It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, and the reason is because I’ve had trouble putting into words the immense amount of heartbreak we’ve experienced this past month. We had our first long term foster care youth placed in our home, a boy from Somalia. The first few weeks were a blur- doctors and lawyer appointments, school registration, buying new clothes, decorating his room, learning to cook foods he would eat- and just when we thought that things would start to get easier, he ran away.
While we still do not, and likely never will, have answers to our many, many, questions, we do know one thing- our current political environment influenced our foster youth to run. He now know that he fled to Canada where he could find the safety of a country that welcomes others like him and does not discriminate, deport, and provide opportunity based on country of origin, skin color, and religion. As an African, Muslim teen, I can only imagine the fear in which he interpreted the daily news of hateful, xenophobic, and Islamophobic actions by citizens and leaders in our country.
It’s taken me weeks to have the courage to put this story in words. When he left our home, David and I were paralyzed with fear- was he kidnapped? Was he dead? We cried all day and worried all night for days on end about his safety and whereabouts. We also questioned our parenting decisions and the quality of life we could offer. A terrible question of self doubt lingers- are we such bad foster parents that our first youth would run away from us?
We were blindsided by his actions and are still coming to terms with what happened. I’ve replayed a single memory over and over in my head- a few days before he ran, he showed me an article about 67 Somalis being deported from the U.S. and talked about the uncertainty of his future as an undocumented Somali. I assured him of his safety and that with the support of lawyers, we would do all that we could to get his paperwork soon. I question if I should have offered more words of safety and security or if I should have recognized that his bravery and independence was masked in fear.
The tragic consequences of this experience are many. For him, it’s heartbreaking that he felt so fearful or unwelcome that he fled from the U.S. to Canada. For David and I, we have questioned whether we can be foster parents in this program for the long term. I have doubted my own instincts (did I miss any signs that he planned to run?). I also fear that I will not be able to trust another youth in the program with the same open heart that I did the first time around. For our country, it’s tragic that our leadership is so blatantly discriminatory, especially towards Muslims, to the extent that refugees are fleeing from the U.S. to Canada in search of safety (See "Fleeing America" and "Refugees Flee Trump's America" and "It's Just Too Dangerous" ).
We have also witnessed immense Islamophobia both in our local law enforcement and elsewhere; when he first disappeared, I was told by a police officer to alert the FBI because he’s likely a terrorist due to his religion and country of origin. This was not an isolated incident; family members and others have also warned us of the dangers in fostering a Muslim youth. These horrible reactions, and complete lack of empathy and understanding have outraged us; it’s baffling that in times of chaos, people’s hate prevails.
The good that has come out of this experience is learning about wonderful, supportive individuals, and communities. The local mosque has been open, helpful, and offered comfort during our times of despair. Our friends and most family members were incredibly supportive with their words and actions. We're incredibly thankful for our community's support and comfort.
We're now at the point where we can try to be foster parents again. We know that there will be challenges, that our expectations for the youth and the program have changed, and that life most certainly does not go as planned. This weekend, we will welcome two boys into our home for short term respite care and will revisit being long term foster parents again in the Fall. We appreciate your patience and kindness as we continue to heal, learn, and grow as foster parents and individuals.