Thursday, September 25, 2014

Next Steps

From Path to Permanency post:

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.) Completed and reported to agency
  • Get updated physicals for all of us -- That is, both adults and all 3 biological children. (appointments are scheduled) -- Adults are done. Kids' appointments are all in the next week.
  • 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.) Done
  • 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.Done. Child Life History is complete. We have a copy of the "narrative" part; will get the medical history files later. 
  • Wait to hear from the assigned DFCS caseworker. We hear good things about her, but have not heard from her yet Had our first meeting
New "next steps"
  • Figure out what's up with M's SSN. 
  • Send off physical paperwork once kids' physicals are done
  • Agency to finalize and send Home Conversion to DFCS after they get the physicals
  • DFCS supervisor to review Home Conversion and approve us as an adoptive placement
  • Meet with agency caseworker to sign paperwork confirming our intentions. (At that point, a court date should be less than 30 days out.) When we sign that paperwork, the per diem stops effective that day. Medicaid coverage continues until the end of the month in which the adoption is finalized. (I think. Could be the end of the month in which the paperwork is signed, but I don't think so.)
  • Get a hearing date

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Moments that Break Your Heart -- Take 4

Here's Take 3
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He's 13 months old. He's just had major surgery on his skull and his mother is holding him in the hospital room. A nurse comes in to check on him and asks mom how he's doing. She gestures at you and says "She takes care of him. I just came to see him."
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This one's not a foster situation, but I never would have heard about it if not for foster care....Sitting in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) waiting room, you overhear a conversation. A young woman introduces herself ("Hi, I'm Allie") to a 10 year old girl, explaining that her job at the hospital is to look after the brothers and sisters. She tells the girl that Allie understands the girl has been upset that she can't see her sister (due to the hospital's policy of no visitors under 12 allowed in the PICU) and offers to set up a video chat later that day. Allie reminds little sister that big sister won't be able to answer her "because of the tube in her throat."
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Newborn baby tested positive for drugs in her system. Mother has had two previous children already removed, already through the TPR process, already well on their way to being adopted. All 3 children have different fathers. When you are called about the placement, you are told TPR is "likely" unless the father turns out to have family members who are options, but the caseworker doubts it. In court, the judge tells the biomom that DFCS "is willing to work with her" and that, if she works her caseplan this time "we will hand your baby back to you." Two days later, the caseworker tells you she's already working on the request to file for TPR. The whole situation is heartbreaking, but what's getting to me right now is the mixed signals biomom is getting. Filing for TPR doesn't sound like "willing to work with you" to me. Does she have a shot to get her baby back or not?
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Another not just a foster situation....When you leave the PICU with a one year old for a regular floor room, the PICU nurse walks you to the new room to hand over the chart information to your new nurse. She tells the new nurse "foster mom has been spoiling me. She's been in there with him all day, holding him and playing with him." Some kids in intensive care have long stretches of time when the nurses are their only company...because Mom and Dad have to work and/or care for siblings.
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Biomom missed a month's worth of visits for one reason or another. An entire month without laying eyes on her baby. In that time, the baby learned how to: bat at a dangling toy to make it move, smile, coo, and laugh. She grew from the-blob-that-is-a-newborn into a tiny little person...and her mother missed it.
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Biomom has surrendered her rights after some failed drug screens, but claims to be attempting to get back into rehab. The revocation period to change her mind about the surrender has passed. The caseworker calls and Biomom answers the phone, high. The only coherent thing that she says is "I want my baby."
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Reading the Child Life History narrative of a child you are going to be adopting. It doesn't matter what yours says. It's going to break your heart.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Roadblock?

As Mitzy said in her comment on my last post, 6 months is a ridiculously early age for a child to be legally free. Especially a child like M, who doesn't appear to have any major delays that would make her difficult to parent and whose parents seemed (at least at the beginning) interested in getting her back.

I think that's why the 3-6 month timeframe seemed so strange to me and I kept Googling looking for more information. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Surely, something had to make this less simple? It shouldn't be this "easy" to adopt a healthy newborn. Could we really maybe have this all wrapped up before she was 10 months old?

We met with the new adoption caseworker this week and we may have finally hit the roadblock.

For the past several months, we've been asking the DFCS caseworker about M's Social Security Number. Really, we've just been asking if she has one. Once it was clear she was going to be here more than 6 months, we began pointing out that we'll need it eventually (to file taxes). The caseworker wasn't sure if she had one. She was born in a different state and the caseworker didn't know if the hospital applied for it for her or not. (In my state, the hospital applies for it and it's printed on the birth certificate. In this neighboring state, no one knows if the hospital applies for it and there's no space on the birth certificate for it.)

Apparently, it is not as simple as making a call (or sending an email or faxing a form) to the Social Security Office to determine if the child has an SSN. I'm not clear on if it's possible to find out if she has one without applying for one. Applying for one involves going in person to the the Social Security Office and being prepared to spend hours waiting. Our lovely former caseworker (the one who didn't think anyone needed to know when the parents signed surrenders) decided to just not do any of that and let the adoption worker handle it. But she didn't actually tell the adoption worker that, so this was all news to her when we met with her this week.

Since we will have to prove that M never had a number before the adoption in order to get her one afterwards, the adoption caseworker says it's important to have the number at least filed for (even if it's still being processed/mailed) before we finalize the adoption. She says it's a complicated process, but that DFCS bringing certain paperwork to ask for a number is something the Social Security office is used to handling; an adoptive parent asking for a number (and/or name) to be changed is something the Social Security office is used to handling; an adoptive parent claiming a number never existed...is not. And she was very upfront about the fact that she will not be able to take the time to go to the Social Security office for at least 2 weeks.

We're still hoping for a finalization date in December, but it's back to being a hope, rather than a "reasonable goal."

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Path to Permanency

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.