Friday, April 24, 2015

Follow up

So, I waited until 8am, then called the agency caseworker. I had to leave her a voicemail.

She called me back several hours later, having already talked to one of the county caseworkers who was involved in M's case. (Interestingly, it was the adoption worker to whom she talked. I'm not sure whether that was because that worker was responsive and likely to actually get back to her or whether she had to talk to her about something else anyway or what.)

Good news: the county already knew about the pregnancy.

No one knows the actual due date. The person who texted me thought she looked about 5 months pregnant.

They will screen biomom for drugs at the time of the baby's birth.

If she tests clean and the home appears stable, the baby will go home with her, but under a protective order which will allow caseworkers to do random drug screens and generally follow up to make sure that she is coping.

If she fails the drug test, they will remove the baby. At this time, it's hard to say what sort of case it will be. Assuming the father is the same as M's, it will either be a concurrent plan (like M's was) or a straight-to-adoptive placement with no reunification plan even attempted. (If it's a different father, the county will have to assess him and his family members.)

The agency caseworker was going to call M's mother. She was hopeful that she would be able to learn the exact due date of the new pregnancy and planned to try to convince BioMom to let her help now. Agency caseworker knows of available resources and is willing to work to get BioMom into a better drug program -- one that might actually help her get clean -- if BioMom will let her help. She's hoping that BioMom will accept her help now, when no one is telling her she has to do it. She wouldn't accept her help when M was in care. I am skeptical that she will accept it now, either, but trying really hard to pray myself into a more optimistic state of mind.

We might have a 60 day grace period to wrap up anything before our home is really, truly closed. If so, we'll use those days to wrap up our training and do the reeval. That then gives us a year to figure out if this baby needs us or not. Although if the baby does need us, I have no idea where everyone will sleep....

Let me be clear about two things.

First, I would love to believe that M's birth mother could handle parenting this new baby on her own. But I just don't. The woman has a serious addiction problem which may have caused permanent cognitive damage. Even if she gets clean now, I have major doubts that she is mentally capable of parenting. (And that's not my decision to make, thank the good Lord in heaven.) So, I am trying to be prepared for the worst-case-but-seems-awfully-likely-scenario of this baby needing a foster-to-adopt placement. If not immediately, it will most likely happen soon. Frankly, the most likely scenario I can see where the baby doesn't need a placement involves a different father with extended family that are available, willing and appropriate.

Second, I have no desire to take on another newborn right now. This summer, I am beginning some coursework to train for a teaching certificate with an eye towards working in the school system when M is old enough for full-time school. There is a list a mile long of why we "can't" take another placement any time before Peter leaves home for college in a little more than three years. On the other side of that scale is all emotion: how do I say "no" to M's biological sibling? How can I look an older M in the eye (at 10, at 15, at 22, at 30) and say we didn't reach out to provide for her baby brother/sister? If I try to be rational about this, there is no way I jump hoops to get back into this system and cobble together sleeping arrangements to fit 5 children into our home. But foster care, adoption, caring for children....none of those things happen when we only do what makes logical sense. The emotion -- the pull of "but I just have to do this" -- these are the things that cause us to get involved anyway.

I still don't know what we're really going to do. Right this minute, we're just trying to get our ducks in a row to keep all the options open. And praying a lot.

Oh, no.

I left my cell phone off overnight. (We have a land-line, so true emergency calls from extended family would call that number. Everyone who lives here was home.)

I woke up and turned the phone on this morning as I was getting Edmund's lunch ready for school. Mr D and M were still asleep.

I had a text. From M's half-sister's adoptive mother. M's biomother is pregnant.

When we told the agency caseworker we were closing our home, we said the only scenario where we could see taking another placement within the next 4 years was . . . if M's biomother had another baby and the child was removed.

Our foster license expires the end of this month. Our CPR trainings have lapsed. We didn't complete the required number of training hours over the past year. We have not done the annual re-eval process involving an agency caseworker coming out to inspect the home. We were letting it all go. Actually, I think it expires the end of this month. It may have expired today.

I don't know what we're going to do. I don't know when the baby is due. I don't know if CPS plans to remove the child at birth (probably?). I don't know if we can get hurriedly recertified in the next 6 days just in case this baby (M's sibling!) needs us. If we can't, I don't know what we'd have to do to get licensed again -- other than retake the initial 21 hours of training.

Right now, all I can do is breathe. Pray. Talk to Mr D. And wait for a reasonable hour to call our agency caseworker....

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Now what?

I'm feeling a little at-loose-ends these days.

Don't get me wrong, it's crazy busy around here. Peter is competing on the school track team and also assistant coaching an Upward soccer team of Kindergarteners. He doesn't drive yet, so that's a lot of transporting. Edmund is learning to play tennis (more transporting to lessons) and both Susan and Edmund are competing their respective (different) school's Academic Bowl teams. M (should I start calling her Lucy? can't decide) is busy, busy, busy. She's not walking yet, but crawls and climbs with great gusto to satisfy her seemingly insatiable curiosity about the world and everything in it. Mr D is just starting a super busy time at work, where two of his responsibilities suddenly get a lot heavier at the same time.

It's just me, feeling unsure what to do with myself. It's not that I can't occupy my time. There's laundry to do, a house to clean, small projects to complete. It's all stuff I've spent the last 4 years wishing I had more time to do, but now? Now that very time I wanted lays heavy on my hands. (There's something in there about being careful what we ask God to give to us, isn't there? What we wanted isn't always what we need?) 

I've been thinking about this a lot the last several weeks, trying to figure out why being "done" fostering has left me floundering. I think I've finally figured it out.

I've lost my job.

It's not the money. Fostering was never about the money. And it's not the changing cast of characters as children come and go. It's the work of fostering. As the full-time parent, I've always done the bulk of the appointment going and meeting attending and documentation writing. And that was a big chunk of how I spent my time from day to day, week to week, month to month. Go to this meeting. Listen in on that phone call. Email those people with everything said in the phone call. Document the behavior. Track the medications. All of that is done. Over. M is no longer a ward of the state; she's a member of our forever family. So, all the red tape is done. That should be cause for rejoicing, and it is, but... But.

But, right now, as I try to transition away from "we're a foster family" to a simple "family of 6," I'm also transitioning away from things that I did because they were "part of the job." And it's left me feeling, just a bit, the same way I did when I left the workforce to be a stay-at-home mother. I think the feeling is even stronger because, due to M's age, I don't feel that I have time to jump into a bunch of volunteer commitments to keep me "working" again. So, it's just me, just parenting, just home all day with a baby. And it feels a little strange.

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.