Friday, September 28, 2012


As is the nature of such things, not long after I ranted about S's resistance to toilet training, the proverbial light bulb went off and she started enthusiastically and eagerly cooperating. She's exclusively wearing underwear now and I'm beginning to lose track of how many days since she had an accident, which means.....

I can enroll her in preschool!

I'm a stay-at-home parent. Or I don't work outside the home. Or I don't have a job. Or I don't have paid employment. However you want to phrase it, it means that the state does not pay any childcare expenses for foster children in my home. It also means that I don't need S to be at a daycare 5 days a week for 8-10 hours. I just want her to go to part-time preschool -- 2 or 3 days a week, for 3 or 4 hours.

Around here, the preschools that offer that sort of day require 3 year olds to be "completely independent in toileting" to enroll. (So, yes, that was feeding some of my personal desire to get her toilet trained. I couldn't enroll her in school until I could tell the school that she was training!)

Personally, I think it's ridiculous that the state will only pay for a 3 year old to get regular, structured, social interaction with children of her own age if that interaction is for the time a parent spends working a job. I also think it's short-sighted of the state to not realize that they are going to burn-out at-home parents of preschoolers, since it's not like I can set up a casual play-date swap with a good friend, either, without said friend having to go through a lengthy approval process. I get the flip side of it -- that they don't want lazy foster parents to abuse the funding to just hand the child off to someone else -- but I really think they could consider allowing a small amount of funding towards preschool. It's not like I'm expecting to get a blank check in the amount that full time daycare would cost!

But, I can't change that rule, so we are paying for it. In the it-never-hurts-to-ask category, we have asked our agency if they can help us out some; the agency caseworker is looking into "creative funding". And since the preschool she is attending is a part of our church, the director is also looking into whether she can find some "scholarship money" and has a few specific "anonymous" people in mind that she thinks might jump at "paying for a foster child to attend the preschool." We'll see. If not, we'll be spending almost two-thirds of her per diem on preschool.

She starts next week. I can't wait! (Now I can schedule that eye doctor exam for me....)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So, do you hear anything from them?

We are, as far as we know, the first foster family that has ever attended our church. We're certainly the only currently active one and appear to be the first one that's been as actively involved in the church's programming as we are and as open about what we are doing. How the foster system works is a learning curve for the other actively involved members just as it is for us...

When L and O came and stayed for over a year, they got enmeshed in our church community, just as the rest of the family is. So, now that the new school year has begun, I am still getting asked about them at church.

Do I hear anything? Do I ever get to see them? Is there any kind of contact? How are they doing?

The questions come from loving places. They are asked by good, Christian people who loved those children. They want to know that the children they welcomed into their hearts are OK. They want updates.

And I can't give those to them.

Some foster parents maintain contact with the bio-families after reunification. We may someday have a case like that. But this was not one.

While we were transitioning them home, the caseworker commented that BioMom was likely to want to pretend our family had never really been important in the kids' lives. That she wouldn't be calling me with updates on how the kids are doing and probably would not respond if I tried to reach out. Unless she had something she wanted to do and needed a sitter, and then she was likely to dump the kids with me while she did what she wanted. And that wouldn't be healthy for any of us. L's therapist recommended I not maintain any sort of regular contact in order to prevent that specific scenario from happening.

I don't live close enough to her to be useful for emergency pickups from school or occasional short playdates. If she wanted them to come here, it would be for overnight visits. If the kids came back here on those terms, how confusing would that be? And yet, how would I say No if she asked?

So, I called a few times, just to say hello. She answered the first time because she wanted to talk to me about getting L's school records transferred anyway. After that, she didn't pick up. I left cheerful, hopefully non-threatening messages, but suspect that my well-wishes were not passed on to the children.

And that's OK. (Well, it's not, when I think about how abandoned O might feel, but I have to let his biomom make those decisions now.) As I try to explain to the people who ask, she's under no obligation to maintain contact with me. As far as I know, the kids are doing well. That's probably all I will ever know.

I kinda hope it is all I ever know, because the only way I'm likely to hear anything about them again is if they get pulled back into DFCS Custody. But it's hard to explain that to people who don't really understand fostering....

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Empathy and Asperger's

I think I mentioned that Susan has Asperger's.

An acquaintance of mine who happens to be a teacher said once that she went to a training on working with kids on the autism spectrum. The instructor began the class by asking how many of them had previously taught a child with Asperger's or autism. Then he said to those with their hands raised, "Congratulations. You know one person on the spectrum." He went on to explain that each kid on the autism spectrum is unique, just as each neurotypical kid is unique. What worked with a previous student may or may not work with your next one and the symptoms that define your current student's struggles may be completely different than anything you've seen before.

For Susan, she struggles with social interactions. She doesn't read other people very well and she has a very hard time making "small talk." She wants things to happen when they are supposed to happen and does not like it when the plans are changed on the fly. Her (public) school has been incredibly proactive in helping her learn the skills she needs to get better at these things, especially in their work with her on figurative language, which she had to learn by rote, instead of picking it up from context clues the way most neurotypical kids can. (For example, used to be that if I told her that she was taking forever to get dressed, she would ignore me, because she knew that the process of getting dressed was going to be done in a finite amount of time and therefor my saying it was taking "forever" didn't make sense. She's since learned "it takes forever" really means something more like "it's taking too long." She still doesn't hurry up, though.)

Aside: When I mention her diagnosis to people, I often get asked if I watch Parenthood. I have. I still do, sometimes. But I struggle with the characterization of Max, because (since the departure of the character that was his behavioral aide), I don't see them working with him to help teach him how to function better. I don't see him learning what's appropriate behavior in public and I don't see any attempts to help him learn that. Maybe that's a character arc that they are taking deliberately, but it saddens me that the show isn't using the platform it has to demonstrate how much help is available and how much can be taught. (To be clear, I think the actor is amazing. He nails the no eye contact, constant motion, difficulty with change that characterizes most kids on the spectrum. When they have given him scenes where he needs to show the difficulties that will never really go away, he has done so well at them. I wish they would utilize those talents to show him growing and learning how to function in neurotypical society.)

I've often heard social skills issues in Aspie's described as "lacking empathy." It's not that Susan doesn't have empathy. It's not that she doesn't care about what other people want or like or enjoy. It's not that she doesn't want other people to enjoy being around her. It's not even that she's not paying attention to what those around her like or want. It's just that she doesn't always know how to show it.

Today, she's going to a birthday party for another girl in her 5th grade class. (She doesn't get invited to a lot, so we never turn down an invitation.)

I asked her what she wanted to get as a gift for the birthday girl. The birthday girl is "girly" -- into makeup and hairstyles and trendy jewelry. Susan is . . . not. But Susan knew these things about the birthday girl and chose to get her an assortment of nail polish colors and a small manicure set to go with it.

Susan also told me repeatedly that the birthday girl really likes rainbows. She wanted to wrap the present in something with rainbows on it. And she wanted to wear a shirt with a rainbow on it to the party -- although she doesn't own one -- because she wanted everything she was bringing to the party to be something the birthday girl liked.

She's not lacking empathy. She just doesn't know how to show it in ways that don't come off as "weird."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Caseworker meeting

A quick update on BioMom's "doing well."

Caseworker still says that, but admits to being baffled as to why she's ducking the interviewer's calls.

Based on what I'm told BioMom has started doing on her case-plan, I can fully believe that she legitimately couldn't make the dentist appointment. (She's gotten a job, she's started a couple different required "classes" and is also enrolled in a drug treatment program. She also still doesn't have a car and she does not live in an area with much in the way of useful public transportation. At this point in the case, it's probably right for her to prioritize all those other commitments over an appointment for the child that the mom knew I would ensure was kept.)

Why no one let me know she wouldn't be there is still beyond me, but hey, I'm just the foster parent, right? I don't need to know important things like whether the child's parent will be present at a medical appointment. Grr.

For the record, I have no idea whose fault it is that I didn't know. Did BioMom tell someone, assuming the news would be passed on? No telling. And blame isn't important right now, so I'm not asking, just trying to let it go. And venting on here is part of how I let it go...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What does "doing well" mean?

S's BioMom confuses me. That's not hard to do, because I still fall into the trap of thinking that bioparents will behave in ways I can imagine behaving if I were in their situation...

The first visit S had with her mother was not handled the way visits usually are in my area, mostly because of the time crunch.

The visits are supervised, and the supervising person picks the child up and takes them to the visit, then brings them back.

S's first visit was squeezed in around some routine medical appointments that had already been scheduled before she came into care, and I was just keeping those appointments instead of making different appointments of my own for initial health checks. Since Mom had scheduled those visits, she obviously knew when and where they were and I was told she intended to come. That's good.

So, the supervisor picked S up and took her to a visit and told me that she'd meet me at the 1st doctor's appointment with S. She assured me that S would ride with her and that Mom would just have to follow in her own car.

Except, it turned out Mom didn't have a car. So, the supervisor let her ride in her car with S and herself. I suppose because the alternative was to essentially tell Mom that it was too bad she wouldn't be at her daughter's doctor's appointments after all.

At the doctor's appointment, I let Mom answer most of the health questions--I'd only had S a week, so I was still figuring out a lot of the answers myself. I was surprised to hear that this 10am appointment was during naptime. I was also surprised to hear S described as a "picky eater", and felt compelled to add the comment that she will eat some things from every food group. (To me, that's not a "picky eater.")

The dentist came next. That's when I learned that Mom didn't have a car and she "guessed she'd just ride with me." OK. I wondered at that point if I was going to have to take Mom home after all this. I didn't; she had her mother come pick her up at the dentist's.

Both visits went well -- S is in good health, although there's some dental work to do. Mom strikes me as a reasonably good parent, although I think she may baby S a little bit. (She carried her everywhere, for example.) We scheduled the next dental visit together, so Mom knew when it was and made no objections to that date and time.

S screamed bloody murder when it was time to go, though. She kept crying that she wanted to go with Mommy and there was no good answer at a 3 year old level for why she couldn't. Up til then, S had been repeating that Mommy was in jail. I think S had understood that as the reason why S was at my house. Seeing Mommy out and about and unescorted by anyone rocked that assumption. Clearly, Mommy is not in jail anymore, so why can't I go home? Mom didn't know what to do -- I wouldn't have either! -- she kept trying to talk S down, but S wasn't having it. Finally, Mom asked me for advice and I told her she was going to have to walk away. After a few more minutes, she did.

It was heartbreaking.

Since then, S has had another visit with Mom, where the supervisor transported both ways. The artwork S had brought to give her was still in her backpack, so I don't know if Mom ever looked at it. (S said they didn't play with any of the things in the backpack, which were all things S had wanted to take with her; It's quite likely that Mom thought the backpack just contained an emergency change of clothes, diaper wipes, etc.)  Caseworker has said that Mom is doing well on her case plan already and it seems likely she will get S back, eventually.

Then came the follow-up dentist visit. I thought surely Mom would be there. She wasn't. I told S that she might not be there because she might have had to work. No idea if that's true or not, but it seemed like a reasonable explanation for the 3 year old.

Then an officer of the court charged with collecting background information on S called me to ask what I knew about her and mentioned that Mom was avoiding his calls.

Another visit coming up. And a meeting with caseworkers. I just get so confused to hear that Mom is "doing well" and then have her not complete what seem like fairly easy steps.....hope I'll understand more after the visit with the caseworker.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Update on "sibling" separation

I was nervous about the days following D's departure.

How would S take it?

Would she revert back to crying herself to sleep, as she did the first week or so that she was here? Would she search for him in the house? Would she demand to know why he got to go to his daddy and she had to stay?

None of the above.

She barely blinked. She commented once about "when D comes back" and I gently reiterated that he wouldn't be coming back, he was going to stay with his Daddy until he could go back to his Mommy's house.

Other than that, it's barely registered.

I don't know whether they weren't as close as everyone thought (just friends who knew each other, which felt better for them than not knowing anybody in the house?) or whether there's been a lot of people coming and going in her life or whether she's just a roll-with-the-punches kind of kid or whether she really doesn't quite understand or believe that he won't be back. (Watch: just when I get her convinced, he'll get pulled back into care and come back!)

I had noticed that, in the two weeks or so that they were here together, S had shifted from looking for him when he was at school to looking for everybody. And in all cases, being easily reassured by my answer that they were "at school." So, maybe, having him here for the first few weeks helped her transition here, but now that she's settled, his leaving wasn't such a big deal?

I don't know. But I still feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Toilet Training again

I hate toilet training.

I have always hated toilet training.

I trained my 3 bio kids.

Then, I trained O.

Now, I have to train S. She knows how to go on the potty, but she "don't want to" as she says whenever I ask her to try. I have not yet found the carrot that will motivate her. Stickers? Not interested. Candy bribes? Exciting for 1 day, then over it. Toy reward? Says she wants it, but doesn't go. Can't go to school until this happens? Doesn't care. Picked out her own new underwear at the store, but can't wear it until she stops wetting the boring training underwear? Shrug.

The worst moments are when she tells me with a smile! that she peed or pooped her pants. Again.

Makes me want to throw punishment in there, even though I know that "all the experts" say not to.

(She's not phased by having to wear a diaper. If I tell her that she can skip her nap if she goes in the potty, but that "babies who poop in their pants" take naps, she tells me she wants to be a baby and takes a nap without a fuss. When I stopped asking if she needed to go and started just telling her to try -- for more than 2 seconds --  it led to crying for Mommy or Daddy "because they love me.")

I hate toilet training.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


As far as I can tell, there's no legal reason D's Mom and Dad can't have contact. But there could be something no one is telling me. Domestic violence is not a part of this case, but I'm well aware that doesn't mean it hasn't happened in the past.

The day after D's marathon day of visits with Mom and Dad, both cases went to court.

I spent the day doing mindless things-that-need-to-be-done. I did the grocery shopping. I caught up on the laundry. When I hadn't heard anything by about 3pm, I began to assume that they weren't going anywhere for a while because the caseworker had said he would call me if they were leaving, but would just email me an update of what happened if they weren't.

Then the phone rang. And I realized my cell phone had been in the car for the last few hours and I hadn't been on email in about the same amount of time.

Agency caseworker had left me a message at around 1:30. D was going to Dad, S was staying "for at least a few more weeks."

An hour later, I was driving him to meet his family in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant, hoping I hadn't forgotten to pack anything important. Thankfully, I had a state-approved babysitter already lined up for something happening later in the evening and she was able to come a little early. So D said his goodbyes to everyone at the house and S did not have to watch him reunite with family while she does not.

And I just sent the rated T game home with him, without ever getting into the fact that he wouldn't be allowed to play it here, even if we'd had a system he could have used for it....

And now...I am fostering only one child, which is a new and strange experience for me! (Guess I'd better give them their own labels now...)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

First Visits - Part 2

Part 1 is here.

After some scurrying, we squeezed S's visits in that week. Visit with mom was Friday morning, before her doctor and dentist appointments, which Mom then attended, so Mom got to spend a long time with her. And with me. That's another post for another day.

We got S's visit with Dad scheduled for early Saturday morning, so that we could salvage a portion of the planned family day. Ms F would come get her at 7:15am.

I got a phone call from D's supervisor asking if he could have his visit on Sunday afternoon. He has two hours with Mom, two hours with Dad, at the same location, but with a half hour in between "so that Mom and Dad don't see each other." Wow.

Knowing as I did now that the visits had to be this week, I agreed, although it would mean he'd get back from the visits after bedtime. (I couldn't ask for it to start any earlier without risking his not getting to eat lunch after church. And as it turned out, he walked in the door at bedtime, so it wasn't too late.)

We got up early on Saturday, planning to be ready to head out for our family day as soon as S got back from her visit. Ms F got here on time and buckled her into the carseat. S was excited to see Daddy. Ms F asked me quietly if we were going to be at home; she'd called Dad to confirm and he hadn't answered, so she was afraid he might be a no-show. As I was assuring her that we wouldn't go anywhere, her phone rang. Pleased to recognize the number as his, she answered it. Immediately, she looked less pleased. Her eyes got wide. She turned to me and mouthed, "he's in jail!" Then she started explaining to the woman on the phone that S was right here, but that she couldn't let this woman talk to her. She could have let Dad talk to her, but "you're telling me he's not there, so there really isn't any way I'm giving her the phone." Ms F told S that her daddy wasn't feeling well, so they weren't going to see him today after all.

Side note: I hate lying to children. But I went with the "not feeling well" for a while, because what else could I do? When it turned out that it would be weeks before he was out of jail, I had to change the story..... 

S was confused, but handled the schedule change and the disappointment surprisingly well. We started our family day early.

D's visits went pretty smoothly, comparatively. He came back with a video game (for a system we thankfully do not have) rated T which appears to be about who can beat someone else up faster. At the time, I left it at "we don't have anything you can play that game on." He got here right at bedtime, as it turned out, so we got ready for bed and he went to sleep smoothly.

The next day was court, when we would have the next review of possible family placements.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First Visits - Part 1

When it came to the first family visits for D and S , I had to resist the temptation to spout that "bad attitude" quote I used to have on my wall when I worked in an an office full-time. The one that said, "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part."

They were separate visits, with separate people. Two visits for each child, one for mom and one for dad. The caseworker told me that each child would have a different supervising person, from separate agencies, because she wanted to keep the actual cases as separated as possible in order to prevent either family from successfully directing all blame to the other one. She also insisted to me that the visits should be scheduled at my convenience, not the parents', and that there was nothing I needed to do about visits until I heard from the visit supervisors about scheduling them.

So, I waited. The kids had been in my home for nearly a week when I finally heard from S's visit supervisor. I'll call her Ms F. Ms F called on a Thursday morning and asked if Saturday would be OK with us; I confessed that we had a family day planned that would make that hard, but we could cancel it if that was the only day that would work. (Clearly, I'm not very good at insisting on things being done "at my convenience.") Friday was out because S had pediatrician and dentist appointments scheduled. Ms F said we shouldn't have to cancel our family day and we scheduled S's visits for the next week on Tuesday.

I merrily sent off an email to the agency caseworker (I don't have any contact info for the county one), letting him know the date and time of her scheduled visit.

It set off a hailstorm of texts, emails and phone calls.

I'm sorry, but the law says they have to have a visit this week. Is there a reason they can't have a visit til next week?

A reason? Other than the combined facts that a) it's currently Thursday, b) the child has medical appointments on Friday, and c) you told me to schedule it at my convenience? Oh, and I still haven't heard from D's visit supervisor, by the way, so don't know how his visits could happen this week!