Over the years we had 35 foster children, all boys except for one girl, and she was the last. Let’s call her Jane. When we met - and my memory is a little hazy because this was over 40 years ago - she was about to turn 11 and I was 29. She lived with the family next door and I saw her come and go every day to school and back.
One afternoon I was sitting on our porch, watching the boys play with our dogs when she approached shyly and asked if she could sit down. I said sure and scooted over. We talked a couple of minutes. She told me she was in grade six. She had flawless brown skin and long straight black hair of the area’s Indigenous children. She was a beautiful child, but she was dressed in shabby, outgrown, threadbare clothing, and there were holes in her cloth shoes. I knew the children of the family next door were well-dressed in the latest fashions, and felt anger rise in me. They were paid to take care of this child, not to take advantage of her.
“What grade are you in?” she asked, “I’ve seen your brother (referring to Ian, who was nine at the time) but I haven’t seen you at school.”
I could hardly keep from laughing. “I don’t go to school. Ian - there - and the little one - Zak - are my sons. I’m little, but I’m a grownup.”
“No WAY!” she said. “I thought you were just a kid!” And we both started laughing. After that we talked almost every day, and I’d help her with her homework, because she was far behind her classmates.
A few weeks later I was having a cuppa with her foster mother when she remarked she was tired of fostering and was sending Jane back. I asked who the agency was and got the number and worker’s name. The woman discouraged me. “You don’t want her,” she said. “These Native kids are nothing but trouble.”
I went home and called the agency. It took about 48 hours for our application to be approved, and Jane made the short journey to our home. She brought her clothes in a brown grocery bag. Every garment she owned was too small, she was tying her panties on by poking holes along the top and threading string through the holes. Her socks were too small and full of holes. I was furious that no one from the agency had been paying enough attention to see that she was being neglected.
I called the agency and told them I was taking her clothes shopping and I would send them the bill. And then we went shopping. For the 1st time since she’d been in care she got an entirely new wardrobe, from underwear to school and play clothes and several pretty dresses to wear to church, and shoes for each occasion. We had a ball.
As Christmas approached we learned that the families that she’d been with had never included her in the celebrations. She never had a Christmas gift, or a birthday gift. Tony’s Mom and brother came for Christmas loaded with gifts for all three kids, and we made sure she got as many gifts as our boys did. She was *ours* and we loved her, and treated her as we loved and treated them.
The years passed, we moved 1,200 miles from where she was born. She grew into a lovely young girl on the edge of womanhood, and in the US my mother became terminally ill. We wanted to go spend her last months with her, because she’d spent practically no time at all with our children.
We arranged to formally adopt Jane, who was now 16, but the Province had never secured formal guardianship of her, and her biological mother refused to allow the adoption. What’s more she demanded Jane be taken from our home and placed in a culturally appropriate home. It was a blow to our hearts. Zak was only two when she came to us. He didn’t remember a time when she wasn’t part of our family, nor did her understand that she was not his biological sister. Her departure was like a death to him.
We kept in touch for a couple of years but one day a letter came back, “Moved, No forwarding address”. We tried everything. We wrote everyone who knew her, the agency, went to the tribal office, all to no avail. Once we got the Internet I started looking, still no luck.
Then, I thought, the last letter we had from her she’s given birth to a baby boy. I started looking for him, and I found him. He told me where to find her. The result was, after a year of correspondence, a very sweet reunion and many happy tears. She, her daughter, and her little grandson came to see us over the weekend and I’m so proud of her. She's gone to college, she has her own business, she’s a strong independent woman in a long-term stable relationship, and I feel so blessed to have been part of her life. I love her so much.