateway
- Co-Parenting Pilot Builds Teamwork Between Parents and Foster Parents | The Imprint
- Advice to foster parents for successfully working with birth families: Co-Parenting Gets Children Home from Foster Care Safer and Faster | The Imprint
- Brett Crisp works with CHSNC on their practice model advisory team as the voice of a foster parent: Children’s Home Society of NC places greater emphasis on shared parenting and reunification Fostering Perspectives
- CHSNC as one of three promising reunification practices in the country: Foster Care as a Support to Families | Children’s Bureau
[00:00:00] Matt: Hey everybody. It’s Matt Anderson here. And thanks so much for joining us for another episode of Seen and Heard by Institute for Family on this podcast, we’re engaging in stories and conversations that recognize child welfare transformation starts with seeing families for who they truly are. On today’s episode, I’m going to be talking with Brett and Jessica Crisp. Brent and Jessica we’re foster parents. And a few years ago, little girl named London came into their lives. So let me set this up a little bit. Brent and Jessica, several years ago, way before they met London, they had adopted their son. And as Isaac was getting close to kindergarten age, they decided they wanted to expand their family.
[00:00:45] And then they started hearing that there was a need for foster parents in their community, and that sometimes kids in foster care were also available for adoption. And so this is the route that they decided to take. And then one day they get this call from their social worker that they were looking for placement for a 10-month-old little girl named London and Brett and Jessica said that they were ready.
[00:01:05] And within a couple of short hours of that call London was placed with them. And they toldme the first thing that they did that night was to take a selfie with all four of them with Brett and Jessica Isaac and now London.
[00:01:21] Brett: Yeah, it’s funny that picture and we still have it hanging on our wall today. And the looks on all of our faces, I think, is very telling now in hindsight, you know, Isaac has this big, cheesy grin. Like I finally have a sibling. Jessica and I probably have this mixed emotion, like super excited, but also on my goodness, what did we just get ourselves into, look on our face and then yeah. London has this, like, who are you in? What just happened to me?
[00:01:53] Matt: It’s a snapshot of a moment that describes so much. I think of what the foster care experience is for kids, for parents. What just happened to me? Where am I? Am I staying here? Where am I going next? These are big questions that kids ask and I think their parents do too. And I wonder if there was a, a moment where it shifted with you in London, where it wasn’t so much scared anymore. And it was now, okay. We’re starting to understand what’s happening here.
[00:02:23] Jessica: So one thing that Brett and I have noticed is that we bonded with her at different moments. London was used to her mom as the primary caregiver for her. Therefore, we noticed that she bonded faster with a female than she did with Brett is more of a foster father figure one of our first meetings with everyone at the table related to DSS, CHS, her biological family, all of us together. It was about two weeks into her time with us. And it was interesting because at that, one of the representatives from the court looked to me and said, well, was foster parents. How do you feel like things are going? And I said, we already love her. Like, it didn’t take long at all for us to feel like she is it. And we are mad about her
[00:03:08] Matt: So that happens very early on. And let’s pull out a little bit here and think about the bigger picture of what’s happening. So London has just been removed from her parents.
[00:03:18] Placed into foster care. And in your care, the social services agency is involved. Children’s Home Society is involved. The courts involved, of course, you guys are involved. London’s family is involved in the plan. The goal is to reunify her back with her parent. Is that right? Was that the initial plan for her to be reunified?
[00:03:37] Brett: That was the official plan. That’s what they have to say. But unofficially, we were told from day one. Yes, we’re working toward reunification, but that’s not going to happen in this case. And we were even told by a social worker early on that it’d be better off for her. If she could just stay with us.
[00:04:01] Matt: Let’s talk about London’s family. When did you first meet her mom and dad. And can you kind of describe those first interactions, how they happened? What they were like.
[00:04:10] Jessica: The first time that we met each one was at a scheduled visitation at a specific location.It’s a visitation center. Yeah. So her mom and her dad. Separate visitation times. So it was interesting the first time he met them, because for both her mom and her dad, I could see this relief of seeing their daughter, but fear to say anything or do anything. Right. So they knew that in this visitation center, they needed to be as upstanding as they possibly could. And that we were encouraged to be very limited in what we say to either of her parents and her parents were also encouraged with us being temporary guardians to not really say anything other than just smile and be polite and pass London back and forth. So. I see for London’s mom. The first time we met her, she’s has tears streaming down her face because she’s missed her daughter for two weeks and hasn’t had any interaction with her and is so relieved to see her and just hugging her.
[00:05:11] And you could see that London was so happy to see her mom in that moment. The hardest part was from the first visitation, passing her back to Brett and myself. London realized you could see it in her face. Just this frozen look. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Brett and myself, but she’s like, but this. My mom, she wouldn’t verbalize, but she’s like, this is my mom, you know, so to have to get her and her just scream in the car initially because she wanted her mom so bad and didn’t want to leave her. And I think that was so heartbreaking.
[00:05:42] Matt: You guys, what were your first impressions of London’s parents? Did you have like preconceived ideas of what you were going to see and experience in terms of a parent involved with child welfare?
[00:05:53] Brett: Yeah. So I think everybody has preconceived ideas of what type of person a parent must be to have their children removed from them. Interestingly, the first time I met her dad was not at a visitation, but it was in court. It was at a hearing and Jessica wasn’t able to go that day. I was there by myself and it was really quick. Literally I was walking out and the social worker came up to me and said, hey, London’s dad is here. I’d love for you to meet him. And so she pulled both of us into a little side room that was probably six feet wide across. And I think we were both extremely intimidated of one another. And uncomfortable and rightly so, you know, you can’t tell this because this is audio, but I’m white and London’s dad is black and he’s also very tall. And I felt like there was a intimidation on my part because of those things. I think there was an intimidation on his part because the system viewed me as a more appropriate dad. And so we walked into this room, both with intimidation of one another and probably with some inaccurate judgments of one another. And we did certainly start out our relationship with London’s parents being very guarded.
[00:07:23] Matt: Did you feel like you regarded and protecting from the emotional pain of what could happen? You were then separated from London. Like, do you understand what I’m, what I’m saying?
[00:07:34] Jessica: Yeah. We had discussions about this and we decided for better or worse, we would love London as our own, even if it tore us apart that to really give London what she needed as her stand-in parents, we needed to be 100% reckless abandonment love.
[00:07:55] Matt: Right? Of course. I want to just try to advance this a little. So now months have gone by many months probably. And so the official plan always remained reunification, but in the day-to-day interactions and where things seem to be. You were understanding this was going towards adoption. And so you’re investing here, your heart and your family into that. At what point did things start to evolve or shift maybe in your relationship with London’s parents, was there a moment or interaction that you started to feel differently about?
[00:08:28] Jessica: I felt like we were almost, the enemies are on the same side as the enemies meeting DSS is what it felt like. So. Was right about six months in now, keep in mind, we had email communication. Once a week, we had two phone calls a week. We had visitation split into two parts. So we had at least five interactions with mom every single week. And this went on for at least six months before for all of us, the walls started to come down a little bit more. And I think part of it for us was that we realized if we’re in this for the long haul, we can’t keep.
[00:09:05] This perimeter up of all these barriers with London’s family, because it’s not benefiting London in any way. London was a little over a year old, starting to verbalize a little bit more starting to really connect both with us, but also still holding that really close connection with both of her parents. So it was very important for us to start to say, Okay. We’ve got to really try to make an effort asking questions, every single visitation, making comments, complimenting mom on the dress that she picked out for London that she bought for her at the visitation, making sure that anything from daycare that came home, went both to mom and dad at each visitation.
[00:09:44] We were intentional to try to start saying these keepsakes are going to be important to them. And as soon as we started to have the walls come down a little bit, I felt that they more than responded and wanting to connect with us as humans in that way.
[00:09:58] Matt: Was there, uh, some instance or experience that you can remember Brett, where that like your walls were coming down and they were responding.
[00:10:06] Brett: I think your story about the after visitation interaction with London’s dad is probably the best representation of that.
[00:10:14] Jessica: Yeah. So with London’s mom, we saw the walls start to come down at about six months with her dad. That relationship took long. Probably closer to nine months or more. One thing that was so special, both London’s mom and dad were very faithful to bring her special gifts. So for a birthday, for any type holiday, Easter, Christmas, I mean anything we’ve got lots of gifts. So London’s dad. Connected with our son even more than he did with us initially. And part of that I think was that our son does not go into circumstances with any type of preconceived notions about anyone.
[00:10:47] He’s just very verbal, very social and wants to know everybody. So he wanted to see London’s dad wanted to high five him, every visitation, like we developed a visitation routine and Isaac was a very important part of that. And at one of the visitations, London’s dad had brought her. The most beautiful outdoor porch swing for us to take back home with us.
[00:11:09] The only problem is that there was no way that I was going to fit into our vehicle and he was not allowed to follow us home to take it to our home. So it was really, we’ve got to dismantle this thing and get it in the car. And so he and I both looked at each other and we just kind of shrugged and said, okay, I guess we’re going to do this.
[00:11:25] He was like, you take the kids, I’m going to start taking this apart. So he worked for over an hour to dismantle every bolt on this incredible swing that he had gotten for her. And he just wanted to make sure that the air conditioning was going, that the kids were okay because we’re in this tiny visitation parking lot.
[00:11:40] It was towards the end of the summer. It was blazing hot outside at five o’clock. He was like, we can do this. And, and we just continued to talk. And it was interesting because we just became two parents taking care of our kids. You know, and trying to get an awkward gift in the back of a car, which everyone knows you get that box where you get that thing you can’t get in the back of your SUV. There’s no way.
[00:12:00] Matt: Yeah. I was, I’ve been used to telling the story. I’m like, well, that’s what any dad would do for his daughter. And that’s what he was doing for London, with you. It’s a, it’s a really beautiful story. And so he wanted a porch swing for his, his daughter at your house. Do you know why?
[00:12:14] Jessica: Do you know, watch. What was interesting was that we, so we promised to put it back together and we did get it back together and he said, please take a picture of it, of her in it, for me, he’s like, cause I want to see her in it. And so we showed outside where the kids were on the swing and it meant the world to him. And I think him seeing that we truly valued him as a person, not just her dad, like overtime, especially the way that he. Was so polite with Isaac and he would always answer whatever question Isaac had. I mean, Isaac always had some type of question for her dad and then that started building this really great relationship between us and her dad.
[00:12:54] Matt: I love about your story, right? As that, at some point you have this shift where now we’re just human beings. We’re parents. We share this love for this little girl. And we’re connecting on this, this level where we see each other for who we truly are and not what the circumstances might be that are going on around us. But I also wonder what’s happening like back to sort of the emotions for you guys. So here you are developing these really deep, meaningful relationships with London’s parents and you have this hope and dream of adopting London and building your family. And so how’s that playing out for you guys? Kind of the emotional side of it.
[00:13:35] Brett: You know, for me, it wasn’t as much of a moment in time where things shifted or where I had a change in my mindset. It really was a process over time. The more that we interacted with her family and the more that we were able to just be kind of side by side, instead of face-to-face adversarial, I think seeing. How much her parents loved her, how much they wanted to provide for her, how much they were going above and beyond what was asked of them to prove that they were worthy parents to parent their own child. We no longer saw her parents as bad people who didn’t deserve to be parents anymore. And they no longer saw us as enemies who were trying to take their child from them. Like Jessica said earlier, We couldn’t be foster parents and not love the child that was in our home a hundred percent. There was no way for us to do it without viewing her as our child. And I think about, you know, those moments of caring for her. And the night when she’s sick or even just, you know, rocking her and singing to her, to put her to bed, all these things that you, we had with our son, every parent has these moments with their child, that bonds them and creates this family identity.
[00:14:58] And we had that, we had that family identity and we had that parent child bond. So
[00:15:05] Matt: Jessica, I want to ask you about this too, your experience of it. But before I do, just to kind of clarify where we are in the timeline here, how long into this are you at that point a year, six months,18 months?
[00:15:16] Jessica: At this point, she had been with us between, I would say 12 and 14 months. You know, honestly, we continue to be. More intentional. We made the most of every phone call that we had with our parents. We had her parents pictures beside her bedside. She physically saw their faces multiple times a day, right beside her crib. And so we’re seeing this process now Brett’s experience. It was more of a process for me. We’re right. At 14 months in of her being in our care. And we were informed. The first half of the process is it’s adjudicated. And that is a step that for our case did not happen. So we are a very unique case in that London’s case was not formally heard in court and was continued three months, three months, three months, three months. And as we approach an October court date, we were told, even though this was never adjudicated. Mom has done an amazing job and already sustained everything on our plan for more than six months with really high criteria. I mean, I honestly don’t think I could hold down a job and do what they expected mom to do in order to earn back her child.
[00:16:23] It is so extreme. You could not miss calls. You cannot miss visitation. You had to come to every appointment. There are all these extra counseling things. There was so many layers to it that were demanded of her. And she had maintained that really at least nine months. Of the 12 months at that point, and now we’re going towards 14 months and she still maintained it. So we knew in our minds. Mom has met this. And I think when I realized we’re approaching the court date and she really has been so faithful with that, her dad has also been faithful in doing his part. Then in my mind, it clicked and I realized there’s a chance we’re going to lose her. And that was when I started to feel fear. Like I respected her parents, but I still was clinging. I think it kind of just hit me out of nowhere when I realized. Well, it felt like all of the cards were stacked in our favor. And then you realize. It’s completely shifted. And I think, I didn’t see that shift coming, even though I cared about her family.
[00:17:19] Matt: Right? Yeah. So now you’re, you’re 12 to 14 months in, you’re obviously bonded and loved London, but you’re also observing what her parents are doing and you’re starting to realize, okay, this is maybe not go. Where we thought it was this hope and dream of adoption might be starting to fade. And just to go a little bit deeper for you as a mom, like, what were you feeling at that time? What was the tension going on in those two worlds?
[00:17:43] Jessica: Yeah, the only thing I could relate it to as a mom was thinking, how would I feel if my son was gone for me? Right. So a part of me thought I can’t stand the thought of losing Issac. I can’t stand the thought of losing London. So it’s almost like this internal panic. And then I would also relate to London’s. Mom has been without her for over 14 months. And all she’s been able to do is see her two hours a week for 14 months. So it’s like, I felt this internal fight of like, I hurt so bad at the thought of losing her. And then I started to realize I hurt so bad as the thought of being in her shoes. I can’t imagine being separated from my child for over a year, going from 10 months to one year to going towards two years old, it’s such a critical time and a toddler’s life. And for her mom to miss so many milestones. And then I searched to almost become infuriated because I’m like, if they’re getting them back, they need to do it. If things are going that direction in the best interest of London, this needs to happen sooner than later. When we were first in court together, like two weeks out from her placement, it’s a tiny courtroom. There’s only four rows, I think for family members and foster parents and stuff to sit on. And so we have this really little space and you wait for your case to be called.
[00:19:02] The parents will go up front and it’s just this whole process. So initially we were sitting basically as far as we could from her family over these months, over the 14 months, getting us to this. We were getting closer every court date, closer every court date until we would intentionally sit together to talk before court and to support one another. There was one moment in court that October, the case was to be adjudicated that day. So it did not happen. I continuance was put in place again, which meant she had to wait another three months for anything to change in our situation. And we found ourselves crying and hugging and comforting London’s family. So at that moment, at 14 months in of being foster parents, we realize we hurt when they hurt. This is a deeper connection with their family than we ever realized.
[00:19:54] Brett: Yeah. I think that kind of courtroom picture is really a good representation of the transformation that happened during our foster care experience. You know, at the beginning, like Jessica said, we’re sitting close to the DSS worker. We feel like that’s the quote-unquote side that we’re on. As much as the system is supposed to be about the best interest of the child. It really is set up against the parents of the children. That’s how it felt at the beginning. Over time as trust and relationship and love were developed, we wanted not only what was best for London, we wanted what was best for their family. You know, we moved closer to them, but they also moved closer to us.
[00:20:43] Matt: Yeah. I mean, what you both are describing there is incredible. And I’m thinking like what you said a second ago, like the way to summarize so much of your story is as trust, relationship and love developed, you all got closer and Jessica, what I’m hearing you say, and all of that is. That this transformational moment or shift for you happened as you started to put yourself as a mom in the shoes of London’s mom. And think about what if I was going through this? What would I want to have happen? And I wonder, is that a moment where it’s really happening now? Like, okay, this is reunification. We really are now not pursuing this dream of building our family, but we’re pursuing this dream of helping a family come back together and be
[00:21:31] Jessica: together. Absolutely. And especially at that October court date, the level of devastation I felt for her mom when the case was continued for three months, which means you don’t get increased contact, continue what you do without missing a mark for three more months and then we’ll reevaluate you. And when I sat there and saw the level of devastation, she felt as a mom to know that she had worked so hard and she didn’t matter enough to be heard. Wow. That to me made me cry. It hurt.
[00:22:04] Matt: And this is already over a year.
[00:22:09]Jessica: Yeah. It’s over a year. We’re 14 months in. You have no idea what’s going to happen. You’re just in a holding pattern. As of that October court date was when Brett and I, through October and into November, that year realized it’s on us to help it move that way. Instead of us being something that’s almost restricting the progress because we’re trying to do our job so well. We need to speak out and we need to advocate for what we’re seeing, because what’s in London’s best interest is for us to not be silent either. The thought is we’ll start to have more interaction and that we, as the foster parents can start communicating even more so that mom knows how to take care of London, because there has to be a way you can kind of pass off this information. So you’re really working towards increased communication, more responsibility on her mom to be able to be involved with health care decisions and different things going on. So that’s the progression. So putting pause on that and not moving, it means another period of time that she’s not able to have any more responsibility.
[00:23:11] Matt: So, Brett, what I’m hearing here is there is a, there is the shift from speaking up for London and now becoming even sort of an advocate for London’s parents. So can you describe what that actually looked like? What was that like for you guys to speak up or be an advocate for her?
[00:23:28] Brett: Yeah, right after we realized that this is kind of where it’s headed. And we did feel like, okay, we they’ve done everything they need to do. They need to be reunified. And in her best interest, it needs to happen now. And so going into a child and family team meeting, which is a meeting. Everyone who’s involved is there. The social services workers, the family, the foster family, the guardian ad litem. Everybody’s there at the table to give an update on the progress of the case. And up to that point, we had been given pretty specific guidance from the social services worker as to what we were and were not supposed to say at those meetings. I think part of the reasoning in their mind that was to keep you all as the go-to adoptive placement, we want you to appear a certain way. So as our mindset had shifted, I went into that meeting and kind of through the script that they had given me out the window. So instead of just going down a list of doctors appointments and updates on how London was doing at daycare and how her behavior at home was kind of this very sterile report, that was a norm. I felt like this was our opportunity to kind of go on record. We support this reunification to look at London’s mom. In the eye, across the table, in front of all these people and tell her that she’s a good mom, that we’re proud of her, that she has done everything that she needs to do. And to tell everyone in that room that they need to make this happen.
[00:25:10] Jessica: I want you to describe the look on her face because you described it to me after that meeting took place. Do you remember?
[00:25:18] Brett: I don’t. Okay. It’s been a while. It’s been a While.
[00:25:21] Jessica: It’s been a long time. So her mom Lennon’s mom is one of the sweetest, most calm, almost shy people. She never wants to inconvenience anyone. She doesn’t want to seem too bold. And so she’s very guarded, but I remember you saying, because Brett and I had worked together and written out this whole thing, prepared this whole thing. And I was so excited for you to share that at the meeting, because I wasn’t able to be there. But you said that as you were looking up from what you were reading and looking at her, that just tears were just pouring down her face like that. She was so silent sitting there, but it was to the point of shocking her to feel that we were on her team. And one thing that she said after the fact was that she knew that we loved London. Because she could tell by how we took such good care of her hair, how we had her dress beautifully all the time, how we tried to meet every need she had, like, she could tell we lived it out, that we loved her, but that was a moment when Brett spoke in that meeting, that she felt loved, that she felt like our love went past London and went to her whole family.
[00:26:26] Matt: It feels like a moment where. Everything really shifted for you guys, maybe for the love for London, to the love for her mom and her family. And I just imagined this like heartbreak that you have for what you hoped for, but also was there. Cause now we know this is happening, right? Like London’s going home with her mom at some point soon. And was there this like heartbreak for you, but something beautiful coming out of it for London’s family. Am I putting words in your mouth or is that like, I just imagined this deep heartbreak, but also some new sort of love forming.
[00:27:04] Jessica: Interesting is that I didn’t feel the heartbreak so much is I felt like for the first time we did something, right. Like, I know we’ve been checking the boxes, but that movement and him sharing that, that felt right. Like we were fighting for the right team. And it felt like not only did we give her a voice, but that we truly, and Brett truly articulated what London’s needs were. And he was right. There’s a window of this time of attachment and it’s going to get so much harder for her family if it doesn’t happen soon.
[00:27:38] Matt: What was leading up with you guys with London and her parents? What plays out over the next couple of few weeks in terms of like, okay, now this is really happening. What was that experience like?
[00:27:47] Brett: There was another court date coming up. And so what we all expected was that we would go to that court date. They would hear the case. They would talk through it, make a plan, maybe increased visits and kind of have this transition in place that we could help support. That’s what we thought would probably happen. And then almost putting another bookend onto our experience. We got another call on a Friday morning. Yeah, that said, okay, well we all, we all just met at social services and we are deciding to drop our case. She’s going home today. There was not a plan in place. There was no transition. There were not increased visits. It was just, okay, she’s going home today. You need to pack her stuff up. And really there was no even coordination on their part as to how that would happen or what that would look like. Just you work it out with her mom.
Jessica: Yeah, it was interesting. We felt very strongly that we wanted to see all of this through to the very end. So that morning, right after we got the call that she was going home that day, I remember just collapsing on the floor and balling. I needed a good 15 to 20 minutes. Because even though I knew it was happening at some point in the next year, London was going home, I didn’t know today. Right. And the reality of that was very scary for multiple reasons. I did trust her mom. That meant that it’s a rude awakening for her mom. Her mom handed off a 10 month old and is getting a two-and-a-half-year-old back with lots of medical needs, none of which she’s been able to maintain because there was no transition, right. Them deciding that the case was going to be dismissed meant it’s kind of like no one’s involved anymore. So it took a little while for me to emotionally collect myself because that was when it hurts so bad. Like the grief was just like a shock.
Matt: Was it like, what were you grieving? What was the pain that you felt.
[00:29:40] Jessica: I felt like I was losing my child when she handed off London with no notice and London was just taken away. I felt like I knew what that felt like, because I knew she would never be with us again. I knew that I had no right to have any time with her. And one of my fears was that it was over. I was so afraid. This is it. I talked to their mom. We coordinated that we would get our son Isaac out of school early because it was a school day. And he needed time to say goodbye because he didn’t know that’s part of the thing too. Like at this point he has no idea. She’s lived there for a year and a half. Brought guy, Isaac out of school. I stayed at home and I automatically started trying to put stuff together. I started typing up basically like a London manual. Everything you need to know that I’ve never been able to tell you yet the food she likes the music she likes, where she goes to sleep, the books that she prefers, all these things that will hopefully help the first three or four days for her mom not feel like a nightmare. And so I called her mom. Okay. I was still crying, even though I was trying to hold it together. And so it was the first time outside of scheduled phone calls that I could call her mom, actually, I can never call her. She had to call us. So I called her and I said, congratulations, your baby girl’s coming home. And she bawled. And I said, you know what? We did this together. Let’s do it together today. And her mom cried, she put me on speakerphone and she bawled and she said, I am so happy. And then she said, but I hurt for you. And then I cried again and she said, you’re losing her today. And I said, well, we’re just glad she’s coming to be with you again, because you have fought for over a year and a half to have her back.
[00:31:35] Matt: Her pain was your pain and vice versa. It’s powerful. It’s really powerful. And I did London come to your house that day. Did you all have that experience of her or London’s mom I mean, come to your house.
[00:31:48] Jessica: It was incredible. It’s the first time we had ever told her what our address was. Cause everything is so separate. So we gave her address and I remember her parking and coming up and. Tears flowing down her face and we all ran outside and Brett and I had the hugest smile on our face and we just passed her off.
[00:32:06] Brett: We also felt like if she was open to it, we felt like it would be really. Helpful for our son, Isaac, to be able to see where London was going and see that she had a safe home and see her bedroom. And just to be able to visualize where she was.
[00:32:22] Matt: He was what, seven years old now, six or seven.
[00:32:25] Brett: Seven.
[00:32:26] Jessica: And I think one thing that the only concern that I mentioned. To London’s mom was that I was nervous about how this was going to be for Isaac, a sudden absence of a sibling. And on the phone call, she said, I know they’re siblings, they’re brother and sister. And she said, we can figure this out. Now we didn’t know what we can figure this out would look like. But a part of me felt a little relieved thinking. Okay. Maybe the door is not totally closed because it would be understandable if I was London’s mom, it would be understandable to want to put this whole tragedy completely behind her, because there is no reason that we should have any involvement or be any part of the story anymore. Before we left that night, after getting London settled back in, we said, you can decide if you’re interested or not, but we would love the opportunity to have London come and stay with us once in a while, but take your time and think.
[00:33:21] Matt: Just to sort of recap because a lot has happened, right? So you all get a phone call and there’s this little girl, 10 months old that needs temporary placement. Maybe it’s going to be an adoption, right? So you have an hour to get ready. She comes she’s with you. Year and a half, all this stuff plays out and then you get another phone call. She’s going home today. You have six hours to make that transition happen. So like, I mean, just two life altering phone calls with this amazing story in between. And now we’re two years later. And now there’s been this ongoing relationship with your family, with London’s family. How’s it continued to evolve.
[00:34:02] Brett: Pretty shortly after London went home with her mom, her mom invited us to come, there family does a big extended family, Sunday lunch every week. And pretty soon after she went home, her mom extended that invitation to us to join them at that. And so we went to that and that was a really neat thing that expanded that relationship, even beyond just their kind of little nuclear family and to their extended family as well. It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t living it, but it really feels like at this point, and it’s taken a while to get there. It feels like a relationship that you might have with a family member that you are regularly in one another’s lives. You know, we are no longer her foster parents. We don’t have that role. And sometimes that’s been hard. It’s been hard sometimes when she’s visiting us to not want to kind of revert to you’re my child, but we have received just as much as we have given in that relationship. You know, London’s mom has been so gracious and empathetic toward us. We really are all kind of like extended family members with one another at this point.
[00:35:15] Matt: Jessica. I’m just curious, like, what have you received through this whole experience?
[00:35:20] Jessica: To me. I have received a new perspective in a lot of ways. I, at times it maybe didn’t feel like a gift, but it really is because our family has expanded to a whole new family of people. London’s mom and I celebrate mother’s day together and get stuff for each other. We celebrate Christmas for our families. We do our kids’ birthday parties together. We’re getting ready to go this weekend to London’s birthday. And then she’ll come when Isaac has one and it feels like our family grew, but it just looks so different than we thought.
[00:35:55] Matt: And as we kind of wrap up here, what’s life, like now, you know, how’s Isaac with these things, like what’s life, like now.
[00:36:03] Brett: Yeah. You know, he still calls London. His sister, he loves when she comes to visit, loves getting to play with her and interact with her. It feels very normal to us. At this point, our family, it looks very different from the outside, but it feels very normal to us also, as far as where we are today, you know, we’re not pursuing adopting another child. We’re not licensed foster parents anymore. We went into that experience feeling like God had a purpose for our family to adopt a child. And I think what we have realized is that. There’s still a plan. It’s just a different plan in a different mission than we had in mind originally. And so we have decided for this season of our life, at least that we’re not pursuing that, but that we’re pursuing to continue this relationship with London’s family and that we’re putting energy into that relationship, as opposed to trying to pursue growing our family in the way we originally.
[00:37:09] Jessica: What’s really interesting. And this happened just a few visits ago when London was over or we were driving in the car and she’s just so verbal as she’s getting ready to turn five, and she’s thinking about things, right? Like at some point, you know, she’s going to think.
Brett: Why are these people in my life?
Jessica: Why am I with these people every two weeks, why am I sleeping over? Why are we going to the park? Why are we doing these things? I know at some point she is going to process that, but we were riding together and she said, do you remember when I was with you? Like more than just one night? And I was here and I said, yeah, I remember that. And she said, She said, and you used to use to hold me in the rocking chair and read to me. And, and I was here a lot and I was like, yeah, you where she was, because right now London’s mom is doing great. She’s engaged has a great job. She, they have a new little one in their family, a baby boy. And, and she said, you would hold me the way that mommy holds my brother. She said, I remember that.
[00:38:15] Matt: What struck me there that I’d never really thought about is we began this conversation of London coming to you all and the fear on her face. And now here we are four, almost four years later, maybe. And she’s at an age now where she can recall. And at some point in her life, she will recall those memories on some level. But now she has this reference of who you people are and who you were. And as maybe those memories of fear and confusion come up, she has some context to process it in a way that maybe she can make sense of it, where if this ongoing relationship doesn’t happen and this stuff comes up for her later in life. How does. Process and understand what happened to her, who these people were or why it was going on. You never know how this is all gonna play out, but it’s really interesting that that space has been created now for London. I wonder maybe to end here, you know, as people are listening to this conversation, who would you all want them to learn from this story? What would you want people to take away?
[00:39:19] Brett: I think as far as takeaways for those listening, whether you’re a foster parent, a social worker or whatever your role in that team might be, we have to value parents more than we are. We have to give them voice to express their needs. And I think that we have to encourage as much partnership and communication and allyship between foster parents and parents. How much better? Would it have been, if we could have been doing those things all along, how much more empowered, how much more growth might her mom have experienced or sooner if we were able to have that type of relationship from day one, we’ve got to remove the barriers that we are putting up between foster parent. And parents, and there’s lots of ramifications to that. We have to recruit different types of foster parents. We have to help foster parents who are coming into it, hoping to adopt strong relationships with a child and their family are important, whether they are reunified, whether they are adopted no matter what their permanent solution is.
[00:40:39] They need to have those relationships. They need to have people value and respect and speak positively about their parents. We all need to realize that we have a role to play and what can we do to promote not just the well-being of that child, but the wellbeing and the wholeness of their family.
[00:41:00] Matt: Jessica, what would you add to that in terms of takeaways from the story that you’ve shared today?
[00:41:06] Jessica: I think that it’s hard to add to what you said, Brett, cause that was wonderful. From a foster parent perspective, it’s important to put your personal agenda to the side. And that’s really hard. If I had been able to approach this process and not think of, I want to adopt, I want to adopt if I thought of it as what does this child need from me?
[00:41:28] How can I help this family unit? It would have changed a lot. We have to keep an open mind and we can not press judgments on individuals. We have to just approach all of this with a fresh perspective because what really benefits the children and our communities is that we step in when it’s needed, but we do not disregard their families in the process.
[00:41:55] Brett: I imagine some people might hear this story from other social workers or, you know, that well, that worked because London’s mom did what she was supposed to do, but most parents don’t do what they’re supposed to do or that that’s not how parents normally act. That’s not how cases normally go. And I would just challenge to like, push that one step further and ask why, if parents don’t normally complete their case plan or follow it to the letter of the law. Like they’re supposed to, why is that? Are we making the case plan too hard? Do they have the supports that they need in their life to be able to do that? Do they have a job that allows them to take off time randomly in the middle of the day, multiple times a week, there are a lot of parents who their lives are maybe more complicated. They have harder circumstances. They don’t have a good job. They don’t have. A good place to live. And so there are more complicating factors involved in those cases, but I don’t want us to dismiss that this type of outcome is possible for those families as well.
[00:43:04] Matt: I think that’s really well said. And so it’s an important story. I think it’s an, it’s an important example to so many of us about what’s possible when we see parents and see family for who they truly are, not just the circumstances of what’s going on. So I can’t thank you enough. I really appreciate it. I’ve just been really grateful.
[00:43:22] Jessica: Thank you for allowing us this opportunity to share our experience.
[00:43:33] Matt: As always, I just want to say thank you to Brett and Jessica for sharing their story with us. I’d also like to thank London and her family for teaching us so much about what’s. When we believe in families and partner with them to achieve their goals. You know, this began as the classic story of a young couple, with the hopes and dreams of building their family through adoption. It’s an important story. It’s one that happens every single day and that we celebrate and courtrooms and living rooms all across the country. But what makes this story so interesting is that somewhere along the way, Brett and Jessica had a moment or maybe moments of seeing London’s parents in a new lights. Recognizing how much they love their daughter and how much London was bonded with them. They knew their hopes and dreams were no longer about building their family, but being partners in rebuilding London’s, they allowed their hearts to break just enough so that London’s heart could heal. And in that act of love, two families came together and formed a community around London and her parents. This is just one example of what it means to see families for who they truly are.
[00:44:45] Isaiah: I’m sure you recognize my voice by now. I’m Isaiah Strozier and I’m a part of the creative team here at Seen and Heard by Institute for Family. Have you checked out our website yet? I think you should. If you love the podcast episode content, then I’m sure you will love the additional videos, articles, and clips you will find on our website. So go to SeenandHeardPodcast.com to find bonus content on guests and topics that we discussed. I can’t end the day or this episode without shouting out our army of folks that help put this show together. Executive Producer, Michael Osborne, Editorial Assistants from Paige Williams, mixing mastering and sound design from Morgan Honaker.
[00:45:24] And our composer is Christian Higus. That’s a wrap for today. See you guys next week!