God grant me the courage not to give up my belief in You even when I think the situation it is or seems hopeless.
Everyone in the Indian Child Welfare program knew Robbie as the “Pizza guy”. Anytime Robbie was being moved from one foster home to another, he asked if the new home served pizza at lunch or dinner. When Robbie was taken to tribal court for his six month reviews, he would report whether a home was good or bad on the basis of the level and frequency of pizza served.
Due to Robbie’s attitude and overall appropriate behavior in foster care, Tribal Court never seemed to give much concern to foster children like Robbie. He pleasantly humored the judges and attorneys general each time he came to court for his reviews. With the tribe’s long list of foster children; children in guardianships, and runaways, this kept the court, attorneys generals, tribal police department, and Indian Child Welfare extremely busy to be concerned about a well-behaved 9 year old in foster care.
Robbie was an extraordinarily handsome boy with a fresh All-American boy look that belies his years in foster care. Observers could not understand why Robbie was never adopted. From all appearances, Robbie appeared as the perfect boy for a boy starved country with what appeared no problem child.
What is known is that in some Native American communities is that foster care payments are treated as earned income though it is not. These caregivers exchange their childcare services for money to meet only their personal needs with little concern for the child in many instances. The moment foster care payments are held up for any reason, Indian Child Welfare is called to come pick up the child or daily pressures are applied until the money is forthcoming. Even in situations where the child is related to the caregiver or caregivers, this fact does not matter. Money is what matters. Adoption, in these circumstances, is not an option. Should adoption occur, supportive payments immediately cease and families are left with little or no financial support at all?
Robbie’s foster care placement happened some years before he was even born. Policy from the Federal Court level infused with Congressional law, in an effort to preserve Native American tribal existence motivated what is the tribal child foster care system and the evolution of its institutions (juvenile courts, attorneys generals, Indian Child Welfare, Tribal Police). Prior to 1978, some Native American/Indian tribes reported as many as 80% of their children were in non-Native American/Indian homes. Some were predicting that within two to three generations, a number of tribes’ very existence, culture and individuality would be driven to extinction. Although the Indian Child Welfare law, Federal Courts and Congress ultimately saved Native American/Indian tribal identity with their actions, policy, tribal courts’ response to law, and pressure from some tribal communities leaves children, such as Robbie, in limbo with no permanency or family identity.
Now Robbie was about to be placed in his fourth placement in two and half years. In this new placement, he did not get pizza every day but he had a two parent family with two older boys in the household. Once he got used to the idea of having all these people around to help him, Robbie thought in was in heaven. He loved the new arrangement. It was the first time in his life he had his very own bed, a nightstand, clothes that fit him perfectly and meals he could rely on.
“Every day is like my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he told the Indian Child Welfare worker in an excited tone of voice.
When Robbie talked like that, one would have to believe that some of the children in foster care have a chance at life. Especially when they come from homes with parents who had such serious issues. It is amazing Robbie would gamble on reaching out to anyone at all. One would wonder when Robbie would become angry over the frequent movement or transfers from one foster home to another. But so far, the novelty of pizza and being given this food item on a timely basis appeared to be doing the trick with him.
Then it happened again, two months of failed foster care payments caused Robbie’s heaven on earth to put him out again. As the Indian Welfare worker picked up the two trash bags full of clothes, he put them in the car followed by Robbie on their way to another foster home. Like many children Robbie’s age, on of the foster parents seemed to have told him about God. Or maybe they just took Robbie to church or Sunday school and they discussed the matter of God with him.
So Robbie prayed, but his parents were still no where to be found nor would anyone talk about adopting him. One foster home informed Robbie he had a couple of brothers somewhere out there but he didn’t know them or them him as they never made any contact with each other. To Robbie brothers were okay but pizza a whole lot better!
Robbie could read and write but not very well. He had been in so many different schools that he couldn’t even remember them all. And he had no time to make friends. Just about the time he would meet someone who could overlook his strange habits, mal-fitting clothes and funny laugh or children wanting to be his friend, it was off to another foster placement.
“Hey, Robbie! You’re a mess!” one of his classmates told him on school picture day. And a few of his teachers paid him no compliments either.
“Dang! Can’t your parents do something about your clothes, Robbie? You smell okay but what happened to your hair? Did one of your parents just put a bowl around your head and cut your hair? Gosh, your pants are just too short!”
And somewhere along the line, during the personalized criticisms of his person, Robbie stopped praying and stopped hoping. At the old age of five or six, he had lost faith in himself, his parents and unfortunately God.
Here the Indian Child Welfare worker was trying to work Robbie into a family, a school, and lifestyle he had never experienced. Robbie told the worker that because he refused to go to church with this new foster family, he thought they were going to get rid of him just like the other had done before whenever an issue came up.
“They won’t let me stay here very long. I just know they won’t,” he said. “I’ve made them mad because I don’t wanna go to church with them.”
The Indian Child Welfare worker tried to convince Robbie that God and lots of other people were still on his side and that these foster parents said he would stay with them for as long as he wanted.
“That was weird,” thought Robbie. “If I screw up, I just know they’re going to want me to be gone. That’s the way it’s been. Why do I think it won’t change?”
Foster parents made the situation for Robbie and for any child coming from his life experiences suspicious, fearful and insecure about life. That day Robbie made the Indian Child Welfare worker wonder: “What was it that wounded Robbie the most? Was it the fact hat the basics—food, clothing, shelter—he had never had an abundance of during his formative years? Was it his absent parents? Or was it his failed dreams to have a permanent place to call home?”
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