When Reunification Isn't

I took two year old Jay into the nursery this evening for his jammies and story. Matt was already there with eight month old Jason. Jay saw the baby and began to laugh and crow happily, trying to jump from my arms. Matt set Jason in the crib. As soon as Jay was changed, he leapt from my arms to climb in the crib with his brother, yelling, “Hi, hi!” as he kissed, patted and hugged the baby.

2011-07-31 2011-08-02 001 032 (535x800)Much of our day looks like this, Jay loving on the baby, the baby smiling and cooing back. We even call Jason “your baby” when we’re talking to Jay. When a child is in foster care and a new baby is born needing to go into care, the baby is placed with the sibling whenever possible. This is what happened with Jay and Jason. The system recognizes the sibling as the closest relative after the parents.

Watching these two bond, I understand the reasoning. They get to be true brothers. They share a room, stories, and toys. Jay sits on my lap and “helps” spoon feed Jason. But, watching them together gets harder every day. Because as they draw closer, the end draws nearer. You see, while we are adopting Jay, Baby Jason is being reunited with a birth parent soon.

Funny that tearing two siblings apart should be called reunification. Funny that moving a baby from his home of eight months to put him with someone he has never lived with should be called reunification. Isn’t reunification about putting things back together, not tearing them apart?

Let’s look at another set of siblings: Meggie’s birth mom had seven children. She made adoption plans for three. The other four were in and out of foster care and were finally being adopted by their foster parents, foster parents with whom they’d lived for two years.

Enter birth dad. Meggie’s brother Nathan is twelve. He went through countless foster homes before the current one. He never lived with his birth father, but the father decided he’d like to give parenting a try. (I guess he was finally ready after twelve years.) So, the court took Nathan from his three siblings and his adoptive parents and “reunited” him with his birth father.

It all makes me think: Should the parent-child relationship really take such precedence over the sibling relationship? What if you take into account all the things that got the child taken away in the first place? The fact that the parent and home need to be deemed “minimally adequate” for reunification to occur? And if the parent-child relationship does indeed take precedence over the sibling, then in cases like these, is forcing the siblings to bond when you plan to tear them apart even ethical? Why develop that bond, if only to cause pain and separation? I know that we say it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but is that true of a two year old about to lose his baby? Is it true for my other children? Is it true for me?

I know that the answers to these questions are murky and don’t matter anyway; no one in the system gives the pretense of pursuing what is best for the children. We are all very well versed in the fact that it is all about getting the kids back with the parents in all but the absolute worst cases.

But, it does make me think, and a deep dark part of me wishes that the birth parents would walk away, would see that it’s not in the children’s best interest to be torn apart. Then I wonder what I would do. Could I walk away, if it would give my kids a better life? Could I walk away so that my children could be together? Can I expect another very broken person to make a choice that I won’t ever face?

For tonight two small boys sleep contentedly in their cribs. And I am especially grateful for the day they had together, because I know there may not be many more.

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