On Friday at 4:30 I picked up the phone and heard my DHS certifier’s voice, Emily, on the other end. I adore her. She works hard, advocates fiercely and speaks gently and professionally.
It had been 18 months since she had celebrated with my family at the courthouse in downtown Multnomah County. Emily was there gathered with my family to watch the judge sign the official adoption certificate. Our son had come to us in October 2011 from a hotline call asking if we had the ability to pick up a newborn at Adventist Hospital on Friday and keep him “just for the weekend”.
When DHS checked back in earlier that week, we asked if they had a placement for him and they said “No”. We expressed we desired to keep him with us until a relative could hopefully be identified, knowing that the less transitions he experienced the better off he’d be. To make a long story short, no relatives came forward and much to our unexpected delight, our ‘weekend” baby is now our 3 year son! That was the last time I had engaged with Emily in a professional context.
With four kids ages 10 and under, we don’t open ourselves up to the emergency shelter care often as our lives are so full there are a million reasons to justify why doing emergency shelter care* is too much to handle. Yet, we are not naïve to the immense (and often invisible) need in our community and so we said “YES” to being on-call this week, while the kids and I are off for Thanksgiving break. We officially said we’d be open to receive calls on Monday but on Friday the familiar DHS number showed up on my cell as I finished up work.
“We really need help” Emily said and proceeded to share with me about a toddler that had been waiting in the Gresham office for countless hours on Friday that I’ll refer to as Grace. I listened over the phone about this little one who had never had a bed or any sort of sleeping schedule and was non-verbal who needed a place for the weekend; I said, “When do you need to know by” eyeing the clock and she said “Do you think you could get back to me in 20 minutes?”
A phone call to my husband and a quick but intentional huddle with my children to get their take, and I called her back. My kids made a colorful poster on the door that said “Welcome Grace” and Grace pulled into our driveway in a government vehicle with a caseworker at 6:00pm.
Within minutes she cleared our bookshelves, dumped out toy bins and and was running around the room. She sat down to eat and pounded a quesadilla, pasta, banana and two glasses of milk. I suspect, like with other little ones we’ve welcomed in the past, food scarcity has been an issue in her household.
Earlier that day, she’d been with her mom, then she spent several hours in a government office as they tried to locate a home and now suddenly she was here. And with no language to even ask questions. Her body language and dark eyes screamed “TRAUMA”.
As I got out the pack ‘n play to put in our bedroom and rocked her, alligator tears rolled down her cheeks as her eyes darted around the room. I sang to her, rocked her and stroked her hair and made sure she was in a deep sleep before gingerly transferring her to the pack n play beside my bed. She slept for 12 straight hours!
Grace is an incredibly special child. Despite some daunting descriptions and some high needs read to me on the phone that ring true in our 3 days of getting to know one another, Grace is creative with communicating her needs and has begun to pick up the sign language we’ve taught her of “More” and “Please”. She has had moments of tantrums within the natural range of toddlerhood and also moments of unexpected sharing, a loving arm pat and arms reached out wide to hold her, despite no language. She loves to color and copy my girls twirling around the kitchen floor to classical music with her chubby arms raised like a ballerina. She fell asleep tonight clutching her blankie and her fingers wrapped around my hand. Grace has an underlying softness to her. She is a girl with wide, dark eyes so deserving of a family pouring in their time, love and goodness to her to unravel her vast potential.
And Grace needs a foster family! She needs a family who will commit to loving her, teaching her, and supporting her in her growth and development so she can be the person she is destined to be.
As my trusted certifier called to update me this afternoon she said there were calls put out in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington Counties and no families are available. There is a crisis shortage of homes.
The certification supervisor at the branch emailed to say they are working fervently on trying to locate a family for her.
Grace is too special to just be matched with a roof over her head. She needs a family where she will thrive.
Embrace Oregon community, DHS Child Welfare is only as strong as the community around it!
DHS cannot wave a magic wand and make families suddenly appear for Grace.
Our family can host her for the week. I’m fairly confident that the 18 guests arriving to my house for Thanksgiving on Thursday will understand that Martha Stewart never put together a magazine cover spread with two 3 year olds with special needs and so I’m off the hook with having the perfect decorations. But that’s never what this time has been about anyway, is it? Even more important than food and table setting and cooking that perfect turkey is taking stock of family, friends and blessings gathered around the table.
Grace will be around my table Thursday and we will be privileged to have her.
It breaks my heart to return to work on Monday and to drop Grace off to the same DHS office in Multnomah County to sit and wait to see if a longer term foster home can be found for her. She deserves better.
At Every Child we long to see the community engage with DHS Child Welfare so there may be a waiting list of safe and qualified families, prepare and equipped to care for a child, and not a child waiting in the office for hours needing a foster family.
Will you stand with us?
And for #everychild.
~ Jillana Goble, Foster/Adoptive Parent and Founder of Embrace Oregon