by Nicole Brennan
After I graduated with my teaching degree, I spent eight months working at a childcare center. I worked with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers on a daily basis. During my time there, five foster kids came and went. Two of them in particular, twins I’ll call Charlie and Charlotte, had a heart wrenching experience before coming into our care. Their story is not unlike what other children have experienced in the foster care system.
Charlie and Charlotte’s mother (I’ll call her Carol) had them at a very young age. Carol and her boyfriend were living with her parents after the twins were born. When Carol and her boyfriend would get frustrated with Charlie and Charlotte, they would lock them in a bathroom. They turned the fan on so they couldn’t hear the twins cry. Although they were a few months old when they came to the childcare center, Charlie was not much bigger than a newborn. The parents favored Charlotte to Charlie and would feed and care for her more. When taken into foster care, Charlie was skeletal.
We were told Charlotte and Charlie would never go back to their parents. However, within a few months of being in foster care, their mother started to get visitation rights. It was winter, and we would have to get Charlotte and Charlie bundled up to go with Carol. I took my time because I did not know how they were going to be treated outside of our care. I remember getting bottles ready while listening to Carol talk to Charlie in a loving tone, wondering if it was an act she would turn off once she left. I’d watch Charlie smile up at her, not realizing what this person had done to him. It was difficult to watch them leave and I would worry about them until they got back.
I thought Carol would look like a monster, but she just looked like a kid. She seemed normal, not like the sadistic person I imagined could ignore her children for hours and let them starve in a locked bathroom. As the visits got more frequent, we were told she would soon be able to regain custody of them.
One of the hardest things about working with children, and I don’t know if I seriously considered it beforehand, is the emotional toll it takes. As an infant teacher, I wasn’t just a caretaker who recorded feedings and diaper changes. I loved the children I cared for and only wanted the best for them. I thought the best for Charlotte and Charlie would be for them to get adopted by their foster family, who loved them like their own children. However, I could only wonder and worry as the visits got more frequent and lengthy.
Eventually, Carol did regain custody of Charlotte and Charlie. When she watched them, she would lay on the couch while she barricaded them from getting into anything harmful. I was told that at some point she realized she would not get financial assistance for the twins and decided to relinquish her rights as a parent. The twins went back into foster care and were eventually adopted by another family.
As a teacher, I am constantly on the outside looking in. I can clearly see the problems, but cannot offer many solutions. I was powerless in this situation and could only watch and hope for a positive outcome. In the classroom, I can manage the environment and the events in my student’s lives. Once they leave, however, my concern is still there. Unlike other jobs where people can turn their professional identities and concerns on and off, the issues I face as a teacher don’t go away when I get home. On Homecoming and Halloween, I wonder about my college students and if they are making the best decisions. On Thanksgiving, I hope my student whose mother left town without leaving any money gets enough to eat. On Christmas, I pray the kids I’ve worked with have something under the tree this year. These things are out of my control, and all I can do is wonder and worry.