Monday, February 9, 2015

"Out of Birth Order"

Cherub Mamma made a good point a while back about the question of what age ranges to take in as a foster parent when she said that someone's birth order is going to get messed with no matter what. (Unless you don't have any kids in your home at all, I suppose.)

I've thought about that because we have always had that as our general guideline for placement ages. "Younger than our youngest", however old he may be. For me, it wasn't so much about not wanting to go "out of birth order" as about not wanting to foster an age I hadn't parented. Although I know that foster-parenting a child can be (and usually is) wildly different than parenting a child you've raised since birth, I still have this sense that I would have no idea what to do with children older than the ones I bore. I wouldn't know what was "normal" behavior and what were red flags. There were so many times with the preschoolers we had here where I had to keep insisting that their behavior was not "normal" in order to get help for them; if I'd never had a child that age, I don't think I would have been so certain that I was seeing things that go beyond "normal." So, that would put us at "younger than our oldest." Our three birth children are less than 5 years apart, however, so mixing in ages older than the youngest but younger than the oldest has a high likelihood of making artificial "twins."Especially when you throw in the details that Edmund (the youngest) is a year ahead in school -- so the school year gaps between the Originals are all the same (They're currently in 5th, 7th and 9th grade.) -- and that Susan (middle) is on the autism spectrum and therefore sometimes behaves as "younger" than her chronological age.

Our first long-term placement was L & O and worked out that way. L was almost exactly 1 year older than Edmund. However, they were both in the 2nd grade during the school year that she was here. It was a disaster. L was not comfortable not being the "oldest"; she was used to being "in charge." She could handle not being in charge of the kids who were clearly older than she was, but she expected, maybe even needed, Edmund to bow to her authority. He wasn't having it. He knew she was "older", but they were in the same grade, so he saw her as "equal." They butted heads all year. Our take-away from that experience was that having two kids so close together didn't work well for us.

I also found, working with L and later with D, that I have much more patience with a frustrated, out of control child if they are preschool age or younger. I don't cope well with an elementary school age child manipulating me. Even though I know, intellectually, that it's really no different than the 3 year old manipulating me. Somehow, on some level, I have trouble letting go of the idea that someone is "too old" to behave in certain ways. Not fair to a traumatized child for me to take that out on them!

So, "younger than our youngest." M, at not-quite-a-year, is certainly younger than Edmund!

Of the Originals, Edmund's spot in the birth order has fluctuated the most. He spent 6 years as the youngest. R & A came briefly and Edmund was 3rd of 5 for that day, but it felt more like a play-date than a placement. Then they were gone and he was youngest of 3 again.  L & O came and he was 4th of 5, but also kind of "tied-for-third." (I think it was really the uncertainty of their places that made that so hard.) Then it was back to youngest of three briefly before S & D came. He was 3rd of 5 for the couple of weeks D was here, then 3rd of 4 for a long time. Summer before he went to 4th grade, she was gone and he was the youngest again for several months. Then N came and he was 3rd of 4 again, with a bigger gap than ever. When N left, he was back to the youngest. Then M came and he's 3rd of 4 again and will be for the foreseeable future. Whew! Quite a whirlwind! One of the first things he said when we told him would be adopting M is that he was excited about it because he likes being a big brother.

So, where do I ultimately come down on the "out of birth order" question? Solidly in the middle. I think this is one of the many parenting decisions where it really comes down to knowing yourself and knowing your kids and making the best decision for you. For us, only taking placements younger than our youngest was the ideal arrangement. If we were different people with different kids? A different decision might be the right one. I know a young foster couple that has no birth children and yet has fostered teens successfully. They worked extensively in youth programs before fostering and were very comfortable working with traumatized teenagers, in spite of having no personal experience "parenting"; the husband told me he didn't think he could handle working with kids who couldn't verbalize their wants and needs, so preschool and younger were off the table for them. They knew their strengths and weaknesses and set their guidelines accordingly. So did we. Ultimately, that's what I think all foster parents should do. Be honest with yourselves and your caseworker about what you do well and what you don't; know your limits -- but don't be afraid to push yourself; remember that what works for others may or may not work for you.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Closed

We met with our agency caseworker this week for her "post-adoption visit."

We've worked with this particular caseworker -- off and on -- for the nearly entire time we've been fostering. (She came on as a new hire when our very first caseworker went out on maternity leave during L & O's time with us.)

It was bittersweet. It was good to talk with her and visit and chat about M and how things are going one last time, just like we've done twice a month for all these years. It was strange to realize it was the last time.

We told her we were closing our home "for now." Both Mr D and I felt compelled to justify the decision -- it's no longer the best thing for Peter and Edmund to share a bedroom, so we no longer have a spare room; "younger than the youngest" would now mean another newborn and I can't handle the sleep deprivation while keeping up with the super active M; adjusting our age range to go "out of birth order" and take older than M would mean a high risk of dealing with behaviors I'm not sure I can handle right now either; we're thinking in terms of my returning to the workforce when M is in school full-time. She didn't push. She understood perfectly. We all agreed that we might consider signing back on when Peter goes to college in 4 years, even if it's just to be a respite-only family, but at that time we will have to take all the introductory training classes again. I don't know if we'll do that or not, but foster care is full of never-say-never moments, so I won't say it here.

And that's it. We're done. It's slowly hitting me that this huge part of our lives is over.

Sometimes the revelation moments are exciting. M fell down this morning and smacked her forehead pretty hard on a plastic toy. My first thought, when I noticed the red mark turning into a small goose-egg? I don't have to document this. There is no need to take a photo, write up a narrative of how it happened and send it to 3 people. I also don't have to wonder if it will have faded before the next family visit.

Sometimes they are just startling. M's first birthday is coming up and people keep asking me what we're going to do to celebrate it. (We'll keep it small -- some family, a few presents, cake.) First birthdays are really more for the family than the child (other than the pictures for the child to see years later), so I'm having to wrap my head around the idea that we're the ones who get to choose the best way to celebrate it. Last year, we had N for his first birthday. We didn't celebrate it at all. I lobbied the caseworker to get his family visit rescheduled slightly to be on his birthday so they could celebrate him as a family. M's birth family is not currently stable enough to have in her life at all, so it's really all just about what we want. Weird.

Sometimes they are a little sad. Susan hadn't realized we'd be closing the home. I heard her talking to M about how someday there would be other kids coming and going and she'd learn how to be a great foster sister. Having to explain to Susan that we are done with this ministry "for now" was difficult, especially as she initially understood "for now" to really mean we were going to start up again as soon as there was space in the house. Susan is my deepest thinker about faith and service and she has soaked up having the opportunity to share her home, her family and her love for God with children in need. It was hard to tell her that it was over, whether she wanted it to end or not.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I could not make this up

Everything about M's adoption is final. We've been to court and have certfied copies of the adoption decree. We also have her amended birth certificate and her new Social Security card with her new name on it. She's been added to Mr D's health insurance through his work. We're released from state inspections and rules about babysitters. It's all done! Peter -- nearly 15 and adored by M -- has babysat for us 3 times already!

But the tentacles of The System are still reaching for us.

We've gotten no less than 5 pieces of mail for her since the adoption was finalized, all with her new name, all insisting that she still has health coverage through the state. We now have a Medicaid card and a separate Medicaid HMO insurance card (2 of those actually). She doesn't qualify for any sort of adoption assistance, including Medicaid. (Sidebar: These are the first insurance or Medicaid cards I have ever received for a foster placement. Every time, I'd get asked for their Medicaid card at the first doctor's appointment and I'd have to explain that they don't give it to me. But, now? Now that she shouldn't have one? Now we get one.)

When we got the first letter, I though it was a mistake and that I could surely get it sorted out on my own. (Why have I not already learned better?) It was the first Medicaid HMO insurance card, so I called them. The nice lady on the phone insisted, "Oh, no, it says here in the system that she qualifies." She told me to go ahead and use it as secondary insurance to cover our copays. (Note: we have no copays for well-child visits.) I told her we weren't seeing the doctor she'd been assigned as her PCP (since it was not only not the doctor we've been seeing under this exact same Medicaid HMO during her entire stint in foster care, but was located over an hour away and on the other side of a major metropolitan area); she switched the provider and sent us a new card. So, I guess one of the cards is my fault.

I contacted my agency caseworker and the adoption caseworker with the county to say, "What the hell?" The agency caseworker has no idea either, but can't do anything to fix it. I'm sure we are at the very bottom of the county caseworker's priority list. (As we should be. People who are getting a benefit that they shouldn't and probably won't actually use much if at all? Yeah, that's certainly not going to light a fire under anyone.)

What frustrates me the most about this is the colossal waste of time that's on display here. Someone is going to have to spend time to get this resolved. Most likely, that someone is one of the people who has so much on his/her plate right now that cases are dragging out longer than necessary or kids are getting returned who shouldn't be or not removed when they should. However, I have spent as much time on it as I intend to spend. I have notified the caseworker that I have the cards and have been told to use them, contrary to what I understood when we signed the adoption paperwork. I have given the card to the pediatrician and told them that I didn't think she should qualify, but was being told she did and they were welcome to try them if they liked. Personally, I think my pediatrician is awesome and she's one of the few in the area who takes Medicaid patients because Medicaid pays so slowly and so poorly. If someone's mistake gets that office a few extra bucks to make up for the many Medicaid visits they've waited for months to get their pittance, well, I'm OK with that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Intent to Adopt Question

Sometime last month, someone came to this blog while searching for the question "Can dfcs change its mind after you sign intent to adopt?"

 I skimmed through my archives and I'm not sure I explicitely answered that, so I thought I'd do so now, just in case someone is still looking for the answer.

Keep in mind, however, that I'm not an attorney or a child welfare professional. I've only been through one adoption from foster care in one county of one state in the US. But I'll tell you what I understand to be the answer to that question based on what I was told by attorneys and child welfare professionals when we were finalizing M's adoption.

The short answer is: Yes. Yes, they can change their mind after intents are signed. It's not final and forever until the judge signs the adoption decree on the adoption finalization date.

The longer answer is: It's not likely. When you sign intent to adopt paperwork, DFCS is declaring that you are the chosen placement for this child. If the caseworker is still deciding between multiple placement options, you won't be signing that paperwork yet. We were told it wasn't final, and we asked what could happen to derail the process at that point. Basically, if an abuse or neglect complaint were to be filed against us, causing DFCS to have remove the child. I suppose it's possible that a previously-unheard of relative could show up at that point, but the chances of that would depend on the specific case. M's parents had signed away their rights. According to our county caseworker, that action terminated the rights of all extended family members as well. If one of us had been charged with a crime that made DFCS question our fitness to be parents, they could have retracted the placement.

The signing of the intent to adopt paperwork is the last step -- other than getting assigned a court date -- but nothing in foster care is ever final until the judge says it is.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Forever Family!

It is done!

Final and forever and ever and all over! (Except for some of the legal changing-of-paperwork that can't be started until after it's all final. Like adding her to our medical insurance and getting her name changed with the Social Security office.)

When we got to court, the agency caseworker told us it was "family day" and it was all adoptions and divorces with all three of the judges in Superior Court for the day. It was the last one on the calendar before the end of the year and they were trying to squeeze everybody in. They had about 10-15 adoptions to finalize and then would start the over 50 divorce cases. A judge had told her they'd be there until 8 or 9 that night finalizing divorces. So, when the judge started our case by commenting that this was one of the few "happy" cases she was going to get to do that day, I knew exactly what she meant.

The lawyer swore us and the caseworker in, then asked us a few questions. Did we understand this was permanent and forever, with no returns or exchanges? Were we prepared to care for and support M physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and in all other ways? She asked the caseworker a few other questions. Had we complied with all requirements by the state to be eligible to adopt? Had she observed us with M and with our other children? Did M appear bonded to us? Did the other children appear willing and content to welcome her into the family?

The lawyer had told us before court that she would ask us some questions. She said "all your answers will be 'yes.'" So, that was easy.

The lawyer said some things to the judge about why M's case was being finalized in that county's courtroom and then that was it. We took some pictures and went to the county clerk's office to wait for our official certified copies of the adoption decree.

The lawyer -- who was awesome and so very on top of things -- gave us several sheets of paperwork. One was the form we would need to apply for a new birth certificate. She then handed us another sheet while glancing away and saying quietly "I have no idea how that got in there." It was M's original birth certificate, which is supposed to be sealed up and not given to us. (If you follow any adult adoptee blogs, you likely know that this is something a lot of adult adoptees are angry about and would like to see changed.) So, the lawyer "has no idea" how we got that precious document. Hee.

Afterwards, I immediately put her picture on Facebook and we began mailing the Christmas cards. We'll be baptizing her in our church on Sunday and the after-adoption paperwork is all filed and mailed off to the appropriate agencies. It hasn't quite sunk in yet that it's really over and done....but we've been teasing Peter a lot about how he can babysit now!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Court Date Set!

We have a court date for M's adoption finalization!

In a moment that is so typical of how this case has progressed, we got a call from the lawyer this morning saying she was trying to nail down the court date. How would next week be? Next week!

The lawyer told us she usually asks for her payment 2 weeks before the court date, but that's obviously not possible, so, could we pay her soon, please? (Check going in the mail immediately, of course.)

We're working on getting Peter, Susan and Edmund excused from school that day (easy for Edmund, pretty easy for Susan, a little more complicated for Peter. He's got final exams that he will miss, so he's having to work out a make-up plan with those teachers.). It hasn't quite hit me yet, but this is really happening before Christmas!

And I guess we're finally going to have a "Lucy."