It was 2017 when I first met Hannah and her younger siblings, Aiden and Isabella. As the eldest, 11-year-old Hannah had taken on the role of leader and protector. Aiden (6) and Bella (3) were timid and shy, watching Hannah’s every move to see how they should proceed. I can still recall Bella’s sweet silver smile as she hid behind her sister the first time we met. Their bond was tangible, as it is with many siblings in foster care, and it was clear the three of them had been through a lot together. As their social worker, I have walked alongside the kids throughout their journey in foster care. Over time, Hannah has opened up about what her life was like prior to placement; I am amazed by her bravery as she continues to share her story.
Before entering foster care, Hannah and her siblings lived at a homeless shelter with their birth mother. Hannah recalls having to ride the bus every day in order to save a place in line at the shelter, and the communal showers with other homeless women. On her 11th birthday, Hannah and her family were kicked out of the shelter. With nowhere else to go, the four of them resorted to living in a van. After learning about the situation, one of their relatives had a difficult decision to make. Knowing the children were unsafe for a number of reasons, the relative ultimately opted to call Child Protective Services (CPS).
When CPS came, Hannah was afraid of being separated from her siblings; she had no inclination about where they would be going and how long they might be away from their mother. Hannah and her siblings waited together at the CPS office for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, an emergency foster home was found that could accommodate all three of them, so Hannah, Aiden, and Bella were able to stay together. Hannah felt uncertain about her new living situation, but was also in awe of having a room with a bed and all her day-to-day amenities in one place.
In February of 2018, Hannah and her siblings were transitioning out of their emergency foster placement. At the time, their birth mom was working hard to change her situation, but still wasn’t in a place to care for her three children. In search of something more long-term, the kids went to meet their prospective foster parents (little did anyone know, this would be the beginning of forever). Hannah shared she felt scared the first time she met her now-adoptive parents. However, she gradually allowed this new family to comfort her and tuck her into bed. The more they cared for her, the more Hannah was able to let down her walls.
The long-term foster parents continued to support Hannah and her siblings’ relationship with their mother, meanwhile growing an ever deeper attachment to these three sweet babies that had entered their home. The kids’ birth mom remains a sweet, caring parent who loves her children. Unfortunately, as time went on, she wasn’t able to adhere to her services plan. In 2019, their case progressed and things began to shift towards permanency; thus began the journey to adoption. The family mourned with Hannah, Aiden, and Bella as they would not be able to reunify with their birth mother. At the same time, they were thankful for the opportunity to continue to care for these children they had been entrusted with.
In 2020, the family celebrated their adoption day! The kids were now 14, 9, and 6. Their long-term foster parents had become their forever family. Hannah acknowledges that her family is like any other in the sense that they aren’t perfect, and things are not always easy, but this imperfection is met with continued love and commitment to each other, as they learn daily how to better support one another. In addition to celebrating their adoption day, the family has a tradition of going to Black Bear Diner on the anniversary of their first morning together after placement.
As the family’s social worker, I have been blessed to witness their journey, which has been beautiful, painful, and everything in-between. For the parents, going from a family of two to a family of five has had plenty of ups and downs. Working with children in different developmental stages, each with their own unique needs, has not been easy. Prior to placement, these kids had experienced things most people cannot even fathom, and the healing process cannot be rushed.
All along the way, the parents have met each child where they are at. They have been proactive to implement services, attend every training the agency has offered, and soak up trauma-informed care in order to be the best parents possible for their children. I have witnessed this family build trust and relationship with intentionality, hold space for the past, and look to the future with hope. The parents have made sure their children know they are loved and accepted, along with their birth family. At the same time, they are learning to set healthy boundaries for engagement and healing. I am so proud that this family chose Koinonia, and that we have the opportunity to support them in their lifelong journey as a family.
AMANDA KNAPP, CONTRIBUTOR
Amanda is a Social Worker at Koinonia’s Loomis District Office, located in Placer County, CA.