Dear Foster System,
Nine years ago, my husband and I didn’t like children. We thought they were obnoxious, rude, gross, loud, and total inconveniences. Six children later, we’ve discovered our preconceived notions were dead on. That actually only scratches the surface of how unpleasant they can be.
But that isn’t all we’ve discovered. We’ve also learned that they are sweet, silly, forgiving, beautiful, snuggly, and wise. We see in them the people we want to be. More than that, we’ve seen that their bad qualities don’t hold a light to our own.
So our hearts changed. We went from disliking children to craving a house full of them. Several years ago, that craving began to expand to children who wouldn’t come from my womb. To children who, for whatever reason, didn’t have a home to call their own.
We live in inner-city Indianapolis. A place where the need for children to have someone who takes time out for them is huge but largely unfulfilled. One of our main reasons to move here was for those children. To give them a second home where they can feel safe, loved, even though they’re just passing through for the day. Our neighborhood “family” is special to us. We get to deeply love children who aren’t ours. So the foster system seemed like a logical direction for us, to get to call a child who needs a new family “mine.”
As we began the process, we soon found out that door was absolutely closed. Our family was too big. Five children (including the children in foster care) is the max to have in your home at a time in Indiana. Oh.
So we explored other options and discovered we could adopt from the SNAP program, the children whose parents’ rights had already been revoked and were “hard to place.” We dove in head first and were certified within six weeks.
Then we began to hear whispers. Whispers that we were still too big, not on paper, but in the opinion of the “people in charge,” people who have never met us. “Six kids is too many,” they say. “You won’t be able to properly care for these children because you’re too busy,” they say.
We also discovered it’s difficult to have a child placed in your home for adoption if you haven’t been a foster parent before. See paragraph five to know why this throws another wrench in for us.
So what we hear is, “Because your hearts are wide open for children, since you’ve loved so many, you’re not really a candidate to love our children well.”
Then we see articles, ads, flyers all over the place speaking of the need for more to step up to the plate for foster care and adoption. And inside we scream, “We want you! We see your scars, inside and out, and we want you! It will be messy, and we want you! You may hate us, and we want you! You may be obnoxious, rude, gross, loud, total inconvenience, and we STILL want you!”
But we can’t have you. Because we have too many children already. Because someone somewhere decided that the magic number was five. Because there must be something written that describes why having five children is doable but six is too many.
So can we plead with you? Will you be bold and erase your preconceived notions about us? Will you stop seeing us as a number and look, really look at our family to see if we’re the kind of home that fosters love, laughter, forgiveness, structure, vulnerability, open hearts?
The woman who did our home study did. At the end of the study, she confessed to us that she was ready to disapprove us because we already had six children. But she said, “You’ve changed my mind about big families. This is the exact kind of home where children need to be placed.”
You do a fantastic job trying to help the world see that these children aren’t outcasts but beautiful people worthy of love. However, you’ve made us into outcasts, believing we’re not good enough to love others.
So we ask you to change the system. We ask you to take off the number limit. I know that’s messier and harder, but this is a messy process anyway. We ask you to instead look at each family dynamic. Yes, yes, I know that’s what you SAY you do, but I’m asking you to really do it. Don’t even allow yourself to know how many children are already in the house until the very end. Look at the parents, at their capabilities, their personalities, see if you become cheerleaders for them as parents and want nothing more than to place children in their home. THEN look to see the amount of children already there. If, for the sake of the specific child being placed, it truly wouldn’t be a good fit, then don’t move forward. If, though, you simply think that’s too many and we won’t be able to give the attention we need, look back at how you felt about us before the number. Then look to see our history with the six, how we have a whole lot of crazy in our house and are still crazy enough to want more. Look at the dynamics in our home in spite of being “too big.” We ask you to see that if a parent is begging you to place a child in their home because they feel as if their hearts are bursting, they might be able to handle it.
Our family is exceptionally imperfect. We wrong each other every day, we say things we shouldn’t, we get frustrated and angry, and by God’s grace we keep being spurred on to love each other in spite of it all. It’s messy, every family is regardless of size, and we’ve grown to love messy. Will you allow us to get messier, to love those children you’re pleading with the world to love? Don’t your ads on TV encourage parents they don’t have to be perfect to foster/adopt? Will you see us as the Bells instead of a family of eight? Will you take a chance?
Courtney and Bill Bell
*Additional note: This is a letter to the foster system. Because we made it public, we realize it may come across we don’t support this system. We absolutely do! We believe the men and women who work for these children do so tirelessly with little thanks and little pay, and they do so because they truly care for the children. The number limit is there because they believe it’s in the best interest of the children, not because they’re trying to make things more difficult. We’re simply asking that the system judges families on more of an individual basis instead of disqualifying us simply based on family size. We desire to partner with the system and go to bat for these kids.