Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Moments That Break Your Heart

She's 3. She's chatty and bossy and hilariously funny in the way that 3 year olds are when they are telling you how it is. Then, she drops a box of toys; it opens, undamaged, and the toys spill out onto the floor. She shrinks into herself, arms held tight against her chest, hands curled up tense. She looks up at you, wide-eyed, and begins chanting: "Sorry! Sorry!"

What is this child used to happening to her when she spills something?

She's 7. She just got back from a visit with her father, who gave her an expensive electronic device. Time for the nightly phone call with Mom. Of course, she's full of her new toy from Daddy. First words out of Mommy's mouth are, "So, Daddy's buying your love again, huh?"

As I tuck her in that night, she begins to cry, saying she just wishes her Mommy and Daddy were together. At a loss, I tell her I know she does and I'm sorry. I try to assure her that they both love her, no matter what. She says Mommy says Daddy doesn't love any of them anymore.

He's 6. You've just told him that he gets to go home and live with Daddy. With no joy in his eyes, he asks you, "And then will they come take me again?"

He's 3. When he wakes in the night, he wanders into other people's bedrooms and begins to play with their toys. He's surprised and confused that this isn't considered appropriate behavior. When he's told he must stay in his own room at night, he sobs "I want my mommy."

At any age. It's time to call Mommy (or Daddy). They are excited to talk to their parent, tell them about the exciting events of the day. We get voicemail. After 3 tries to both numbers, it's clear there will be no conversation tonight after all.

He's 3. Mom made a "surprise" appearance at a school event. The first thing he says to her is, "Are you here to take me home?"

She's 8. Mom comes to a routine medical appointment. With her daughter sitting next to her, she casually begins talking about how "her father" (with a gesture) broke her jaw and knocked out this tooth 3 years ago.

They're going to spend a few days in respite care (with another foster family to give us a break). I remind them that "Miss Y" will pick them up and take them to see Mommy on Saturday, just like every week. The 8 year old pouts -- she was hoping being at the respite family's house meant she got to skip the visit with Mom.

He's written a letter to his father, who lives out of state, but is being considered for a kinship placement. The letter opens: "I think I deserve to live with you and Mommy."

She's 8. She know what Facebook is, but does not know that Barnes & Noble is a bookstore.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

There's just so much uncertainty in foster care.

When R and A came to us, we were told they would be long-term -- a year or more, maybe turn into foster-to-adopt! They'd been in care before, surely the judge would want to be thoroughly convinced before sending them home. Later that same day, the judge had sent them home.

When we were first called about L and O, we were told it would be short-term -- probably no more than a week or ten days at the most -- but that they had to come to us in the next hour or so. We rushed to get rooms ready, then spent a week or two waiting for the phone call to pack them up. Which never came.

Then we registered her for school, got serious about his toilet training, hoped to get all her dental work completed before the 3 month court date, enrolled him in speech therapy. That 3 month court date came and went and still they stayed. Next court date is 3 months away, after Christmas.

Suddenly, there was a family member home study being done in a different state, hoping to get them approved before "the holidays." The date for that approval passed, with not a comment from anyone about how it turned out. Is it still in process? We don't know.

Next, we heard about another family member, local, DFCS expecting to have their home study done before Thanksgiving and hoping for approval before Christmas. Thanksgiving arrived, with no word on the status of their paperwork.

As we inched into December, I emailed the caseworker. "Any news on that relative in-state? Did you get the paperwork you needed?" No response for over a week, then an update that they were waiting on the relative to get her drug test and fingerprinting done. They won't be moved before Christmas now.

Thankfully, L and O knew nothing about these faint hopes for reunification with family. They know only what we have repeatedly told them: You'll be here as long as it takes your parents to do what they need to do. We don't know what all they need to do and we don't know when they'll be done or how long it will take. We're sorry. When we know something for sure, we will tell you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas is . . . not what I expected

We thought we were prepared for Christmas with foster kids.

We talked to Peter, Susan, and Edmund about how blessed they are with things and how the children coming to stay with us might have never had much. We talked about how our new family members might have never learned to care for toys or books the way we do and that we would have to be patient and understanding with a child that seemed greedy (wanting all the toys the belong to them) or careless (ripping pages or throwing things around). We talked about the realities of poverty. As we talked, we felt very virtuous and honorable--never a good sign! We thought that our children might learn a lot from this experience about how to count their blessings.

Then L and O arrived. With a DS (which our children do not--and will never--have). First visit with Dad, L came home with an mp3 player (which our children do not have). Dad wanted to get her a cell phone (which our children do not -- and will not until they can pay the bill themselves -- have); that was vetoed by DFCS, thankfully.

Peter is a smart and observant kid. It wasn't long before he commented privately to Mr D about the discrepancy between Dad's claim that more frequent visits aren't possible because they cost too much and the amount of "stuff" L and O bring back from every visit.

When we chose to foster, and imagined having children with us for Christmas, we expected to need help providing gifts for the holidays. We've donated to those charities--"make sure no child has to wake up Christmas morning to no gifts under the tree!" When it became clear that L and O would be with us for Christmas, we asked how that worked. Well, they'll have a visit with each parent (since they aren't together) at it's regular time, which will be when they celebrate Christmas; you can give restrictions on things that will violate your house rules. And this charity and that one both want wish lists from you for each child. Don't duplicate anything on the lists, because you'll get everything on them. We'll get the items to you ahead of time--unwrapped--and you can choose what to give from whom. Don't spend any of your own money. In fact, don't feel like you have to give everything from the charity for Christmas--you may want to put some of it back and save it for birthdays or behavior rewards.

L and O had their Christmas visit with Dad last weekend. They came home with a black garbage back full each. Plus 3 large toys each. Plus a scooter each. But no helmets. And O, at age 3, was given toy that is clearly marked as for "8 and up." He was also given an inflatable punching toy. The child who has repeatedly had issues with aggressive behavior towards other kids and has been given a simple, strict rule: We don't hit. Anything. Ever. So, now we get the be the Grinches who took away the 3 year old's Christmas presents, all because Dad can't use some basic common sense.

Can't wait ti see what Mom gives them!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Milestone, of sorts

Today, L wore pants for what I am pretty sure is the very first time since she came to us 5 months ago. (She's a skirt and dress kind of girl.)

Probably has something to do with the fact that it's below freezing . . . and I told her that leggings wouldn't keep her legs warm enough. And then vetoed the idea of wearing both tights and leggings.

Might also have to do with the fact that I reminded her she has a pink sparkly sweatsuit that her dad gave her . . .

Monday, December 5, 2011

All Foster Agencies are Not Created Equal

I've just finished reading over the entire archives of this blog, written by a single woman foster-parenting in New York City. It's fascinating and terrifying and inspiring all at once. She is so dedicated to her (former) foster kids and is willing to be a part of of their lives post-reunification at a level that I don't think I could handle. (Which periodically has me questioning whether I'm really all in this thing or not, but that's a post for another day.)

Reading over her archives has brought one thing to my attention repeatedly. Mr D and I got really lucky.

If you're considering fostering and looking at fostering with an agency, do some research. I don't think Rebecca did and her agency support has been abysmal. Mr D and I didn't either and our agency support has been amazing. (Hence, the statement that we got really lucky.)

The county caseworker assigned to L and O's case has said more than once that our agency had "the best foster parents." She told me that she calls our agency looking for new placements before calling the foster parents on file directly with her county. My agency caseworker has told me that this is true of other counties as well.

My agency caseworker commented on the increased workload required under the "new contract with the state" that the agency has just signed. She was listing all the things she is now required to do as a part of the team and talking about how the agency is looking to hire more caseworkers, since each case is requiring more time. The county caseworker laughed and said that was because our agency "actually does that stuff!"

There is a ton of volunteer-provided support with our agency. Volunteers provide transportation for the kids from my home to their family visits; volunteers are cleared for short-term babysitting so my husband and I can have a date night; volunteers are trained and cleared for respite care and foster families are encouraged to take 1 weekend a month, consistently using the same respite family so that the kids' visit to them becomes like a weekend with extended family; volunteers may bring food, clothing, or baby equipment. The paid staff supervises visits, attends court dates, makes sure paperwork is filed, and keeps me in the loop with all communications between the state DFCS, bio parents and anyone else involved in the case. They also provide regular training, complete with free child care staffed by state-approved baby-sitters.

When I read Rebecca's blog, she talked about feeling attacked by her agency, as they reported the bio mom's accusations to her early in her time with Jacket. I can't help but compare to my own agency's response to concerns about L and O's interactions. I asked for guidance on how to react when their mother undermines my authority in their presence -- providing O with something I had just told him he could not have. In response, their mother was angry that I bought L a Halloween costume, and insisted that it "wasn't my place" to do that because she "had said she was going to." (It was a week before Halloween and she couldn't even remember what her daughter was asking to be. So I had offered L that we could pick up "a back-up", while buying another child a costume, in case her mother "couldn't find" what she wanted. In the end, L chose to wear the "back-up" that I had bought, rather than the costume her mother had bought -- which was still in the packaging and given back to her mother before the holiday so she could return it and get her money back.) Both the county caseworker and my agency caseworker reported the mother's comments to me. They also told me I had done nothing wrong, that the mother had been told so, and that they needed me to continue documenting every interaction so that they had the records they needed on file. It was a supportive conversation, completely opposite of Rebecca's experience. I wish she'd had the support I did!

Lesson to be learned by anyone out there considering fostering--read up on the agencies you're considering. Check out their websites, talk to their foster parents, talk to the social workers at DFCS, ask for their statistics. What sort of support do they offer their foster parents? How much staff do they have? How many cases does an average caseworker carry? How many calls for placement do they get in an average quarter? How many children do they have to decline to place because of space issues? What are the demographics of most of their cases and how well do those demographics match the children you feel equipped to foster?

A good agency wants to be able to match kids to a family that will be able to support and love them. They are dedicated to avoiding "displacement" (moving of children from one foster home to another) and one of the best ways to do that is to be sure that there is support for the foster family and that the initial placement is the long-term best solution available. (In training, my agency talked about how the counties often have to find "a bed for the night" because they have a child sitting in their waiting room with nowhere to sleep that night; our agency is dedicated to finding "a home" for kids in foster care, for as long as it's needed.) Every time Rebecca wrote about wanting to be her foster kids' "only foster home", it reminded me of my agency's attitude.

I hope Rebecca doesn't mind my linking to her, even if I am one of those "stay at home Christian foster moms"! :)