It is uncanny the way someone imprints on you with such a short amount of time together. I work with foster children, and I maintain a caseload comprised of ten to fifteen children at any given time. We work together for roughly a year to a year and a half. Those children are not just foster children or a part of my caseload. They are my children for that period of time. I have stashes of their artwork in and on my planner, attic, refrigerator, and dining room table.
I know what their allergies are, what they are afraid of, their grades, their history, and what they want to be when they grow up. Every single one is so similar but so different to the other, and some leave quite an impression. That impression can be a scar or a joyful memory, because I’ve read the documentation. I know what they’ve been through, and I get to glimpse where they are going. We develop a rapport quickly, usually after a moment of tension. Once we understand each other, we move on to develop a positive relationship.
Then the case closes. Sometimes we get a goodbye, but most times we do not. Sometimes the reasoning behind the case closing is wonderful, and sometimes it is not. I’ll find myself in the foyer of a new and likely unexpected foster home explaining the most intimate details of a child or children as if he or she were my own, and I was forced to leave him or her in the hands of a stranger.
The struggle is the balance between professionalism and the heart; boundaries and freedom from limitation. At the end of the day, there has to be a line between the two and yet the ability to utilize both simultaneously, because the relationship is a working one that must come to a conclusion. As heartbreaking as that has been at times, children deserve permanency and stability, and I’m not capable of mothering hundreds of children at once. I mother them all for a short time, and then I have to let them go in hopes they are able to move past the trauma before now.
I find myself wondering from time to time if it is just as difficult for the children as it is for me. I can’t reach out, but if I could I would say, “I think about you and miss you all the time, and I meant it when I said I loved the picture you made.”