Not long after R and A had come and gone in that one whirlwind day, we got a call asking if we could do a respite weekend for another foster family.
It's difficult to understand sometimes, but the children placed in my home are not truly "in my custody." We may be responsible for their every day needs, for making sure they get to school everyday, for seeing that they are fed and clothed and bathed, for getting them to every doctor's, counselor's or state appointment, but they are still "wards of the state." As such, the state gets to determine who can supervise them. For every news story about a foster child who died or was abused while in care, there seem to be 3 layers of laws intended to prevent such a thing from happening again. No babysitters under age 18, all caregivers must be fingerprinted, background checked, and drug screened, anyone who keeps them more than a few hours must go through the multi-hour foster parent training. This means I can't ask the teenager next door to babysit while my husband and I go grab a pizza and talk to each other and I can't ask the mom next door to host a playdate so that I can go the dentist alone.
Respite weekends are the foster care's attempt to give foster families some "days off." Parenting foster children can be a constant wearing at the ties of the biological family. These strange kids don't follow our rules and they seem to get a lot of extra attention --- that's hard on our birth children; it's exhausting keeping up with the extra needs of children who've been through the trauma of separation from their family -- that's hard on the physical health of the parents; there seems to be little "private time" between adults and less energy to do something with it when it does happen -- that's hard on the marital relationship. So, we're supposed to be allowed "one weekend of respite care a month" where the foster children spend the weekend with a family certified to care for them and the biological family gets a chance to reconnect and rest. In practice, those weekends don't happen regularly, because finding the caregiver is difficult.
At the time of this call, we were certified foster parents without a placement. Which made us ideal respite caregivers. We were asked to care for 3 children, ages 1, 2, and 3 in our home from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Mr D was going to be busy with work all day Saturday and I was scheduled to attend foster parent training that day -- would that be a problem? No, they could be added to the childcare at the training. We didn't have enough beds ready for 3 children of that age. Also, not a problem . . . "it's just for 2 nights." And then the truth comes out, "you're really the only option we've got." OK, then.
The day before they were supposed to come to us, I got a call from the foster dad. The kids are sick. All 3 are running fevers and the foster mom is on the way to the pediatrician. The whole weekend might be off; he'll let us know. Friday night, we know they definately aren't coming as they are all on antibiotics. At that point, the foster dad is still hoping they'll be in good enough shape for us to have them Saturday and Saturday night. It's his biological daughter's 16th birthday and all she wants as a celebration is a nice dinner out.
Saturday morning, they weren't well enough to send them to childcare. Could they drop them off at our place around 6, go to dinner, and come back and pick them up around 8? Initially, I said yes. Then, I talked to Mr D, who pointed out that all they really need is a babysitter for the evening. Wouldn't it be better if one of us just went to their house? Then the sick kids could go to bed at their usual time. I called the foster dad back and proposed this and he jumped on it.
I spent about 4 hours at their house. They had the kids eating dinner when I arrived and told me their bedtime routine. After they left, I cleaned up from dinner and played with the kids for about 30 minutes. Then I gave them each a bath (translation: I supervised while they played in soapy water in the bathtub), got them into PJ's and put them to bed. When the foster family returned, they were effusive in their thanks for the evening out. It wasn't until we'd had our own longer-term placement that I understood how refreshing just a few hours can be.