‘He said, ‘Mommy sad.’ We wouldn’t see our son again. The truth was, he was never ours.’: Child abuse survivor advocates for foster son ‘no matter the cost’

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“As I sat quietly preparing to say yes to him, I was reminded of the conversation I had with Him. ‘Lord, use me no matter the cost.’ What I did not realize was what this journey would cost me. The woman I once was would be forever gone. I knew the trauma that comes to saying yes to kids of abuse and neglect. I have carried those scars myself, as a child abuse survivor for 30 years, but even all those years of abuse would never prepare me for saying yes to kids in the foster care system.

As we drove out of town that Friday on vacation, my phone rang. This is the normal of foster care, doing moves before the weekend. I knew the number because they had called a few times before and I had saved it. Truthfully, I wanted to save it because I wanted to have control and never be caught off guard by the request that would be asked on the other side. We had already said no a few times. Their stories, the little pieces I could get in a few minutes of their trauma, the reason for removal, how many (because normally they come in pairs or more), how long–which I laugh about now because they never know really how long or short a child in will remain in care.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

We requested older kids. We had two biological kids already in school full-time, and my husband and I were both self-employed running a business. We figured older kids were a better fit. In this season of wanting to say yes, we were also enjoying the freedom of investing in our marriage, and well, a baby did not fit into that.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

If I’m being honest with you, I didn’t want a baby because of a dream I had a few months back. In that dream, I saw a little boy being taken away from me and while I prayed to break for others, the truth was I was not ready. I feared the vulnerability. I feared facing old scars of abandonment and abuse. In those moments, that fear was overcome by peace and so I answered the call.

‘Hey, Bonnie, I’m from Child Welfare. We have a little boy who is a year and half old here that needs placement.’ My heart raced… a little boy. ‘I’m sorry, we’re actually heading out of town right now so we’re unable to take a placement.’ I knew babies are easy to place. Everyone wants the babies, so I quickly followed up my last statement with, ‘But if on Monday you’re still needing placement, give me a call.’

I did what was asked. I said yes and at the same time, held my breath that whole weekend until Monday when we never received a callback. On Tuesday morning, my phone rang. It was a new number that was not saved. ‘You know how we called you about that little boy on Friday? Well, he still needs placement. He was just in a temporary home over the weekend.’ I knew this was the little boy God showed me and I knew this journey would be life-changing, not only for him but for me and my family.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

My husband says I fell in love with him as soon as I held him. Day by day would go by and before we knew it, we have loved over 27 kids in care over the last 5 years. Each ‘yes’ broke us because each ‘yes’ allowed us to see this broken system in different ways, a system that talks about protecting kids and doing what’s best for them when in reality, the laws protect the biological parents and their rights more than the kids or the foster families serving them.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

It’s been three years and that once-little boy who was once a stranger to us has now become my son, my kids’ brother, and the missing piece to our family. We watched for years the ups and downs of what this broken system does to kids. The expectations of visits on a baby and toddler, and parents disappearing for a year to just show up right in time of an important court date. Our voices were not being heard. For years, we rode the roller coaster and supported reunification. That was our goal until that goal was no longer what was safe or what was best for our son.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

I had started to lose my voice, my ‘why.’ We said ‘yes’ to kids in care because we wanted to advocate for what is best for them, no matter the cost to us. I started to silence my voice because I was scared to lose my son. I had been warned by other foster parents and I have read the stories of retaliation, but no one ever thinks these things will ever happen to you. I decided to speak up more. I called out workers on lies. I informed supervisors our worker needed a chaperone in our home. I filed complaints on people breaking policies, and I shared our journey with anyone and everyone who would listen in our community and on a social platform. I talked about legislators making laws with no real understanding. We talked about caseworkers that had ego and power issues, using a broken system for their own agenda, and I started to remind other foster parents we had to remember our ‘why.’

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

We can no longer say we are advocating for what’s best for the kids in our homes or in foster care if we are no longer willing to risk it all for them. The change will not happen unless we really start educating others in what saying ‘yes’ to kids in our community means. For years, that dream would replay in my head. I always thought one day, I would have to hand my son over to his mommy. I would break, but my breaking for him and for her would be worth it.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

February 1 hit and we were pushing fast forward towards adoption. We saw light at the end of the tunnel. As soon as I saw them in my driveway, my stomach sunk in. My hands started to shake. As I asked myself why they were here, my heart and body already knew. That dream and those same feelings came flooding back in over me. As I opened the door, the worker we had issues with was there and so was our assessment worker.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

I hit the ground as they said they were there to remove our son. They had found an assessment on me for physically abusing our son. My body wanted to break into a million different pieces. My brain was trying to process what was being said. We would never see him again. We had no right to fight for him because the truth was, he was never ours. As my body and brain tried processing what I was feeling and what was being said, he stood there in front of me, telling me, ‘Mommy sad.’ I told myself to pull it together and be strong for him. ‘I’m not sad, buddy. Mommy just loves you.’ I bounced around trying to hold onto my son, prepare him for a move, and process what was really going on. That we would never see him again. That our adoption would not happen.

My husband came rushing in from a job he had just started that day. ‘Ohhh God, my kids are at school. Are you guys going to let them say goodbye to their brother?’ I sat on my knees in front of our worker, begging her to allow my kids to say goodbye. She finally said yes. I watched them walk him to the car and as soon as I closed the door, I fell to the floor.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

My kids’ goodbye to their brother was in a cold DHS room where I had to tell them to push their feelings and tears down, to keep it together because this was the last time, they would see him. To get everything they could out of that 5 minutes. I watched one son get ripped from my life and I watched my daughter and son break apart because of my ‘yes.’ As this played out, I remember repeating, ‘Use me no matter the cost.’ These words I prayed for years I was truly living out.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

In the month to come, I would speak out to anyone who would listen. DHS Uppers, state representatives, governors, media outlets, lawyers who told me I had no rights to him, his lawyer who fought for us, CASAS, community members, other foster parents. I knew my chances of ever seeing my son again were not likely. I knew I was not the only foster parent in my state or over the country who had been silenced for far too long. I remembered my ‘why.’ I would advocate for them, no matter the cost to me. We say yes to vulnerable children because the risk is worth it, but I should be properly educated on that risk. I’m a survivor of my child abuse because a stranger in my community stepped in and spoke up.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

I may have lost a son who would grow in my home but he would never be lost in my heart. Other kids in care deserve to have other foster parents like me who are willing to remember their why and willing to risk it no matter the cost. This journey allowed me to find a voice I had lost.

I’ve learned to love others in ways I never thought I could.

I’ve learned how to give grace to bio parents in the hard of addiction, recovery, and a generational broken system.

I’ve learned your ‘yes’ can break you, but it can also rebuild you into something better

I’ve learned in your vulnerability you allow others to know they are seen.

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

When I remembered my ‘why,’ it allowed me to focus on what was important, not the loss of our son, not the truth of individuals manipulating a system, but what is important and what you are willing to risk. I was willing to speak up and out and hold a broken system accountable. A month later to the date, March 1, our son was back in our home. After spending 1656 days in foster care, he became our forever son.”

Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen
Courtesy of Bonnie VanDusen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Bonnie. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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