George & Fran

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The Brewsters, like most foster parents, are unusual people. They possess a genuine love
of children, a positive attitude, a sense of humor, a twinkle in their eyes and a willingness to learn. Their own son, nine year old J.R., has a hyperactive disorder. He requires a lot of attention, patience and love, which the Brewsters give readily. Their understanding of their son's difficulties prompted them to open their home to foster children, feeling that their experience would allow them to empathize with the foster child and his or her family.

After providing foster care for a year or so, the Brewsters decided to become "therapeutic foster parents." This designation requires additional training and allows the foster parent to provide care for children with more severe problems. girl on swing graphic

The social worker arranged for the Brewsters to meet Sue at a local playground. Playgrounds are considered "neutral territory," without the frightening aspect that a meeting in the Agency's office can present to a child. Sue was eleven at the time. She appeared withdrawn and shy when she was introduced to George and Fran. It was almost as if she wanted to shrink into the background so as not be noticed. As the afternoon wore on, Sue began to socialize a little. The Brewsters had been told that Sue was afraid of men but, when George asked her if she would like to swing on the park swing set and then offered to push her a little until she gained momentum, the ice began to melt. She and George became friends.

After her placement in the Brewster home, Sue gradually began to respect George and to identify and begin to emulate Fran's role modeling. Sue felt secure in their home. The fact that George is a police officer offered additional reassurance.

Sue had been placed in several foster homes prior to her move to the Brewsters'. She had been a difficult child, throwing temper tantrums and being generally destructive. All had requested that she be moved. Whenever possible, social workers transition children into foster homes slowly, as this method offers the best opportunity for a successful placement. Since Sue was already in foster care, she had the opportunity to become acquainted with George and Fran and their son before she was finally placed in their home.

Foster parents are trained to understand the grieving process that generally occurs upon a child's move either from their parents home into foster care or from one foster home to another, or from a foster home to the home of their parents. There is a sense of loss, exhibited first as shock, then as anger, followed by sadness until, finally, the child accepts the fact of his or her placement. The shock stage is nicknamed "the honeymoon period." During this stage the child is usually compliant and quiet. Naive foster parents will wonder why anyone ever saw this child as "problematic." When the "honeymoon" is over and the anger stage sets in it is a shock for foster parents unless they have been trained to expect it. The Brewsters were experienced and well trained when Sue had her first temper tantrum. She threw herself on the floor and, in anger, wailed the sentiment that might well have caused less experienced foster parents to throw up their hands in despair, "You're just like my abusers!"

The Brewsters had been told a little about Sue's early abandonment by her mother who left with a truck driver when Sue was about three years old. She left Sue with her step-father. Sue has told Fran that she was literally "treated like an animal," made to eat pet food and was kept in the cellar of the house where she lived, for days at a time. At age seven, Sue was taken to a relatives' home and literally "thrown" out of the car, she says, by her "abusers." The relatives saw the bruises and quickly decided that they would be blamed if anyone saw Sue. They found another distant relative who agreed to keep her. This relative nursed her back to health over the course of several years. Eventually, Sue's behavior became so destructive that the relative was unable to handle her and she was placed in foster care.

The destructive behaviors manifested in the foster home as Sue realized and remembered her abuse. She struck out at people whom she felt would not hurt her, the foster parents. Finally, this foster placement was disrupted and Sue was placed in therapeutic foster care with the Brewsters. It was not an easy move for her, despite the previous lengthy transition period prior to her move.

There were lots of temper tantrums in the new foster home. "When are you going to send me away?" Sue would ask. Fran would respond, "I don't care what you do, you aren't leaving here until you are ready to leave." Sue's therapist, the Brewsters, and the social worker met to discuss her behavior. They hoped to develop a plan that might work for her. They noticed that she became more agitated around the holidays. Sue had expressed some concern that the Brewsters might "drink" during the Thanksgiving festivities. Obviously past holidays had involved adults loosing control through alcohol abuse.

While the therapeutic team; the foster parents, the social worker and the therapist, were trying to find solutions to some of Sue's problems, something unexpected happened. Through a series of back-door acquaintances, Sue's real father learned that Sue had been placed with the Brewsters.

Jeff Applegate had not seen his daughter since her infancy when her mother had left him, taking Sue with her. He had searched for her but the trail had grown cold and he had despaired of ever finding her. About two years ago, Jeff had a lead regarding Sue's whereabouts and resumed the search. Now he knew for sure. He contacted the Agency and the Brewsters and a meeting was arranged.

The Agency was skeptical and the social worker was asked to make home visits and prepare a home study, based on the information she obtained. This would be submitted to the court. The court, as always, would make the final decision regarding the suitability of Jeff's home. Sue had never known her father and caution was necessary. Jeff was expected to comply with the many requirements. He would need to see Sue's therapist, submit to the social worker's home study requests and visit Sue regularly under supervision of the foster parents. "Jeff did everything he was asked to do by all of us," Fran said. "Believe me, we haven't been easy on him. He told us that he had lost his drivers license due to a DWI conviction. He said that he was trying to get it back. Jeff lives on the far side of the state. Transportation has been difficult for him. He has a girlfriend who helps him. I had to tell him, "if you want to have this child in your home you're going to have to work at it, and that means taking the responsibility for finding your own transportation." As foster parents, we often help out with transportation to doctors and dentists for our foster children, just like we would do for our own child, but Jeff lives almost three hours away and our son, J.R. can't handle that kind of traveling. Jeff has managed to get here for visits and we are willing to meet him part way if that's what is needed."

So far things have gone well. The agency has allowed Sue to spend several weekends with her father. "She and Jeff have gone to therapy sessions together, too. He's really doing everything that has been asked of him," Fran added. "We really like him and hope things work out." Jeff calls regularly and the Brewsters have noticed no unpleasant after effects in Sue's behavior.

While I interviewed Fran, the two children, home for Christmas vacation, played quietly in the next room. "They can play together with little supervision now, unlike a few months ago. Sue is much more calm," Fran comments. The phone rings and Fran answers. It is George. He is calling to touch base, say "Hi" and, more importantly, to ask Fran to tell the two children that he loves them. "He always calls, if he can," Fran says. It is one of the ways he supports her and the children, too. They look forward to his calls. The impact of this small, considerate act is an example of the many ways foster parents open their hearts. The poignancy of the moment was touching.

Many meetings have occurred between Jeff and the therapeutic team members. The Agency's goal is to reunify Sue with him when both are ready. Sue will still maintain contact with the relative who cared for her prior to her entrance into foster care and who has remained interested in her welfare.

Sue is learning to modify her behavior and to treat others with the same kind of respect and kindness that she has experienced at the Brewster foster home. She is very bright and does well in school, now. Jeff has visited the school and met all of Sue's teachers.

Sue has been in group therapy since she first came into foster care. When she was placed in her first foster home, the group members were asked to "draw a picture of your family." Sue drew herself all alone. After she had settled into the Brewster foster home, she drew herself and her foster family. Recently, the group was again given the same assignment and Sue drew herself with her father. She appears to be transitioning herself from foster care into reunification with him. She had connected with her paternal grandparents, whom she had never met. They correspond. When she is reunified with her father, the Brewsters will become a part of her extended family at the request of both Sue and her father.

Christmas tree Sue is growing, accepting her past and maturing in spite of it. Fran showed me a Christmas letter Sue wrote which reads as follows: "Dear Santa, I love the hat and mittens. I'm writing this note to thank you for giving me one more chance. Love You Always, Sue." And: "Dear Fran, George, J.R. and Santa, thank you so very much. I sure am lucky to live with you. I'm glad to be here. Thank you for all the help you have done to get me and my Dad together. Love you truly, Sue."

heart graphic from cover of Stories of the Heart

Sue is quite artistic. One of her drawings depicts a heart drawn with chalk in shades of purple and magenta. The center of the heart reveals an oval shaped opening. She signed it, "To Fran, George and J.R. You are very special to me. Love, Sue." This is truly a "story of the heart" in the form of a picture drawn by a foster child. It is a moving tribute to Fran and George Brewster.

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