I should have known telling the one foster child on my current caseload would be difficult. Remember Lydia from this post and this one? I had to tell her today that I was leaving and she would be getting a new therapist - it didn't go over well.
Her soon-to-be adoptive Mom warned me that she was already reacting to having been at her last day of school today. She'd cried as soon as she got in the car because she missed her teachers and friends - who she'd "never see again". Despite that they all live in the same town and will be at school next year.
But Lydia has lived in over 10 homes in her 7 years of life. So, lets just say she doesn't quite believe in anything you claim will happen "next year". Even though she is in a foster-to-adopt home right now (and has been for the last 18 months), she still struggles with understanding adoption and also wanting to return home to her birth-mom.
I felt horrible when I told her I was leaving her. The tears were automatic - tears that I know have less to do with me, and more to do with the unexpressed grief over a lifetime of losses. No doubt that I am important to her, but I will soon join a long line of people who left her.
I would like to believe I was different. (Enter my social-worker God-complex!) I do really care about her. It took a while and I struggled to figure out how to work with her. But she has come so far and has been so rewarding. I have had to go "above and beyond" advocating for services she needed. I truly feel sadness and guilt about leaving her. I worry about whether anyone else will do the same after I am gone. Will her next therapist see the bright, funny girl behind her somewhat awkward demeanor and horrible school behavior reports? But should I really assume that nobody else felt that way?
Its easy to believe that her past CW caseworkers didn't care when they moved her from home to home for the first 2 years she was in the system. But I saw that same caseworker turn red and cry when she attended her final Child/Family Team Meeting last year (she moved on to the post-adopt unit). Its easy to vilify the foster parents who gave her up after just a few months (or weeks) because of her behavior. But I also know some of those placements ended because DCFS made the decision because of solid reasons such as there being not enough services, too many special needs children, and allegations that much later turned out to be false. And I know that some foster parents have wonderful intentions - but not the resources and support to care for such a special needs child. But that doesn't mean they didn't care about her and worry about what happened to her after she left them.
And there is little I can do to stop her from lumping me in with all of those other people. Chances are there will be another caseworker, therapist, service provider (though hopefully no more parents!) who will leave, and she will recount to them about the long list of people who left her and never looked back. And I will be just one of them.
Of course, I hope and pray that I am somehow able to convey that I care about her, that I will think about her and pray for her, and that she has touched my life. We talked for a long time today about "saying goodbye" and the natural beginnings and endings of certain relationships. I allowed her to see the tears well up in my own eyes and told her that I was feeling lots of hard feelings about leaving her too.
And, I have planned to do a couple things during our last session next week to try minimize the hurt and celebrate the good times we've had together. Most importantly, I hope to prevent her from feeling helpless and worthless and hopeless because this keeps happening to her.
But I can't control it all. And I hate that.
Leaving sucks. I hate that too.