We also got to visit Rowan this weekend. We hadn’t seen him in the flesh since he stayed with us at Christmas. Well, the last time we’d seen him was when we handed him off to the staff of his residential treatment center on the morning after he’d come back from running away and then I sat in a restaurant and cried and hoped it wouldn’t be the last time we saw him.
Rowan’s grown a few inches and put on some weight (which is a good thing!) and is muscular though still slight after his summer of manual labor. One one of his running-away escapades with his new foster family, he got a tattoo, but for an ill-advised and tacky tattoo a 15-year-old would choose it’s really not so bad. He was relaxed and happy and all three of us had a good time, as did my brother and dad when they were hanging out with us.
We did get a chance to tell Rowan about Russ, and he was much more excited than I’d expected. He thought it was great we’d have someone in the house and said he was happy for Russ. Later, he asked me if he could be adopted to Russ’s state and how that would work. I told him that realistically, our state doesn’t seem very good about sending kids to other states. They’re not great about finding adoptive homes for teenagers, period, though his best friend from the RTC is no longer on the photolistings, which makes me think his last placement (to be adopted by a former foster family) worked out. And realistically, Rowan is a spectacular kid and we adore him, but he looks pretty scary on paper and I don’t think there’d be a lot of families jumping at the chance to take him in.
I was sort of surprised to hear Rowan talking about adoption in such a casual way, since he’d been strongly opposed when we talked at Christmas and even more recently I’d heard him mention that the only right he felt he had was to refuse adoptive placement. We’d already told him that we’ll keep our foster license open until he turns 18, and he didn’t seem surprised by that. (I think it’s a good sign that he takes us for granted, actually, and that he’s got some specific future plans with each of us for this fall.)
What did surprise me a lot even though I’ve thought about it a million times was that Rowan asked me if we would adopt him. He said that’s his preference, that he likes us and has planned to live with us again whenever he leaves his current placement. He doesn’t want his current foster family to adopt him because he doesn’t like the rural location and especially because they’re a family that does use corporal punishment for kids who are not in foster care, which is one of his automatic disqualifiers. He doesn’t really want to have to go to a family of strangers, but I don’t think he’s choosing us just by process of elimination. Being in this foster family has clearly been good for him, but it’s also made him realize what he prefers about the way we live.
We talked to him about what kinds of things he’d have to do if he lived in our family (going to counseling, learning to deal with his anxiety, not having the kind of freedom he wants) and about how little we control about the decision on where to place him. He understands that he’d legally be Lee’s child and he was fine with that. We are not a household that uses corporal punishment, nor do Lee and I hit each other, and he says he believes this. He’s seen that we’ve made a commitment to him in a way that no one else has and we reiterated that wherever he goes, that commitment won’t change. I think he believes that too.
So, yeah, now I don’t know exactly what to do. We don’t want to back out on Russ, especially now that he knows about us. His worker and our worker both know that if Rowan needs a home, we’re committed to being that home. He does sound like he’d get along with Rowan, but in my dream version of how all this could go, before I’d even known Rowan was interested, I’d thought we could have Russ move in this fall and then maybe Rowan would be ready for a change to our custody after the end of the school year or something, the start of 2011 at the earliest. Now he’s asking if he could be with us by his birthday in October. I told him almost certainly not and explained that we don’t know that there are plans to move him, but apparently his worker has been telling him he needs to move to a home where he can transition to adoption after his parents’ rights are terminated, whenever that happens.
Maybe I’m being absolutely ridiculous in saying that we could handle two teen boys, one of whom (Russ) is 16 and one of whom (Rowan) will be within a few months, both of whom are in the 11th grade but have serious academic delays. I do think in a non-obvious family like ours it can be a plus for a child to have a sibling who’s living the same experience. We’d always talked about how if we did end up with an adoptive placement we’d certainly consider doing a second adoption. I just didn’t expect to be doing them practically simultaneously.
I don’t know what the rules are for any of this. I haven’t talked to anyone except Rowan’s ex-worker Angela about it (and she’s thrilled, because she thinks we’re great with teens and she’s always wanted Rowan to end up back with us permanently) and so I don’t know what any professionals are thinking. After Russ is placed with us, the adoption finalization won’t happen for another six months. I have no idea what our state’s rules are about how quickly you can finalize another adoption after that, but I do think they’d at least consider placing Rowan with us just because they don’t have other options for foster homes for him, let alone prospective adoptive homes.
Rowan is used to living with other kids, to having to share space and time. He and his brother were sort of a unit in the family home, and then he was bounced from one RTC to another until he ended up at the good one where he stayed a year and shared a cottage with a group of other boys. Now he’s in a foster home where again he seems fairly connected to the other young men in the home. Maybe having a sibling of sorts would actually be less stressful for him than being an only child, having all the focus and attention from us on him.
And then there’s Russ, who is even more parentified than Rowan after doing a lot of the work of raising his younger siblings. Apparently in his current home, Russ tends to boss around the younger kids in the home but is good with his age-mates. But is it fair to Russ to have Rowan around if we already love and know Rowan? Shouldn’t he get a chance to have some time where he’s singular and special too, especially since an adoptive placement can be such a difficult transition?
So I don’t know what’s going on. Lee and I have talked and talked and talked and our inclination is to tell the workers that we’d like to adopt both of them eventually. Since Rowan isn’t even free for adoption yet (although that’s his official case goal and there’s really no chance he’d go to family, in part because of the criminal cases and in part because his family members have made official statements that they don’t want him back because he’s doing the right thing and testifying) I think it’s fair to assume that the process of getting through TPR and then the official adoption placement period before finalizing an adoption would take significant time.
I guess I need to email some workers today, especially because Rowan’s worker is visiting him this week and I don’t want her to be blindsided by the information that he talked to us. I hope she and our worker can advise us about what we should be doing and how we should be treating everyone fairly. (And as an aside, since we all know I love asides, we’ve also been talking a lot about how “fair” isn’t going to be a useful term since Rowan and Russ have different strengths and different histories and since both of them differ significantly from their classmates who’ve been raised without the disruptions they’ve experienced.) But we’re working on this, and sooner than I’d expected.