At first he tried to fit in, like a teen trying to fit into the cool crowd – giving up pieces of his own identity. Angel talked about things he thought Shannon and Brendan Casas, his new foster parents, would like, such as college football. He didn’t talk about his family much or what he liked to do or eat. He also thought he was going to be adopted and asked Brendan if he could call him dad.
“We were upfront with him and told him the goal was for his mother to work on her problems so their family could be together,” Shannon Casas said.
Meanwhile, his sister Ani struggled with leaving her biological mom.
“When she came home from visits with her, she would crawl away from me on the bed and cry if I tried to change the clothes her mother had put on her,” Shannon said. “It was challenging emotionally, but I tried to recognize her feelings were legitimate and I didn’t push her.”
Shannon and Brendan had started fostering the year before, in 2014.
“We knew the need in the community was huge,” she said. “We have been trying to get pregnant for years but we thought that at least in the meantime we could put our two spare bedrooms to use.”
Because Shannon and Brendan were willing to foster, it meant Angel and Ani having an available home in their own county. Angel was able to stay in his same school, and the children were able to frequently visit with their biological mom.
“They signed him up for soccer and his biological mom was able to attend those soccer games,” said Tyne Jackson, their foster family consultant. “So even though the children were ‘removed’ from bio mom, they were able to continue in the routines of life due to being in the same county and school system they were in prior to removal. Even with the language barrier, since bio mom is Hispanic and knows little English, Shannon and Brendan were able to communicate with her about how the children were doing and made the process of reunification easier.”
For Shannon and Brendan, keeping the biological parents involved was important.
“The goal is to reunify the family, and the more involved their bio mom could be, the better, so long as that was safe for the children,” Shannon said. “At first, the kids had supervised visits, which has been our experience with most of the children in our home. Once unsupervised visits were allowed, we invited their mother (and father) to Angel’s soccer games. We and Ani would sit with her mother. Their father would give Angel pointers on the field. I think visits like these with the kids keeps the biological parents hopeful and working toward reunification.”
In May 2016, after seven months in care, the children returned home.
“Seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces when we moved them back home made the bittersweet end more sweet than bitter,” Shannon said. “This experience seemed to follow a sort of best-case scenario. Everyone worked toward the goal of reunification. We were able to provide Angel stability by keeping him in the same school. Frequency of visits wasn’t hindered by distance. Unfortunately, I think much of that is rare in the system.
“From the outside, it’s easy to judge biological parents. Most have screwed up one way or another or else they wouldn’t be in this situation, but they often haven’t received the support or resources they need to make better choices. Parenting is hard. Doing it by yourself on a limited income is harder. Doing it by yourself on a limited income with plenty of your own baggage is harder still. None of this is excuse to neglect your child, but supporting the biological parent toward a healthier version of their family is good for them and their children.”
For Shannon and Brendan, who have now fostered eight children – four sets of two siblings – they don’t regret becoming foster parents at all.Their FaithBridge Community of Care has been a huge asset, providing respite when needed. They’ve been able to go out of town when needed or take vacations without the children.
“Our advice to others who are thinking about becoming foster parents? Don’t let fear get in your way. These kids have way more to be scared of, especially when they don’t have loving foster parents to step up for them,” Shannon said. “It’s hard. It’s messy. But it’s pretty unlikely you’ll look back and wish you hadn’t loved a child.”