Thursday, September 4, 2014

Path to Permanancy

Ever since we were told that M was legally free and that we could "begin the adoption process" I have been Googling phrases like "adopt from foster care" and "timeline to finalize adoption" in a desperate attempt to find information about how long to expect this to take.

Unless you arrived here using the same source -- or have been through this yourself -- you might not know that the results were not helpful.

Most of the "articles" I found were vague or focused on people who aren't even fostering yet, so their "timelines" included an undefined time to be matched with a child or get licensed. Most of the blogs I found were waiting for parental rights to be terminated or waiting out an appeals process. So, I thought I'd add my own story, atypical as it may be. The reality, which I knew already, is that it's just not possible to give a "typical" timeline. Every state has different laws, every county has different policies, every judge has different personal quirks, and every case has different nuances. All those things affect the timeline.  But here's ours, so far.

We aren't final yet, so this will have to be updated regularly.
  • M came into care, in March, at age 5 weeks. She came directly to us from the hospital in which she was born.
  • When she was almost 4 months old, her mother began failing her weekly, not-even-random, drug screens.
  • Shortly after that, in early July, her mother signed a surrender of parental rights.
  • In August, her father also signed a surrender of rights. Around the same time, the DNA results came back, confirming that he actually is the biological father, so no search is necessary.
  • In late August, M is officially "legally free." At this point, M is 6 months old and has been "in the system" for 5 months, although she probably would have been in care longer if she'd been able to leave the NICU sooner.
  • DFCS has assigned us an adoption case worker and her foster care caseworker will transition all files to the new one by early September.(I suspect this has already happened.)
Our "next steps" are as follows:
  • Get fingerprinted again. (Mine are done; Mr D's have been paid for and he just has to find a time to get to the site that does them, only during business hours, of course.)
  • Get updated physicals for all of us -- That is, both adults and all 3 biological children. (appointments are scheduled)
  • Answer some questions about why we want to adopt, how we will handle any special needs and how the permanent kids feel about the plan. (Done)
  • All the above are our part of adapting our current foster care home study into one that certifies us as a potential adoptive placement. One we've done all those, the foster agency is responsible for writing it up and sending it to DFCS. (Foster agency tells us that their goal is to be done with this by the end of September.)
  • Get an attorney. (We have a couple names that have been recommended to us; we've left a message for one.)
  • Answer some questions for the person who writes the "Child Life History" for DFCS. This will include everything that they know about M's life so far, including any family medical history that they are able to get from her biological parents. My hope is that those parents will be fairly cooperative, since they chose to surrender their rights, but we'll just have to see. We've done our part of this and the person writing the report said we'll get a copy and it should be complete in a week or so. 
  • Wait to hear from the assigned DFCS caseworker. We hear good things about her, but have not heard from her yet. 
So, as is often the case in foster care, we're waiting. All the pieces we know we need to do are completed or in process to be completed. What I still don't know is how long we wait....

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Where Is Your Mind?

Overheard today, as Edmund lay on the floor next to M.

Oh, no! Don't touch me there!

I looked over to see what he meant. He didn't look at me, but he kept talking to the baby.

That's the bottom of my foot and it really tickles!

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.