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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Positive Caseworker Post

OK, I've been very frustrated with our county caseworker in M's case. I think I have good reason to be.

But she just did something that actually will make my life easier, so I'm going to give credit where it is due.

M's mother was supposed to have her "final" visit with M last week. Next week would have been the first visit with just M's (putative) father, but no one is sure whether he's going to show up or not. (M's mother has been doing all the communicating about whether they were coming or not as well as all the driving. We aren't sure how he's going to get to visits without her. And they haven't made a visit and stayed the whole time in nearly 2 months.)

Next week, we happen to be going out of town for a family vacation. We were coming back on visit day, with the plan being to drive through rush hour traffic in order to make the visit with M's father.  (When we planned the vacation, we thought it was with both parents.)

M's mother cancelled at the last minute (again!) this week. She wanted to reschedule for a date that is while we are out of town. I reminded the supervisor -- who had already nixed that idea for other reasons -- that we were out of town that day and about the plan to drive back just in time for the next one. The supervisor called the county caseworker because she wasn't sure she was even supposed to reschedule the visit at all.

It does need to be rescheduled -- I guess because it's the last one? Or maybe there was a "good" reason to cancel? -- but the county caseworker said, "I don't want to mess with the foster family's vacation, so if we need to push the next visit out a week, let's do that."

Hear that?

We are postponing a regularly scheduled (but not regularly attended) visit in order to make my life easier. That never happens in foster care! We don't make life easy for foster families!

Whew. Big sigh of relief and I can feel stress I wasn't even consciously aware of oozing out of my neck and shoulder muscles.

I will say, this is probably the first case where I would have accepted the change. This is the first case where the parents have missed visits. This is the first case where I don't really know for sure if a visit is happening until around the time it's time to pack up to go to it. I tend to be so focused on supporting reunification that I will move heaven and earth to get my kids to their family visits. And the missed visits haven't been a huge inconvenience -- except for the frustration about what they mean for M's mother's chances of reunification and the likelihood of her being able to beat her addition. I've had other cases where the family visit was a bit of a "break"; there might be struggles with reentry afterwards, but I kind of looked forward to the regularly scheduled time-without-that-child. I don't feel that way with M.

But for this particular week, a missed visit was a much bigger inconvenience. I was mentally trying to prepare myself for the worst-case scenario: We would get everybody up early on the last day of vacation and hurry out the door, drive all day, begin fighting rush hour traffic to get to the right side of town for the visit....and they would cancel when we were about 30 minutes away and sitting in the traffic. The mental preparation was not helping. It was just making me more stressed and cranky, partly because it seemed so very likely to happen! Now, I can relax. We will get up and off in a reasonable amount of time, be able to take our time on the road, and attempt to hit town after rush hour. I feel like I'm on vacation already!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Surrender update

Cherub Mamma, it amuses me that I'm able to shock you, of all people, with a bad caseworker. In my mind, your Minnie is "the standard against which all badness is measured" (to quote The Big Bang Theory's Raj on Star Trek V). M's caseworker seems to be disorganized and incompetent....but at least she's not actively working against M's best interests.

The date for M's mother to revoke her surrender of rights has passed and she did not change her mind. I know this because the agency caseworker called M's mother herself (after the county caseworker -- big shock, here -- didn't respond to any requests for updates after the deadline date). M's mother stated that she felt it was the best decision for M. Not only did she decide to stick to the surrender, she told the caseworker that she would like M to be adopted by us.

That was a surprise to me -- I'm not sure why. I think I'd been assuming that she wasn't thinking that far ahead, or possibly that she was thinking that the father stood a good chance of getting custody if she removed herself from the calculations. I find it gratifying and humbling to hear that she is not just choosing to surrender her rights, but actively desires to give her child to us to raise. It wasn't a casual or easy decision for her; it was a conscious effort to put her child's needs before her own wants. She is not in a place right now to be able to competently parent and she knows it. I am still praying for her -- praying that she finds the support and help she needs to kick this addiction.

Since the county caseworker isn't talking to any of the rest of us, I don't know exactly what this means in the short term. In theory, there would be just one more visit -- a "goodbye" visit. So, this week's visit might be last one for a while....unless the father's going to have visits on his own. One of the things this caseworker said the last time I talked to her that confused me was that the putative father has legal rights right now. I don't think that's true. It's certainly not what I've been told by other parties to the case. And why would he have been required to do a DNA test if all he had to do was claim paternity?

We don't know yet what the father wants to (or will) do. We also don't know yet if he's actually the father. The DNA test results aren't back yet. Well, they may not be back yet. I obviously can't assume that something hasn't happened just because it hasn't been communicated by the caseworker!

And, as always, so thankful that M doesn't have to understand what's going on...because I sure couldn't explain it!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Surprise!

I already wrote about some frustrations with our county caseworker.

There have been additional examples since that first home visit. The June meeting could not be scheduled at a time our agency caseworker could attend, so it was just Mr D and I and the caseworker. The caseworker is very nice, but very vague; there was a lot of "I can't really tell you details about that." I've never had a caseworker say that to me before. She also stated some things about the laws that contradict what the agency caseworker had told us. It was confusing and frustrating and resulted in my telling the agency caseworker that we don't want to meet without her again.

This month's meeting has been rescheduled once already. Hoping that doesn't happen again.

Our agency caseworker attended the last family visit -- they finally made it to one! -- between M and her parents and then called us immediately.

Biomom told her she's signed a surrender of rights.

No one knew this, except the county caseworker, who confirmed it when the agency caseworker called her to verify that this was true before calling us. NO ONE. Biomom still has a few days to revoke that surrender, and I can understand the caseworker thinking that the foster parents didn't need to know until after that period had passed. (I think it's the wrong decision, but I can understand it.) But she didn't just not tell us. She didn't just not tell our agency caseworker. She didn't tell the CASA. She didn't tell the GAL. She didn't tell ANYONE AT ALL.

Communication is clearly not this caseworker's strong suit.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Miscellaneous

I didn't kill the family member on July 4th. M's case and theoretical adoption possibilities never came up, which is probably healthier for all of us.
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More visits have been missed. One of the parents has always called to cancel, but often only at the last minute. A sad pattern is developing. The visit supervisor calls them to confirm a few days before; they say they will be there. The visit supervisor calls them to confirm the morning of the visit; they say they will be there. Around they time they should be leaving their house to come (or a little after), the visit supervisor will get a text message saying they aren't coming because <assorted excuses>. I don't think the caseworker wants to supervisor to call them to confirm -- she's trying to put the burden on the parents. But the supervisor hates wasting the trip -- for herself and for M -- so she's trying her best to make sure that they will be there before anyone heads out. It's not working.

I remind myself repeatedly of the good news -- M doesn't know what is happening. The worst effect on her is the occasional postponed (or early) nap or feeding because I was expecting a visit to happen that then doesn't. The parents live further from the visitation location than I do, so we generally know the visit is cancelled before M is actually on her way there, although a few times it has happened just as I was about to strap her into her carseat.
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The DNA sample has finally been taken. We should have the test results before the next court date. I don't know what I hope or expect the results to be. If the putative father is the biological father, then nothing really changes except that the caseworker will seriously look into him as a potential placement. If the putative father is not the biological father, there has to be a search.
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Court is the end of the month. I expect nothing to change before then. It's possible nothing will change after it, as well. I don't know what else is possible. Would the judge cancel the pretense of visits, especially if the parents still haven't made one by then? (It's been almost a month since M has actually seen them. If they don't make a visit before court, it will have been over 1.5 months.) I also don't know what else is going on with them, because my best source for that information was the things they say at visits. The concurrent plan of TPR is still lurking; I suppose court could light that pathway again. I just can't think that far.

We will meet with the caseworker before court. Well, we're scheduled to meet with the caseworker before court. I don't know if she'll be able to tell me the results of the DNA test. I do hope to learn what DFCS is going to be asking the judge to do at court. This judge has a reputation for being very smart, very decisive, and not putting up with anything. I have a good bit of faith in the judge; I have less faith in the caseworker's ability to actually put together a clear picture of the situation.
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The summer is flying by and, before I know it, school will start again. Part of me is actually looking forward to that -- the opportunity to have only the baby here during the day -- but most of me realizes that it will bring its own challenges back as well. (Lunches to be made, homework to be supervised and checked, extracurricular activity schedules to juggle.)