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By Jennifer Tessier-Williford

Being a foster parent is like being in the Wizard of Oz

It may be because our first foster child arrived like the tornado that blew through Kansas and swept Dorothy to Oz, or it may be because I have felt a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West sending out flying monkeys to get things done, but being a foster parent can make you feel like you have landed in Oz and are searching for the great and powerful wizard to grant your wishes for courage, heart, and brains.
When you become a foster parent you have these dreams and ideas of what will arrive on your doorstep in a few fears, just like when Dorothy looks out into the tornado and sees Miss Gulch fly by on her bicycle. You know it could be bad, but when you open your door to a child standing before you, or the social worker hands off an infant, you fall in love with the adorableness of the munchkinland you are in. The Technicolor experience draws you in, and that happy moment is one you will hold onto as tight as Dorothy held onto the ruby slippers. But as fast as the house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, your world may be shaken. It may not be another Wicked Witch coming for revenge; it may be a tantrum of epic proportions, as it was in our house. It might be a social worker coming to reunify the child with a home you were sure the judge would rule against at the 72-hour hearing. The Wicked Witch of the West in your home may even be you as you fight against your friends, family, schools, and the department to do what in your heart you know is right for the child you have agreed to parent, love, and fight for.

Brains, Heart, Courage

Along the way you will meet some characters, as Dorothy did on the yellow brick road. Some you will take with you as you journey, because they, like the Scarecrow, are searching for brains. But as he learned at the end of the movie, he had them all along as he guided Dorothy on her quest, just as your lawyers, the department lawyers, and even some social workers will be guiding you. Some days you wonder if their heads are full of straw, but in the end you'll realize they had brains after all.
As you continue toward your Emerald City, which is of course permanency through adoption, you will then come across your Tin Woodsman, who is searching for a heart. But like the Scarecrow before him, he shows the group what it means to have a heart. In reality your Tin Man could be like ours, the Court Appointed Special Advocate. These volunteers work with the families and the courts to be a voice that mediates and supports, without judgement. They look at the case and advocate for the child and families, with the biggest hearts I have ever seen. Your Tin Man could also be a therapist — yours or your child's. The therapists help teach your child how to accept feelings they have never experienced, like happiness and joy, as well as learn to handle the hard feelings of fear, loss and disappointment. Once you find your oil can, you can move toward finding the last friend on your trip.
Dorothy had the Cowardly Lion looking for courage. You will have your support team: your friends, family and anyone who is brave enough to allow the Department of Children and Families to dig into their background, take their fingerprints, and have their house inspected just to do what most families take for granted. When these brave souls open their lives for the department to take your child for an afternoon or a blessed overnight, giving you a break from the stress and strain, they will face as many fears as Dorothy and her friends did in the Haunted Forest. You will just be grateful for a dinner without a kiddie menu, and a few minutes of peace with your spouse. Be careful though, you may end up fast asleep as Dorothy did in the poppy field.
Once you reach your Emerald City you will find that adoption may be as big an illusion as the Great and Powerful Oz himself. Sometimes permanency for the child ends up being with a family member that you never knew about; sometimes it is with the birth parents because they have turned their lives around; and sometimes it is an open agreement that brings biological family members into your life in a way you never expected. You might not have to throw water on any evil witches to have an audience with the Wizard, but once you have found yourself in Oz, you will realize that Glinda was right: you had the power all along. You made it through all the obstacles on the yellow brick road and came out at the end with friends, a team to support you, and more brains, courage and heart than you ever knew before.

You and your child will be able to click your heels and know that there is No Place Like Home.

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