The importance of family can never be underestimated, especially during the formative years. Sarah, a Georgia native, would no doubt agree with that idea, and in early 2017 she was in the process of taking a foster child into her family home. However, she faced a coldhearted custody court hearing to discuss the boy’s future. And, when she shared it on social media, Sarah’s account of the painful episode prompted a powerful response from the internet.
In March 2017 the Child Welfare Information Gateway published a sobering statistical report on the number of fostered youngsters for the fiscal year of 2015. The U.S. government agency’s document estimated that more than 427,000 children were in the foster-care system on September 30, 2015. In addition, only 30 percent of these young people lived with relatives, while 45 percent found themselves in foster homes with people unrelated to themselves.
Nonetheless, the report showed that the on-going requirement for more foster parents is glaring and great. Sarah and her husband were alerted to this need when they were drawn into the foster care system while investigating their options for adoption. However, after doing some research on foster-to-adoption cases, the pair found that they were unable to ignore the problem. “Once you see that need you can’t unsee it,” Sarah told online parenting resource Scary Mommy in April 2017.
The young Georgia woman continued, “You see the faces and hear the voices of children in your town needing safety and stability and love, and it starts consuming your thoughts.” Indeed, Sarah was so inspired by her experiences that she created a Facebook community page called “Foster Your Heart Out” in January 2017.
And the social media site clearly resonated with its online audience, earning almost 36,000 likes and more than 37,000 followers. However, Sarah was under no illusions when she made her first post, noting the difficulties she might face by taking a closer look at foster care. “Welcome to our journey,” she wrote. “I can’t tell you how it will end.”
But the post did not finish there. “I can’t promise it’s a happy story,” Sarah continued. “I am not a writer and it might get a bit choppy at times, but I have to share my heart. This is a real look at foster care in the U.S.” And while Foster Your Heart Out continued to grow after that introductory post, the Georgia native’s family followed suit, adding a new face to their home.
Sarah is the biological mother of two toddlers, nevertheless, she and her husband still felt the need to foster a much older kid. With that in mind, they welcomed a 13-year-old boy into their family. However, the family and their foster son faced a heartbreaking situation in April 2017, following a very difficult hearing in court.
Troubled by what she heard that day, Sarah later took to her Facebook page to write an impassioned post on how the teenage boy was treated by the judge. “Court today,” she began. “I had to keep my hand on something because it was shaking. They all spoke like it was a legal procedure and nothing more. No compassion.”
According to Sarah, the judge said, “Does anyone want the child? Are you sure? Nobody? Okay, we will be back in a few weeks and finish paperwork.” These off-hand comments understandably angered the foster mom. Sarah wrote, “Said ‘child’ is a boy I care very much about. A boy sitting next to me hearing every word. A boy who is trying to wipe away the hot tear rolling down his cheek.”
From there, the mom expanded on her claims over a lack of compassion for foster children in the U.S. “We ask them to act like respectful members of society,” Sarah went on. “But we drop them off at strangers’ homes with everything they own in trash bags and then have them sit through court hearing that would shake any adult.”
Indeed, it appeared that Sarah herself had been thoroughly shaken. “[Foster children] have to hear nobody wants them or the few people that might are not fit,” she continued. “Then we drop them off at school to handle these emotions. And shake our heads when they are expelled again. We tell them to stay out of trouble and label them as bad kids for outbursts of anger and frustration.”
While she clearly found what happened to her foster son highly problematic, Sarah ended her lengthy post with her take on one of the biggest problems facing the U.S. today. And the summation was as strong as it was succinct. She concluded, “Why are our juvenile jails full? Because our custody court rooms are empty.”
Sarah published the post on the Foster Your Heart Out page on April 4, 2017, but surely she could not have predicted the immense response it provoked. Indeed, her frustrated Facebook words would eventually earn more than 60,000 likes and 61,000 shares, and attract almost 5,000 comments. Within a few days of the update, Sarah’s upsetting story had gone viral, resonating with millions of internet users.
Unfortunately, however, just as she herself suggested in her opening post for Foster Your Heart Out, this particular story did not have a happy ending. The court finally decided that the teenage boy – known only as “C” – could not stay with his new family, much to Sarah’s dismay. She broke the news in early May 2017 by making an update to the post that first caught the online community’s attention.
Sarah began by being blunt, saying, “After 30 days I had to have C removed from my home.” She then continued, “There is so much more to the story but the point is this; teens in foster care need us. I am unable to be a foster mom to teens but I am finding ways to be involved with C and others. I encourage you to find a mentorship program and be the person that stands by teens as they endure the hardship of foster care.”
Nevertheless, Sarah had received some very good news before losing C. Her family was allocated two foster-care babies in mid-April, so she will have had her hands full. However, despite her joy over this new beginning, Sarah could not help but look back at the way C’s time with her family ended.
Once again, she turned to Facebook. “Our chapter with C was short,” Sarah updated her Foster Your Heart Out followers. “I pray that these babies are with me long enough for me to love them. Long enough to feel my love. I pray that if a goodbye comes it won’t be like the last one.”
While Sarah continues to campaign for children and teenagers in the foster-care system, she has also called upon other people to do the same. Whether it be donating money or gifts, becoming a foster parent or simply helping out those with a foster child, Sarah encourages her fellow citizens to lend a hand.
Addressing the U.S. public through the Scary Mommy website, the foster mom urged, “These kids need you. They need your small, messy house. They need your busy life and your fruit snacks. They need to hear your terrible singing voice in the car. They need to see you right where you are.”
And Sarah had certainly tried to do all this for poor C, but unfortunately she was unsuccessful. No doubt she will try again and again. Her heartbroken Facebook post, with its unflinching account of her foster son’s courtroom ordeal, resonated with millions of online users. Although it became a viral hit, the experience was bittersweet as her powerful message did not prevent the teenager from being taken away. Here’s hoping that Sarah’s call stirs some of those viewing millions into action.