As an intern, you do a lot of observing. You have the opportunity to sit back and watch as every piece of the puzzle is laid out. When I stepped into juvenile court for the first time more than eight years ago, I was unprepared for what was about to happen. My knowledge up to that point had come from books and told stories of foster care.
I remember the teenage boy who was part of the court case that would unfold before me. He had a number of other siblings also in care at the time, but there was a difference between this one child and his siblings. All of them were in the process of being adopted, except him. He had been moved around a lot; seven different placements to be exact.
At one point, he was on track to be adopted by a set of foster parents who were also adopting two of his siblings. Their birth mom had directly surrendered her rights to the foster family. But before the adoption could occur, the placement was disrupted for him. Through all the confusion, the boy was once again moved to another placement, and parental rights went back to his birth mom.
My first day in court was the court date to decide whether or not this mom’s rights would be terminated. There were conflicting ideas of what everyone thought should happen. Some thought parental rights should be terminated to save the boy from having hope only to be let down in the future. Others thought he was not currently stable enough to have another letdown and family member taken away. Those against terminating believed the mother could change; they wanted to give her the second chance that was right in front of her.
I watched as the mother waited to hear the caseworker’s recommendation for the direction of the case. The state recommended that her rights not be terminated. Tears of joy immediately began falling from her eyes.
When I entered the courtroom that day, I thought: No way; there is no way that this mom would get another chance. She already had been given chances, and birth parents don’t change. I had only heard bad stories about birth parents up to this point. Birth parents were always the bad guys in the case. I didn’t believe in her. And I didn’t expect the court to side in this direction. I saw her son, and I thought about all of the trauma that he had experienced. I blamed it on his mom, and I wanted vindication for him.
But what did he want? He still wanted his mom.
And his mom? His mom still wanted a chance to care for her son.
Her tears of joy came from the hope that this decision gave her.
Someone was on her side; someone believed in her.
I know that cases are messy and that there is so much brokenness in foster care. I know that it’s a challenge to sort through what the best decision is, and honestly, I still don’t know in this case as I think back years later.
But this case and this mom changed me. Her look in hearing that she would get another chance made me question my firm position that birth parents are bad. It made me stop, take a step back, and consider this case from her view.
I think about all of the times where I’m struggling to believe something good about myself, and the moment that someone else validates for me that they are with me and that I have value and worth. They believe in me though I’m not quite sure I believe in myself.
And I press forward because of their belief.
Don’t we all need this—to be reminded that someone is on our side?
God’s Word shows us this daily. Psalm 139:13 reminds us that God intentionally crafted us; he knew what he was doing in making us. His hand was on our existence the whole time.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
At this moment, this mom was experiencing a glimpse of God’s perfect love for her, and for that, I’m thankful.
Today with a lot of growth from the Lord, I believe in birth parents. I believe that this beautiful woman who was created by the Lord, who was knit with His very own two hands, needed my love, my prayers, and my encouragement just as much as each one of her children did.
Oh, hear me in this, neglect and abuse are serious, and the foster care system has a vital role to play in making sure that we do our part this side of heaven to care for children.
But, in this case, I hadn’t thought to consider that this mom was a real person with real feelings and real pain that was as complex as the case itself. I thought my tears would be for the boy, and they were, but they were also for his mom.
So I challenge you, rather than merely pouring on blame and guilt, will you pray for a birth parent who is going to court today? I’m not minimizing their role in the hurt; I’m simply asking us to see birth parents as people who need the radical love of Jesus and the change that can only come from Him.
Let’s be part of that.
Jillian has a passion for building relationships and loving people well. She desires to see the Church mobilized to support and step into the lives of those affected by foster care. As a foster mom, she is currently relying on donuts, coffee, and JESUS!
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