L went to the dentist this week. This is her third (but not last) visit to repair some teeth -- serious decay issues. Bio parents are encouraged to attend medical visits -- because reunification is still the goal and they are still expected to behave like a parent -- but I have to be present as well, because I'm the one responsible for the ongoing care. I need to know what she can eat and how soon and I will schedule the next appointment at my convenience, not the bio parents'.
This is the second one her mom has attended. The first time, I had arranged for a babysitter at my house for O. This time, the only approved babysitter I could find was supposed to be at work that day. I suggested that she just meet me at the appointment and play with O in the waiting room -- pediatric dentist, so lots of stuff to do out there -- so that she would be out of the office as little as possible. I won't do that again.
It was really the first time I've observed their mother interacting with the two of them at once and I saw some things that explained a lot about how both O and L behave. They aren't "bad" kids, but they honestly don't seem to understand that 'No' means 'no' and that pouting when you don't get what you want isn't OK.
The worst part was when O said he was hungry. I reminded him that we'd said we were going to eat after the dentist and he was going to have to wait. Mom gave him a snack out of her car.
I really wasn't sure what the HELL I was supposed to do. If he were my child, I'd have refused the snack on his behalf. But I'm supposed to encourage both of them to remember that he's her child, so who's in charge here?
Then L wanted some and Mom -- thank God! -- told her she couldn't have it because she was about to see the dentist. L started whining and pouting and I couldn't ignore it and told her to quit it. She stopped -- immediately! -- and Mom said she would bring her something at their next visit, then asked her if that was OK.
Wait? What?! Is that OK with the 8 year old? She's old enough to get that she can't have something because of where she is and that should be the end of it. Don't ask your child their permission for you to behave like a parent.
That evening I sent an email off to all of the contacts involved: Caseworker, CASA, foster agency consultant. I documented the visit and asked how I should have handled these (and other) things.
The CASA's response made me feel worlds better. "She's usurping your authority and someone should talk to her about it." OK, then.
I've never been very good about asserting myself, and I really hate confrontations. I hoped that I wasn't going to be told I should have said something in the waiting room -- in front of the kids? -- when she handed over a snack I had said would not be forthcoming.
The reaction was quite the opposite. Email after email flew through my inbox. The DFCS Caseworker would talk to her about this. I was doing a great job and showing "tremendous patience." The result of my speaking up at that moment probably would have been exactly the sort of dramatic argument I was fearing, and I was right to try to avoid that in the presence of the kids. The last one startled me the most. My agency consultant told the DFCS caseworker that if the mother continued to undermine the work I was doing with the kids, she should not be allowed to come to the medical visits anymore.
Sometimes I am so focused on the hope that the bio parents will learn to be the parents that these children deserve to have that I forget there is a reason that "parenting classes" are a part of their case plan.