In honor of May being National Foster Care Month, Strengthening Families, Changing Lives is running a special series designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of foster care and adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
Our Journey with Anna
by Robert and Renata Winterrowd, Colorado foster parents
When we first began the process of becoming foster parents, we weren’t really sure what to expect. We knew that we wanted to expand our family, but little did we know what the foster care system had in store for us.
After several years of trying unsuccessfully to expand our family, we turned to the state to help us with it. We spoke with several agencies that work with foster care children and originally thought that we only wanted to do the “safe” foster-to-adopt way. I guess somewhere in between the paperwork and the training, we decided that we definitely wanted to do temporary foster care cases, as well. Our hearts were leading us that way and we gladly followed. What an amazing journey we were beginning and we had no clue about it.
We were handed our license in the beginning of August 2012 and, one short week later, we were doing a respite case. Two weeks after that we received our first placement. I will never forget how excited we were and how ready we thought we were. Our family had been through the training and we had done the research. What they don’t tell you is that these cases aren’t as easy as one may think.
August 28th was our D-day. That call came in around 11 am and of course we readily accepted. All they could really tell us was the child was a little girl, she was Caucasian, and she was four years old. The case worker was there by 1 pm and I couldn’t answer the door fast enough. We were READY! I will never forget that day. I opened the door to see a wide-eyed little girl standing there with a social worker who was hanging on to her for dear life. We were told she was a “runner” and that she had some minor things going on.
The look of pure confusion, frustration, and anger was written all over this little girl’s face. The case worker introduced her to me as “Anna.” They both stepped inside the door and, when it was closed, the case worker released Anna’s hand. All heck broke loose after that! Man, oh man! The case worker assured me that she would adjust and, when she did, things would get better. She then handed me a plastic grocery bag that contained two changes of clothing and three diapers, and left.
When the worker left, I remember standing there staring at Anna and Anna staring at me. All I could think was, what do I do now? Before I could take a step toward her Anna took off up the stairs and to the top of the landing where she threw herself on the floor and screamed so loudly that her whole body shook with exhaustion. She was angry and she didn’t know any other way to express herself. I sat down next to her and waited for her to finish. I could tell that she didn’t know how to take me. She was trying to get a feel for me and I wasn’t allowing her that read right away.
Anna eventually calmed down. I called the agency to tell them that we had her at home and then packed her into the car to get diapers, wipes, and sippy cups. She wasn’t ready and I wasn’t ready! The store sent her into sensory overload. Even five short minutes of being in there was too much. I scooped her up and checked out as quickly as possible. I needed to get her back to the house where she could calm and relax. Anna’s body was taking a huge hit that day. Too many changes too quickly.
When we got back home, I offered her lunch because I wasn’t sure if she had already eaten. It was like watching a lion devour an antelope. She ate so quickly that it made her sick and she threw up. I got as much off of her as I could but then decided that a bath would be a better idea and a quicker way to get her clean. I WAS SO WRONG!
I ran the water and added bubbles. She wanted to watch the bubbles and I remember thinking that maybe bubbles were something that was familiar to her. Anna gladly undressed and when she did I was very aware of the skin condition that covered almost all of her. Eczema that looked like third degree burns. I lifted her up to put her in the tub and it became a battle. She fought with every ounce of energy she had. She was genuinely terrified of the water. She saw it as a punishment and not as a good thing. I took her out when I realized what was going on and then had her stand outside of the tub so I could bathe her without putting her whole body in the water. She allowed me to do it that way, even though she wasn’t happy about it.
My husband arrived home shortly after our two biological kids got off the school bus and, when he walked in, Anna went immediately to him. There has always been something about him that children love and I was so grateful that he was there. I gave him the rundown of what had happened, and we were both baffled. We couldn’t comprehend what kind of environment that she came from that could cause her to be almost like a wild animal. The visitation supervisor once referred to her as feral.
The next couple of days were filled with tantrums, over-eating, being withdrawn, and very unpredictable reactions to very simple things. Saying that it was like a roller coaster ride is an understatement. It was more along the lines of an earthquake combined with a tornado topped off with hurricanes.
Two days later, the case worker came out and all the questions that we had were answered. We were told that there was no food in Anna’s home, the home was filthy, she was neglected severely, and was separated from her brothers. Anna was dealing with more in her short four years than most people have to deal with their entire life. The case worker soon left with the promise that she would have Anna evaluated with a worker from the state.
The evaluation took place a few days later and the worker was floored at Anna’s reactions to things and the depth of her issues. She kicked, hit, and spit on the worker when she wasn’t throwing things at her and the whole time screaming at the top of her lungs. The worker later classified her as a severe trauma case.
Many things happened the months following. Anna wouldn’t let people touch her, she wouldn’t allow us to comfort her, and she continued to have anywhere from 10-20 meltdowns per day. We were even escorted out of the back door of the doctor’s office because her behavior was so out of control. The whole time we continued to remind ourselves that her behavior was a result of the environment that she was in previously.
Now, seven months later, she bathes without tantrums and even plays with her water toys and pretending that she is swimming. Anna is now down to maybe one tantrum daily on a good day. She also expresses herself with her words and allows us to hold her and hug her. She now knows what affection means and, once she had that figured out, she became the biggest cuddle bug! She has come a long way, but she still has a long way to go.
We didn’t expect to really learn new things. We just thought that we would be the ones helping her and teaching her things. Now we see that, throughout this process and trying to help Anna, we have become better parents and we have learned to have an open heart regardless of the situation. We can’t tell you that there weren’t times that we were ready to say we can’t take it anymore. But, with Anna being in our home, she has enriched our lives and she has shown our bio children what happens when some children aren’t lucky enough to have parents that love them and adore them. We have all grown because of this one little four-year-old!
What an amazing journey this has been so far.