Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review Panel

As I've said before, S's case is a different county than we've ever worked with before.

One of the things I'm learning is that every county is different. Sometimes very different. So, each new county feels like I'm a first time foster parent all over again.

Anyway, in S's county, they have these things called a "review panel." Instead of going before the judge every 3 months (as they did in L & O's county), they alternate between court with a judge and a meeting in a conference room with "members of the community" and the parties involved in the case. No judges, no attorneys. (Well, there weren't any attorneys there this time--I don't know if they aren't allowed or if they just didn't come.) The child is supposed to attend as well, but is sent out of the room to a play room before the detailed talk about the case starts. (Boy was I glad that Mr D and I both went! One of us went out of the room with S, the other stayed for the whole meeting.)

The review panel goes over the case, talks about the case plans, hears from the parents and the caseworkers about how much progress is being made, then makes recommendation to the judge on whether the current placement is OK or if something needs to change.

S had her first review panel today, and I am really liking this system.

The meeting is held in a conference room around a table and is more of a discussion than a hearing. When the parents have concerns about how something is working, the group talks together and brainstorms ideas to improve it within the already established rules. In S's case, her mother said she felt like 4 hours at one McDonald's wasn't the best arrangement for S's visits with both parents (2 hours with each, but scheduled back-to-back at the same location); she said -- and I agree with her -- that she felt like that was a long time for S to have to spend in one small play area. The caseworkers laid out the limits--has to be in public, should involve interaction (not going to a movie, for example), must be within 15 miles of the town in which I live (to minimize the travel time for S). They talked about parks or a nearby mall and the possibility of having the visit location change between parents. (For example, maybe Mom could see her at the park from 9-11 and then Dad could meet her at a nearby McDonald's for lunch from 11:30-1:30; the next time, they would switch the order, so that they each got a turn at the park and at lunch.) I hope that plan actually happens, by the way -- I think the visits would be a much better bonding experience if they were a little more varied, and I've mentioned before that I worry about the financial impact of asking the bioparents to buy a fast-food meal every time they see their child. (This alternating system would spread that responsibility out and ensure that the cost doesn't always fall on one or the other parent.) We'll see whether any actual changes come out of that.

Ultimately, though, I liked the cooperative feel. It really felt like we were a team working together to do what was best for S and to help her family succeed in reunifying. (Selfishly, I also feel much more informed about exactly what the case plan is and the progress that's being made on it, than I ever was with just the court hearings.)

There were other things I didn't like so much, like having to watch S's father entice her into playing in ways that encouraged her to do things her mother had just told her not to do. I don't know if he was deliberately undermining S's mother or if he was just too focused on "having fun" with her to realize the discipline problem he's establishing. I could see S looking at her mother as she disobeyed her, testing to see how her mother would respond. Which she didn't, other than one attempt to ask S's father to "not let her" do that, which he ignored. I was glad that one of the caseworkers was out there at that time, so they could see it too. These two need some help co-parenting and supporting each other. They were polite and friendly to each other, but clearly not "on the same team". (And, personally I thought the mother had established reasonable rules, which the father was ignoring. And I thought the mother wasn't sure how to enforce those rules without possibly causing a public fight with the father, so I don't think she didn't care that S was disobeying her -- she just didn't know how to handle the fact that the father wouldn't back her up, so she let it go. So, mostly, I think the father needs some help learning how to parent, in general, and specifically how to co-parent.)

It was also a little awkward when S called me "Mom" in front of her mother, who she is still calling "Mommy." 

But that would have happened with the other county's system of hearings before the judge every 3 months as well.

Anyway, I like this county's attempts to make the whole experience less adversarial. I wonder what the statistics say about whether one approach works better than the other. It certainly feels better to me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

You can call me.....?

So, "Mom" held for the rest of the day yesterday.

And when Mr D returned home from work for dinner, he was suddenly "Dad."

The next day we were back to being Mr and Ms FirstName.


In other news, the caseworker for L & O left me a message. They have been placed with family, which would be great to hear if it weren't for the fact that the family in question was denied as a placement during the time they were with us. Because of a history of violent behavior.

Hard not to feel guilty--wondering if they'd be there if we'd had room to take them back.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Names again

S has consistently been calling us Mr and Ms FirstName. She calls her bioparents Mommy and Daddy. She has regular visits with Mommy and occasional mail from Daddy.

So, we felt that the Mr and Ms FirstName was the best thing for her to call us. We attempted to introduce our mothers as Ms FirstName as well, instead of Grandma.

But she is three. And words like "Mommy", "Dad", and "Grandma" are not as emotionally loaded for a 3 year old as they are for the adults to whom they are applied.

And there are 3 other children in this house. And those children call me and Mr D "Mom" and "Dad". And they call their grandmothers "Grandma Lastname" when referring to them and just "Grandma" when in their presence.

So the grandparents quickly became "Grandma" and "Grandpa" to S, just as they are to Peter, Susan and Edmund. I told myself that was OK because most people have more than one grandparent and many children have more than two sets, so she wasn't really replacing "her Grandma" with these -- just expanding her circle.

Mr and Ms FirstName has stuck around, partly because our biokids make an effort to refer to us that way when speaking to her.

But, right this minute? I am at a McDonald's playground while my car is across the street being serviced. And S is climbing up to windows and hollering down to me, calling "Mom! Look at me!"

I don't know if "Mom" will last after we're back at the house. If it does, I hope that the difference between "Mommy" and "Mom" is significant enough for those to be different names for the two of us in her mind. I'm certainly not going to tell her she can't call me Mom, and yet.....I'm trying really hard not to take over her mother's place, although I am taking over that role in S's life for the time being.

It's a hard line to walk, much harder than I imagined when we signed up for this.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Random updates

I have heard nothing about L & O -- or their brother -- since we declined to take L & O back.

I don't know if I'll ever hear anything. I had hoped that my offer of being a respite provider would keep us somewhat in the loop, but that may be wishful thinking on my part. I left a voicemail for the caseworker who called me.....I think I have to just let it go now, don't I?

S is settling into the routine of being at our house while visiting with her mother regularly. She no longer cries when leaving Mom at the end of the visit. On the one hand, that's good -- that every visit isn't an additional traumatic separation. On the other makes me sad that she's learned to let go like this. I don't know what I actually want -- other than for her mother to magically have made better choices months ago to prevent this from ever happening?

S's mom is making great progress on her case and is impressing the case worker. There is only one part of her case plan that hasn't moved forward much, and some of that is out of Mom's hands, so there's a lot of leeway on the timing of getting that part done. (She's done the parts of it she can control, even reaching out to her caseworker for help to make sure she was doing everything that she could and doing it correctly. Now, she has to wait for something else to happen.) Mom is taking classes above and beyond what's required and asking for additional drug screens. The caseworker says she's never had a parent do as much, as quickly and sustain that for as long a period of time. We fully expect S to go home...but it will still take a few more months.

It's good that Mom is doing so well, though, because there's nobody else. There's family, some of whom have asked to take S in, but none of them are acceptable to DFCS. There's an aunt -- with a past history of her own with Child Protective Services. There are grandparents -- with a disturbing history of 911 calls to their residence. There's a biological father -- incarcerated, with no release likely any time soon. Caseworker said that if Mom can't get it together, they'd be looking at an adoption case.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Well, shit.

Note: I don't curse. Ever. So putting that word in the title is a sign of just how bad this news was....and, no, it has nothing to do with election results.

I got a call at 8am this morning.

L and O are coming back into care today, as is their baby brother.

Their mother failed a drug test.

The call, of course, was asking if we could take them back.

We can't. The logistics just don't work.

If we took all 3, there would be 7 children in my home. Our largest vehicle seats 7, which means that I would not be able to leave the house without leaving a child behind if Mr D were not at home. Not practical.

If we took only L and O, splitting up the sibling group, we would still have to have L and S share a room. I'm not even certain that's legal in my state, since they aren't related. Even if it were, I'm not comfortable with it. L, at 8, is very interested in arts and crafts projects, so her room was fully stocked with crayons, markers, and beads. S still puts things in her mouth and does not fully understand the concept of "if it doesn't belong to you, don't touch it." Or, frankly, even the concept of "not everything belongs to you." There is no way that S would leave L's things alone.

So I said No.

I said we could be available for respite or occasional babysitting. I said, if they have to split up the group, we could take one. (If they do split the group, the baby will be the one.)

If S were not here, we could make it work and we would do it. Even though we have been very clear that we are not a potential adoptive home for these kids, we would be the foster home until they found an adoptive family. (The judge told the mom when they went home that there would be no second chances. It's been 3 months since they left here, and she's already failed a drug test? This case is not likely to be about reunifying with her. There might be a family adoptive option, or they might be looking for a whole new family.)

They are having a family team meeting today to determine the plan. I don't think the kids have been removed yet.

I still feel guilty for saying No.

I am heartbroken for those precious children who thought they were home and it was over and now it all starts again. I really wanted to believe their reunification would be successful, that this was how it was supposed to work, and that we had done our part to help preserve a family.

I am devastated for their mother, who worked so hard while they were with me, and who has now -- most likely -- lost her children due to her addiction. It was never that she didn't care about them. It's not that she doesn't care about them now! But when the stress of managing all 3 kids on her own built up, it appears that she turned back to the drugs. It may have only been once -- I'll never know -- but it was enough to get caught.

And now I don't know what to say when people ask me if I've heard anything about how they're doing. I've been saying that I haven't and explaining why that's a good thing. Now....I just can't talk about it?

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Wish I'd waited to post my "cute moments", because I have to add this....

At the first house we went to while trick-or-treating last night, the lady at the door bent over to S and said sweetly, "What do you say?", trying to prompt a "trick or treat!"

S said, "Please?"