Having provided therapeutic foster care with KidsPeace in Maine for seven years, Betty Ann Wilder certainly understands what goes into developing a solid transition plan for a child leaving her home, and the various obstacles that can derail the best plans. The most recent transition for a child in her care clearly illustrates Betty Ann’s unwavering commitment to great teamwork.
L. moved into the Wilder home in April 2016 on his fourth foster placement. At just shy of three years old, L. was the youngest of the four kiddos in the home at that time, and was a quite challenging bundle of energy — diagnosed with asthma, suffering regularly with nightmares and being terrified of the bath, and lacking key language skills. It took months to acclimate him to the home and family.
Several times throughout his three-year stay with her, Betty Ann found herself looking for yet another childcare/preschool option, as L. was acting up so much that he was being sent home early on a regular basis or being asked not to return at all. There was a period of time where Betty Ann would accompany him on any outings or field trips just so he would be allowed to go. Fortunately at the time, she was working from home and had some flexibility to accommodate the intervals of extra supervision needed or days when he had no place to go. She would find herself up late into the night trying to catch up on the work she was unable to do during the day!
For the first year, there were reunification efforts made; there were regularly scheduled visits with his mother as well as additional visits with siblings who were placed in other foster homes within the agency. At times these went well and at other times L. would have very difficult behavioral issues following the visits. Many months passed as the outcome plan was being assessed, and then a court decided it was best to terminate the parental rights of L.’s mother.
Betty Ann walked L. through this very difficult time, as he grieved the loss of his mother and the focus changed to finding him an adoptive home. Naturally, Betty Ann was asked to consider this but she determined that she was not a permanency option due to where she was in her own life; she has three children as well as aging parents who will undoubtedly need her. Betty Ann clearly understood the extensive needs of this child, and with that in mind she committed herself to actively participating in any efforts necessary to ensure that a solid plan would be made focused on L.’s best interest.
An adoption worker presented an interested candidate, Amy, who currently lived out of state. Betty Ann was able to have communication with Amy on various occasions; she felt it was very important for this person to fully understand L. and what his needs were. They began to have regular contact via phone contact and Skype sessions…and a great working relationship emerged. Betty Ann opened up her home to Amy as a “family friend” so that Amy would be able to get to know L. and observe his day-to-day life with three sisters who cared deeply for him, a family dog who was near and dear to him, and a foster mom who was his biggest advocate. Betty Ann and Amy were both involved in all aspects of his routines as well as the other children’s lives (the family was used to having supports around their home as they have worked with KidsPeace staff off and on for years), and additional family members were introduced through Skype visits while Amy visited Betty Ann’s family in Maine.
Over time, Betty Ann began to hand the reins of parenting L. to Amy. The Wilder family included Amy in all of the seasonal activities so she would experience some of the things that had become important to L. over his years with them. They went sledding at his favorite hill, ate ice cream at his favorite spot, and went to the pond that had come to be a special place for him. This way Amy could have a clear understanding of his “family traditions”. This was done in a very mindful way so that his fond memories can continue to be special for him long after he becomes adopted into his new family… to serve as a symbolic bridge from his past to his future.
As the months rolled on, this family friend was becoming someone very special to all of the family members. In February, Betty Ann and the kids spent the vacation week doing activities near Amy’s home. In March, Betty Ann and the girls went to Florida and Amy came to Maine to spend time with L. and allow for him to be in the comfort of his surroundings as opposed to going on respite. Amy was supported by the KidsPeace team just as Betty Ann typically was. In April, the family went back to Amy’s area for a few days and did a variety of activities together and in differing combinations of kiddos. L. and one of his foster sisters stayed overnight at Amy’s home and they all met up together for an activity the next day. This allowed for L. to ask Amy the tons of questions about the things that are important to her and how she lives her day to day life.
By May, an extension was granted to allow L. to finish the school year before the big transition. It was decided that over the Memorial Day weekend L. would be told of his impending move and upcoming adoption by Amy. The reaction was as expected; L. was elated yet sad. There was what appeared to be an appropriate balance of both. Betty Ann and Amy agreed that a mindful, unscheduled period of time was needed for them L. to make family memories, say his good byes, and slowly pack up his belongings — keeping in mind that there would likely be a bit of a natural push / pull that he would need to go through around this new information. L. moved to his new home with Amy in July.
Betty Ann, Amy and L. obviously are the main characters of his story, but there are many others who were also key to the successful outcome. Betty Ann’s family, Amy’s family, the DHHS caseworker, the individual therapist, and the KidsPeace Family Consultant have all worked in harmony to support this entire process. It was truly touching to see the level of commitment, dedication, and professionalism put into this transition plan. This young man is surrounded by so many people who took the time and made such efforts to ensure the best possible plan could be implemented for his future. Much happiness to L. and Amy…and WAY TO GO, TEAM!!!
Bobbi Gagnon is a Family Resource Specialist with KidsPeace Foster Care in South Portland, Maine.