Being a bit impulsive, I do take risks. Probably the biggest was deciding to become special need foster parents. That meant both my husband and I left our jobs, put our careers on hold to become 24 hour parents to six in trouble teens.
When three of the first six placed with us rioted, said they were going to kill us and our then year old son, they were hauled back to “secure detention.” Secure detention meant being locked in, bars on t he windows. The kids who lived with us often called secure detention “Juvie Lockup.” We were a “non-secure detention” foster home. The first of its kind in New York Site. Locks were not permitted; we were reprimanded once for locking the doors when all of us were at the beach. A child had run away, and if she wanted to come back the doors were to be open. Not something we agreed with or obeyed. Some rules are made to be broken and if you break it you accept the consequences.
The very next day, two of the girls called begging us to let them come back. David would have taken one back; I would have taken the other back; so we refused both their requests. We here visited by a psychiatrist who said the kids had rioted because we had dogs, and the girls didn’t like dogs; we had a year old son, and one girl hated little kids, we lived in a quiet town, all the girls wanted to live among city lights; and, finally, there was the problem of the skimmed milk. “Mrs. Levine, the shrink said, “I am surprised that someone from your background forced the children to drink skimmed milk; you deprived them of their mother’s rich golden milk.” This from an expert on adolescent care, but obviously not aware mother’s milk is thin and watery. Moreover, the kids got whole milk, the skim milk was David’s and not to be touched by the kids.
Two days later we heard that the same three girls had rioted at the secure detention center and in the fray a guard’s jaw was broken. The girl who hadn’t asked to return to our care started the riot and was immediately sent to a state training school–the newer version of reform school. Seems that was her family’s idea of a finishing school and each of her older sisters had traveled that route. When first arrested, she asked the judge to send her to the same training school as her sisters had been sent to. Instead, he sent her to a “lovely” family he had just heard about. She made it clear from day one, she didn’t want to be with us. She also made it clear at the detention center that she didn’t want to be there. We heard a year of so later that she was a star at the reform school and returned home to her mother trained and finished. Moral: listen to what kids say about their needs.
We probably would have given up then and there, but we had signed a lease, left our jobs, and essentially had no choice but to go on which we did for twelve years. So risky or not, wWe had to keep no matter what, and we did.
Life as foster parents was not easy, but frankly, I would only change two things. We opted to be short-term parents as we were Jewish and the bulk of the kids needing care were Christian; we didn’t think it would be fair to the kids or the parents to offer long-term care. Life would have been easier and possible our efforts to help more lasting had we decided to offer long-term care.
I also think we should have stopped a bit sooner than we did, mainly to give our birth sons an adolescence where they were not competing with four strangers for our time and attention. I also would have moved us out of the town we had lived in as foster parents. Some of our foster kid’s bad reputation made life difficult for our sons. Perhaps that was the greatest risk, how our children would fare living with a continuously rotating group of foster siblings. That was hard, but other things were hard also and in more ways than one their foster siblings helped raise them to be the men they are today; men I am proud to claim as my sons.
So the risk was worth taking. The life we led then had more good times than bad times, far more good kids than “bad” kids. While every day was a challenge, and filled with small and big risks, we can’t imagine having lived our lives any other way.