This continues the story of the Aiken family. In the previous blog Justin and Audrey had become foster parents; however, the birth mother’s desire for reunification with the newborn Constance altered the course of the Aikens’ adoption.
Reunification is always the goal.
When Justin and Audrey Aiken met the challenge to care for a newborn in need of immediate foster care, the process had to happen quickly, which meant they didn’t have time for foster parent training. Because of that, the Aikens were unaware that even though a child enters foster care, the primary goal is always reunification with the birth parent.
Once Constance’s birth mother voiced her desire for reunification—in lieu of previous adoption plans with the Aikens—then Audrey and Justin knew it was time to learn all they could about reunification and the ramifications for them as foster parents while remaining hopeful to still become adoptive ones.
Audrey followed a good number of foster parents on social media, and she and Justin read books on the topic. They felt a bit conflicted, knowing that Plan A, reunification, is how it should be in a perfect world. But they also feared the potential trauma Constance might suffer being removed from the only people she knew as “mom” and “dad.”
More changes: from reunification to adoption.
In March of 2019, the original social worker returned to the case. Prior to a family support team meeting (which included the Aikens, birth mother and social workers), it was unclear to both the birth mother and the Aikens if the birth mother was doing the proper things that would allow for potential reunification. During the meeting the birth mother was tasked with responsibilities to accomplish in the next two months in order to secure reunification. Despite the difficulty of these responsibilities, it was uncertain whether the primary goal would be changed at the end of these two months.
However, in May, the family support team changed the primary goal to adoption. And in July, the court system officially changed the legal goal from reunification to adoption. However, despite the goal change, weekly visits with the birth mother would continue until the final court date.
Following the legal goal change, the Aikens geared up for more paperwork and legal affairs. The Aikens secured a lawyer experienced in three-part adoption; she was a specialist in termination of parental rights, state custody change, and adoption. The birth mom, too, retained counsel, and in August the appropriate motions were filed. A hearing was held in November to set the court date. The Aikens’ lawyer informed them that adoption cases take priority in most courts. However, because the schedules of the three lawyers (the Aikens’, the birth mother’s, and the State’s) and the judge did not align well, the court date could not be set until March 2020. Despite the long delay, the Aikens felt some relief, knowing that there was some progress. The Aikens continued to do weekly visits with the birth mom, who still believed reunification was possible – all parties in a holding pattern until the final court date in March.
Three days before the court date, given the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, the date was moved indefinitely, but in the meantime, surprisingly the birth mom filed her termination of rights, which would make the first step of the final process go more smoothly.
“At least we knew it was basically a done deal,” Justin said, “that we were going to adopt Constance. For me, that was satisfying. For Audrey, she wanted the Is dotted and the Ts crossed.” Understandably, Audrey wanted the judge’s signature on the paper.
The new court date was set three months out—the end of June.
In mid-May, the Aikens learned about remote hearings in the juvenile system, so they approached their lawyer and asked if something could be arranged for their adoption case. The lawyer looked into it, and in less than a week, a court date was set—in person with masks.
Sporting their masks, Justin and Audrey were ready and went to court. The hearing was much quicker than they anticipated, and they gleefully walked out of the courtroom as Constance’s legal adoptive parents!
Advice for future foster parents.
“Going into it,” Justin said, “we knew from the materials we’d been reading, that we would have to deal with trauma. We would have to deal with a child who had experienced at minimum the trauma of separation from their birth parent. We steeled ourselves for that kind of trauma but did not steel ourselves for the idea of the possibility of not being Constance’s parents.”
“It’s not about us,” Audrey said, “but for those thinking about foster care, please know that if it’s really hard for you, there are other people out there like you, and it’s okay. You don’t have to be amazing all the time. Go to classes and learn as much as you can about it.”
The Aikens said that social workers will work incredibly hard for you, but be aware that the foster care system framework feels broken. You may need to be prepared for the long haul in going from foster parents to adoptive parents. For the Aikens, it was a twenty-one-month process.
Type-A persons can struggle with the unknown, and that can certainly be the case in foster care situations. Audrey and Justin commented that personal therapy can be helpful for certain people wishing to foster children. They both believe a good support community is helpful—for them, that support came from Real Wood Floors, The Master’s Craft, and their church.
Justin told us, “The phrase, ‘It takes a village,’ for us, we definitely had more than a village. At times we felt we needed every bit of it. For potential foster parents or those wanting to adopt, make sure you have a good support structure.”
“Your village of people surrounding you might change in the process,” Audrey said, “and that’s okay. You will find your people. Those people who will be there for you and be supportive.”
“Constance is two now,” Justin said, “and she is amazing. We are grateful to have her in our lives.”
“She is healthy and happy and super outgoing,” Audrey remarked. “She’s honing her sense of humor. She is everything we could have ever dreamed and more. We still have contact with her birth mom, which we believe is important.”
The Aikens plan to continue to have an open adoption, so that the birth mom is included. “We know how hard it must be for the birth mom, so like other foster parents, we try to be kind and generous to that. There’s a connection there we want to nourish,” Justin said.
“We are very grateful to Real Wood Floors,” Audrey said. “They have been such an incredible support. They helped us in the beginning, particularly when we didn’t have baby stuff yet, and they were able to give so generously. The people who work at Real Wood have been so kind and loving and have really helped keep us sturdy through this journey.”