Monday, August 18, 2014

Legally Free

M is legally free for adoption.

The DNA results finally came in and they were positive; Putative Father is the biological father. So, that simplifies things.

Both parents have surrendered their rights and the period of time they had to change their minds has passed. The fact that they surrendered the rights "voluntarily" (as opposed to going through a Termination of Parental Rights processes in the courts) means that all extended family have just had their rights terminated as well. There is no appeal process to that. As far as the court is concerned, M has no family members of any kind and never did. (I'm having some trouble coming to terms with that last part. They were never her family? Even the half-siblings and any aunts/uncles/cousins that we might not even know exist?)

We have announced our intentions to adopt her to the caseworker. An adoption caseworker has been assigned and we will begin working with her next month. (I'm sure the current caseworker can't wait to hand us off, anyway!) The agency caseworker has worked with her before and has glowing things to say, so that's reassuring. She will tell us more about the timeline moving forward. We're told to expect 3-6 months for finalization.

We've told the kids and close friends and family, always emphasizing that nothing is ever final in foster care until the judge says it is. It is final that M will not be going back to her birth parents; it is not final that she will stay with us as her forever family. Here, though, I can confess that it is about as final as it can get. We asked for some worst-case-scenario ideas on how it could not happen. The answer? Pretty much, if we mess up big time somehow. If we don't file our paperwork, if we refuse to cooperate with a new homestudy, if we don't agree to be fingerprinted (again), if she gets hurt in our home and has to be removed.....I know that last one can happen even if we don't mess up, but there's no one fighting for her to be anywhere but here. She's never been anywhere but here and the hospital.

The Originals are excited, the grandparents are thrilled, some friends are plotting a baby shower. Mr D and I are still slowly moving through the emotional phases of this process. It's just really hitting us that this is real; she won't be leaving us. We're so used to supporting reunification and sending the kids "home" that there's a period of grief necessary for us. We're nearing the end of that period, I think, as we begin to think about names and dates and plans going forward.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Again?

Our caseworker is...

I don't know how to finish that sentence. She's incompetent? She's delusional? She's learned nothing from the fallout after not communicating BioMom's surrender? I'm trying really hard to imagine scenarios that make her choices seem understandable, but my (generally very good) imagination is running out.

We're well past the time when the DNA test results were supposed to be back. And the county caseworker (what did I name her again? "Meg") is, yet again, not speaking to any of the rest of us. (By which I mean she's not responding to me, the agency caseworker, or the CASA.) So the agency caseworker ("Anna") is attempting to find things out in other ways.

In the process of doing that, Anna called the biological parents' house to see if they knew anything about the DNA results.

Putative Father was puzzled by this call because...he signed a surrender at the beginning of the week. FIVE days before this phone call took place.

Anna called me, frustrated and angry and embarrassed. She said she felt like she'd just "rubbed salt in the wound" by asking him if he'd heard anything about the DNA results yet. Yet, it never would have happened if Meg would tell anyone about important developments in the case!

There's just no excuse for this. It's not like she has to actually call and talk to one of us. She could send a quick email or text message if she doesn't have time to discuss it. It wouldn't have to have names or identifying information that would mean anything to anyone else if she's worried about confidentiality on an email. ("Putative father of child in <mylastname> home signed surrender of rights on x date. Has until y date to revoke surrender." -- that took me about 3 minutes to type.) But to not communicate it at all....!

Putative Father has until late this week to revoke his surrender, but Anna did not have the impression that he was even considering doing that. That means that M is "legally free" at the end of the week.

Unless, of course, the DNA says he's not the daddy and then we have to wait out a search. Wish we knew what the DNA says.

Anna was going to call Meg's supervisor to let her know what a disaster this lack of communication is. And all future emails will copy the supervisor. At this point, I just can't wait to get assigned an adoption worker from the county and not have to work with Meg anymore.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Morality

I had an interesting experience yesterday. Well, I thought it was interesting at least. :)

I was school supply shopping with Peter. We had M with us, in her car seat, which I had set down in the basket of the cart. (Aside: when the Originals were babies, I did that thing where you put the car seat up on top of the cart, where the child seat is. I never thought anything about it; I needed the space in the basket for all the groceries! But after Edmund outgrew that carrier style car seat and I was trying to decide what to do with it, I noticed that the plastic near the hooks that latch into the base had white streaks, as though it had been bent near to breaking. So, with M, when the nurses in the NICU were insisting that I not attempt to latch the carrier on the seat part of the grocery cart because it can damage the latching system...I listened. She goes down in the main basket, and we fit the things we are buying down around her.)

We checked out and were back out at the car. I joked to Peter that we were about to find out if we accidentally stole anything as I picked her up to put in the car. Oops. We did.

 A pack of index cards and a protractor. Total cost: about $2.

I thought -- for about 2 seconds -- about shrugging my shoulders and going home. It was hot. M was tired of being in the car seat and getting hungry, so she was cranky. It was past dinnertime and Edmund and Susan were waiting at home. But, I had Peter with me. And I had just pointed out to him that we didn't pay for these items.

So, I carried M and the $2 worth of school supplies back into the store and paid for them.

What is interesting to me is this: I am certain that going back and paying for the items was the right thing to do. I am almost certain that I wouldn't have done it if Peter had not been with me. Apparently, I am a more moral person if I have an audience.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Round and Round

M's mother had her final visit. Beforehand, the supervisor confessed she'd never done a "goodbye visit" before and was a little apprehensive of how things would go. Well, in addition to wondering if the parents would actually show up this time....

They showed up. And it was....odd. The supervisor said it was just like any other visit, except for a couple comments made by M's mother that showed she understood what the surrender meant. (Specifically, a comment was made about "I know I'm not her mother anymore"...Just typing that breaks my heart.) She sent us some expired baby food.

We're still waiting on DNA results for the supposed father. They are long overdue, but the county's Powers That Be have decided that DNA testing will all be done "in-house" from now on, so they didn't renew their contracts with any of the providers that used to do the processing for them. But they haven't trained the staff on how to actually do it in-house, so there is only one office that is processing all the DNA requests for the entire county for any governmental reason. (That is, it does parent-child DNA matches for foster care, but also for custody disputes and child support cases and anything else that a court might be involved in.) Guess what? They're a little backed up. Sigh. (Why is it so hard for a government agency to make sure the tools for a new procedure are in place before cutting off the option of using the old procedure? It's called a "transition strategy.")

So, mom is legally out of the picture and on record as saying that she would like M to stay with us.

Dad is still in a holding pattern.

M is nearly 6 months old and we still don't know for sure who her daddy is.

Welcome to foster care. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Actually, I wasn't pregnant...

I had a routine doctor's appointment today.

I took M with me, because she's portable that way. I forget, sometimes, though, that she looks enough like me for people to assume that I'm her biological mother.

The nurse checking my vitals and updating my chart asked if I was following up with my OB. I said yes because the OB who delivered the Originals is also my GYN and I have regular appointments with her; I still tend to think of her as an OB, even though I know that means pregnancy related stuff. Later in the conversation the nurse asked if I was breastfeeding. I was startled at first and then stumbled out, "Well, no, I....she's....um. We're a foster family?"

The PA who did the rest of my exam read over the notes and asked a few more questions. Then she asked about swollen ankles and bleeding and then paused, looking at the chart, and asked how old the baby was. I told her and she still looked puzzled. It only occurred to me to elaborate because of the conversation with the nurse. "I didn't give birth to her. We're a foster family." The light bulb went off and the PA corrected the chart to say I follow up with my "OBGYN."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Three years

Today, it is exactly 3 years since my first blog entry posted.

It's actually been a little longer than that since we started this journey. (Confession:the first several posts were all scheduled. I wrote them all within a day or two, but knew I might not have much else to say for months to come since we didn't have a placement yet, so I spaced out the posting of them.)

There is a pretty good chance that M will be our last placement, at least for some time. Our agency imposes a "hold" on any family for at least a year following a birth or adoption, to ensure that the "new" family has time to solidify and find their "normal" before bringing the uncertainty of foster care back into their world. We don't know if the "year" starts the day the adoption is finalized or the day the child moved in or what. At any rate, after that year, whenever it starts....we'll see. When we started fostering, all our permanent kids were in school full-time and our acceptable age range was "younger than our youngest." If we stick to that, it would become "younger than M", which would limit us to babies. Perhaps we will do that. I'm not sure about taking on another infant, though, especially while caring for a one or two year old. Perhaps we will maintain our license, but only do respite for other families. That's too far down the path to think about yet.

If M isn't adopted --- if somehow, after all of this, she's returned to family -- we will need a long break to heal from the roller coaster. Right now, that seems unimaginable. But DNA test results are still unknown and potential fathers and paternal relatives have yet to be investigated. Anything can happen. Especially in foster care.

A lot has happened in these 3 years. Much of the foster stuff is included in these archives, but not all of it. Many things that weren't foster related have happened as well, as life swirls onward, regardless of what other plans we had for those days.

In 3 years, we've had 11 "bonus" children come into our home -- for hours or days or weeks or months at a time. We've had at least 7 that might have come, but didn't. Of the ones who did arrive at the door, 10 of them have moved on -- returned to family, or back to their long-term foster placement. The 11th is still here....and might stay forever.

In 3 years, we've had children from 4 counties. Boys and girls, siblings sets and single placements, babies and preschoolers and elementary school age children. Most of them looked enough like us to be mistaken for biological children, but not all of them. Some of them called us Mom and Dad, some called us by our first names, some didn't speak enough to call us anything at all.

In 3 years, we've learned so much....and realized how many things we have yet to learn. We've learned: no one knows how long they'll stay, some caseworkers are better than others, the turnover in DFCS is unreal, and you never know what the judge will actually do. We've learned that we can handle more than we thought when it comes to disruptive behavior, but that some things we thought we could do forever, we really can't. We are so grateful that we learned that with a child that didn't need to stay forever.

In 3 years, we've come to understand how important reunification truly is and how to accept that. We've learned how to attach not just to the children, but to their parents, so that we can truly desire that a family be kept together, not just believe in the theory in our heads. We've learned to love them hard while we have them and then let them go. We've learned to really feel that reunification is the happy ending we all want and to rejoice in it. We are currently struggling through the disappointment that is case that couldn't reunify. Right now, we are grieving the dissolution of M's original family; the joy of M's forever home won't come until the adoption is final. 

Part of me never thought we would be doing this for three years. Mr D and I both thought we would be done fostering when an adoption came through. Perhaps that is still true. But, naively, we never thought it would take 3 years for that to happen. We may have thought that because the first two calls we got were for kids "likely to be TPR'ed." And yet, I think that the placements we've had in those three years have helped us grow so much stronger in our faith and in our empathy and in our understanding of the big picture. God's plan for this time in our lives is so much better than ours was. (Isn't it always?)

We've watched our Originals grow up so much in these three years. Peter was always a good "big brother", but he has become a young man with a deep love for little children. He's so much more comfortable with preschoolers and toddlers than most boys his age and it's a delight to watch him go to get M when she's fussing and I can't get to her right that second. Susan has matured as well, and her heart for missions is strong. The ups and downs of foster care haven't dented her faith that God can use all things for good. Edmund is still goofy and silly and loves to make the little ones laugh. He rolls with the constant change of his place in birth order (He's the youngest, then he's not, then he is, then he's not....) They all rush to greet her when they come home and delight in making her smile or giggle. Somehow, in spite of all the coming and going, they are always eager to welcome the next placement, often well before Mr D and I are! It will be interesting to see how they react to the concept that M is staying. I think Peter suspects -- he's been asking questions about the possibility ever since visits started getting missed. (We haven't told them yet -- we won't tell them until all parental rights are legally, officially, nobody-can-take-it-back terminated and we can tell them what the time-line and process is for the adoption.)

It's been a busy, crazy, dramatic 3 years. I don't know what the next 3 years will bring, but I never would have believed these 3 would happen this way if I'd been told ahead of time. Sometimes, we just have to let go of that desire to know and follow the path God lays out for us. It's a good one, even if can't always see it at the time.