Monday, December 9, 2013

This Really Shouldn't Surpise Me

N's caseworker is leaving DFCS.

She's the only one in the office who speaks his biological family's language, so she is hoping they will hire a replacement who's bilingual. (And they really should. I've been vague, but I'll just say it. They speak Spanish. I don't live in a border state, but it's not like DFCS isn't going to need a Spanish-speaking caseworker on a regular basis.)

CW's last day is in about a week. No new caseworker assigned yet, nor has a new bilingual caseworker been hired. We've already had our home visit from the CW this month, so the new one won't have to come here until January.

When the CW went home with a stomach virus on a family visit day a few weeks ago, she told me that "Sarah" would cover the visit and that Sarah was "sitting in CW's office."

I met Sarah that day. She's very nice. This is her first job out of college and it was her second week on the job. I don't think she speaks Spanish and she didn't know how to find the lobby from "her" office. She was visibly uncomfortable at the idea of "supervising" the visit and asked me -- me! -- what all she needed to be doing.

I'm betting Sarah will be our new caseworker.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Falling Through the Cracks

There has recently been a well-publicized, tragic case in my area in which a family was reported for child abuse multiple times, investigated multiple times and the child died while still with the biological family.

That is the sort of case that one might think of as someone who "fell through the cracks."

I haven't been following the case. Partly because I know, intimately, how difficult it is to get the "real story" in this system, so I know that the news reports may be inaccurate. Partly because the details of the child's death are so horrific that I don't really want to discuss it with my biological children. Partly just because it makes me sick to my stomach.

But I think it impacted N's case, as the CPS offices scurry to make sure "that" doesn't happen again.

N came into care because of an injury. A criminal case was opened on the parents, based in part on the medical report given by the emergency room staff that treated him. It was also based on the fact that the family's "story" of how the injury occurred did not match the injuries that the medical report stated. Imagine that the family said he fell off a bed that was 2 feet off the floor and the medical report said that his left leg was broken in 5 places. (*Obviously, that's neither the story, nor the reported injuries.) But, here's the problem. Later medical reports don't match the original injuries stated either. (So, in my made-up example, imagine that the current X-rays show no history of broken bones in the leg at all.)

So, as best I can put it together....? Someone at the ER got their medical records mixed up.

The writer of the original medical report has been asked to submit a revised one. Until that revised report comes in, the case is at a stand still.

At the moment, N's mother, father and siblings are all living together again. He is the only one still held in care, although I think the other children may be under a "protective order" allowing CPS to check in  on them regularly and without notice. They still have "supervised" visits once a week, although they can be changed to unsupervised at the caseworker's discretion. The next court date is in February, and that is the earliest he will likely be returned home.

So, as best I can tell, this family missed out on N's 1st birthday (we were able to make that a visit day, so they at least got to see him) and will not have him home at Christmas....because someone else got their files crossed several months ago.

To be clear, the injury was big. And it's still possible he would have come into care. But I can't help thinking that he might have been ordered home at the last court date (in November) if the medical records had been correct from the beginning.

A parent aide is going to begin supervising visits in the family home (as part of the parents' case plan). The caseworker tells me that CPS can approve an unsupervised visit on Christmas Day if the parent aide feels that will be safe. I can hardly wait to meet the parent aide (that should happen next week at the latest) so that I can let her know how important it is to make that decision -- and soon -- so that we might, just might, be able to at least get them some family time on Christmas Day.

And I wonder....what happened to the child who really had all those injuries that his initial report listed?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Moments that Break Your Heart -- Take Three

Last time I did this, some readers added some of their own in the comments. 

She's 3. Her mother is working hard on her case plan and they will certainly be reunified...eventually. One night, she talks about how much she loves this toy that she has at your house. You casually mention that she can take it with her when she goes back to Mommy's house. She replies, "I don't want to go to Mommy's house. I want to stay here."

He's 10 months old. He's been in your home a week. Already, when you try to leave him with someone else, he cries and reaches back for you. When you return, he lights up and reaches his arms out for you to pick him up again. Other adults coo, "Oh, he's so attached to you!"....

She's 3. When it's her turn to say grace at the evening meal, she rambles on, mostly dropping in phrases that she remembers hearing others use when they pray. She thanks God for the food and for her "family and friends". She prays for face-less others, asking that God will "help them not be scared" or "help them not feel 'lone." And she always asks that God will help those same others "go to their Mommy's house."

She's the biological mother of a child in your care. She has been working her plan with energy and enthusiasm, even volunteering for additional drug testing to prove herself and signing up for parenting classes above the minimum required for her case plan. During a routine phone call -- so that the child and Mom can talk more frequently than just at their semi-monthly visits -- she asks to speak to you. She asks if you've heard from her case worker. She wants to give him an update on how a certain part of her case plan is going, but he won't return her calls.

She's 3. She's been saying ugly, mean things to other children. When you impose the consequence for such behavior, she begins to sob. "Mommy doesn't love me anymore."

Child is in your care for a year. In that time, she has 4 caseworkers. When the fourth one comes onto the case -- 9 months in -- everything in the case plan for reunification is complete except for housing. The fourth caseworker is the one who realizes that the mother's current housing was never actually checked out to see if it would be acceptable. And it is.

She's 3. She's been asking for a few weeks when she can "have a sleepover" at Mommy's house. You've told her you're waiting for the judge to say it's OK. When it's finally approved, you tell her she'll get to spend the night at the next visit. A few hours later, she says she wants you to come with her to Mommy's to spend the night, too.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Who They Are -- N

N was so close to being 10 months old when he arrived, we might as well have called him that. As I finally find time to write this post, he is 11 months old, having been here for over a month.

He is super sweet -- he hugs and snuggles and "kisses". He lights up when the people he loves appear....and he has quickly attached to me and to our oldest biological child. He is attaching more slowly to Mr D and the other two kids. And when I say "lights up", that almost understates it. He grins with his whole face, his sparkling eyes nearly disappearing in chubby baby cheeks, and his chin lifts up towards the person he is greeting. He waves his arms excitedly or lifts them towards me in request to be held and he kicks his feet furiously. (He's not standing alone yet.) If he's in crawling position already, he will head towards me (or Peter) at all speed.

I'm not as concerned about his attachment to me as I was at first, because he has shown some normal, age appropriate "stranger anxiety" as well. When I drop him off in the church nursery, he cries as soon as he realizes I am leaving, but he is fine in less than 5 minutes. When strangers in the grocery store try to talk to him, he stares at them blankly for a few minutes before maybe granting them a smile, a "word", or some hand clapping.

He does not like to be left to play alone, which is also age appropriate. He will entertain himself with toys for short periods if someone stays nearby -- I see him checking periodically to ensure I haven't snuck off -- which at least makes it possible for me to put his clean clothes away in his room! Mostly, though, he likes to play with someone or to be on the go somewhere.

We've had an assessment for developmental delays, and he is very slightly behind in motor skills and on target every where else. So, we will begin physical therapy soon.

He sleeps amazingly well and wakes up happy. Although I can tell that he likes some foods better than others, I've still never had him refuse one. (He will refuse food when he's full, so I don't think this is a "history of nutritional neglect" symptom; I think he's just what my mother used to call "a good eater.") Seriously, still the easiest baby I've ever had.

The CPS investigation into his injury is "complete", but everything is in something of a holding pattern because the police investigation isn't finished. I'm a little confused by all this, because I don't see how a child abuse investigation can be complete if we still don't know if there will be a criminal complaint filed. This is our first case in which child abuse charges have been considered. I suspect we will never really know if his injury is the result of some terrible accident or the effect of someone reaching a breaking point at which they snapped and hurt him; it seems to be clear that it was not part of a larger pattern of consistent, regular abuse.

I am finding it easier than I expected to set the "why" aside. I have trouble imagining him being difficult enough to lead anyone to that point (and I'm not naive about how difficult infants can be -- I had one with colic), but I've discovered that I just don't think about that all that much. The "what happened" and "why" are not our part of the the process. Our part of the process is to love on this little guy; to care for him and to ensure he is safe for the time that he is in our home. And that is what we will do. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Still here

A quick, minimally edited, update to say that our latest little one ("N") is still here.

He's actually 10 months (not 9 months), which is close enough for foster care.

There's a medical issue that requires some follow up, but not much in the way of ongoing care. Just a few extra appointments. Oh, and a surgery. Which we've already done. It required an overnight stay in the hospital, so, of course, he is fine and I am still recovering from the night of regularly interrupted sleep.

He's the happiest, smiley-est baby I've ever met. His laugh is a delighted cackle that makes anyone within hearing distance grin. He sleeps all night long and still takes a long afternoon nap. He eats everything I've ever offered him.

He came to us from another foster placement. I was told on the initial call that it was just that the other family had taken in some relative kids and had to let him go. I've since had it hinted -- by multiple sources involved in the case -- that there were other issues with the previous foster family as first brush with a "bad" foster home. (I don't think there were concerns of actual abuse -- he wasn't yanked out of there fast enough for that. Just a vague feeling that there wasn't enough interaction, maybe? I'm hoping to learn more when I finally get a chance for a private conversation with his county caseworker.) His bio-mom has commented that he seems much happier and relaxed with me than he did with the former foster mom.

He came with a small suitcase of clothes, some formula, some baby food, about 12 diapers and one bottle. And no instructions. Nothing about how often he was used to eating or sleeping. Nothing about how much he would eat at a feeding. Nothing about what soothing techniques were helpful or whether he was used to being rocked to sleep. Nothing about what he was and was not capable of doing developmentally.

It's a reunification case and he's been in care for about 3 months already.

He cries when anyone except his bio-family, Mr D or Peter try to take him from me. He does not cry when his bio-family give him back to me at the end of a visit. I am immensely grateful/relieved to find that the bio-family sees this behavior as reassuring, rather than threatening. (I think they see it as a sign that I must be caring for him well since he trusts me so much. I would have completely understood, however, if it broke his mama's heart to see him reach for me from her lap. Maybe it does, and she's just self-sacrificing enough to swallow that heartbreak for his greater good.)

Unfortunately, I do not speak his native language and his bio-mom does not speak mine. (Bio-dad speaks some English, and the caseworker and CASA are both bilingual.) I'm learning a few key words and phrases in their language ("food", "milk", "more", etc) and doing some signing with him, in hopes that it will translate back more smoothly than only teaching him English.

It looks like he has an excellent CASA.

I don't know how long he'll stay. I do know there was an injury, the cause of which is being investigated, so I think it's safe to assume he will stay until that investigation is complete.I don't know what the case plans look like. I do know that both mom and dad have one and they are working them. I think mom and dad are together and I know there are 3 older siblings, who are not currently in a foster home. (I'm not clear on whether they are in a relative placement or not in care at all.)

So much to learn over the next few months.....

Saturday, September 21, 2013

My First Experience with WIC

Foster children under age 5 (I think?) qualify for WIC.

I've never signed any of my placements up for it. There are lots of reasons for that, but mostly it's a combination of two things. First, I've had 3 and 4 year olds; they're eating the same food we are in not-very-large-portions, so it isn't that much of an increase of our food budget to feed them. Second, I've heard so many horror stories about WIC. I've heard all about how hard it was to get the child enrolled in the program, how difficult it was to get into the WIC office to get the vouchers every month, how much of a hassle it was to use them in the store. I've read stories about store cashiers and other customers treating the WIC user with disdain and impatience.

So, I just haven't bothered. It sounded like a lot of trouble for very little gain. But I always told myself that if we ever had a placement that was still on formula...I'd have to figure out WIC. Because that stuff is expensive.

When N arrived with his caseworker, she brought me a bag full of baby food and an open container of formula. She also handed me a small folder, saying "here are his WIC checks." My agency caseworker told me to call the number of the office on the folder to find out how to get them transferred from the former foster family to mine, so that I could actually use them. (You sign the folder; when you use the vouchers, you sign them at the register and the cashier is supposed to compare your signature to the one on the folder.)

There were 4 vouchers for the month of October and 4 for the month of November. There was also one voucher -- for several cans of formula -- which was due to expire in 3 days, so I called the WIC office the next day.

And it was....easy. And pleasant.

That was a nice surprise.

They scheduled an appointment for me to come in first thing the following morning. They told me what to bring with me to the appointment -- the current WIC folder, my foster parent placement paperwork, my ID, and a current utility bill or rent statement -- and said I would be getting the current coupons transferred over so I could use them and also changing his account to the office closest to me.

When I went the appointment, there was no line at the check-in counter. The person behind the counter was friendly and efficient. She took all my paperwork, made copies, and gave it back to me. She told me to have a seat and she would call me "soon." N and I sat in the waiting room for about 5 minutes and then she called me back over. She handed me a new WIC folder with the same coupons in it and pointed out where I should sign the folder. She asked if I wanted to keep the same appointment time for the next visit....which will be in November. She asked me if I had any questions and then answered them. When I was ready to leave, she told me to call them if I had any more questions between now and the appointment in November.

The whole thing took about 15 minutes.

I used the one check that was about to expire yesterday. There weren't any other customers in line with me, but the cashier and the store manager (who was bagging my groceries) were both very helpful and patient. The store manager talked with me for a few minutes about how to find which items in the store can be bought with WIC. He said it can be confusing because "it changes a lot" and that I shouldn't hesitate to ask at the front counter for help if I needed it.

I realize that using WIC as a foster parent is very different experience than using it as a parent in need. I also realize that the appointment process at the WIC office is much easier for me than it would be for a working parent. I wonder about the one step that I didn't have to take -- getting him enrolled in the first place. But, in general, the whole process was much smoother and more pleasant than I expected. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013


There was some confusion at the agency about when we would be open for another placement.

I had told our caseworker on S's case that we needed to get Susan settled into middle school and they could call us after Labor Day.

Labor Day came and went. No calls.

We wondered about this, but shrugged it off, assuming they just weren't getting calls that were appropriate for us. (Older children, medical needs that we aren't equipped to handle, etc.)

Yesterday, I got an email from another caseworker at the agency asking if we were ready to take in another placement.

I responded last night that we were and she replied immediately, saying "great!"

You experienced foster parents know what this means. For any readers that aren't experienced foster parents, this means we were not on the open list yesterday, but we were as of this morning (or possibly late last night when she sent me the responding email). Which also means....I got a call today.

9 month old baby boy.

That's pretty much all I know. Well, that and that he'll be here in about an hour and he's coming from a DFCS foster home that has too many children. (They've just taken on a kinship placement.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Best: "I do not think it means what you think it means"

We're in that quiet space between placements where I don't have much to write that's appropriate for this blog.

That doesn't mean life isn't going on, of course. Susan started middle school. That's brought us to a new building with a whole new set of staff, which means I have to rebuild the relationships that make an IEP team work. I'm thankful that the timing of S's return has allowed me to focus more time and energy on that right now and I've asked the agency not to call me about another placement until I have her well and truly settled into middle school.

But I had a conversation with a friend this week that led in a "foster care" direction and found myself articulating something I've never actually put into words before. My friend asked me if I felt good about the end result of our cases. Did I think the children were in the right place?

One of the biggest steps (for us) in becoming foster parents was learning to accept the fundamental truth that "best interest of the child" doesn't mean "best parents." We have to accept that there is value in a child remaining with blood relatives. A lot of value. Value that outweighs a lot of things. It is more important to place a child with a relative than to place them with a family that can offer them better parenting. It is more important to place a child with a relative than to place them with a family that can offer them a better standard of living. It is more important to place a child with a relative than to place them with a family that can offer them more time and energy on a daily basis. There is even more value if that relative is the mother or father of the child.

This sounds arrogant. But I really do believe that Mr D and I are better parents than the biological parents of any of the children that have been placed with us. I do believe that homes with 2 adults are better for children than homes with only one. (Let me explain that last one. It's not that I don't think single parents can be good parents. I know some excellent single parents. It's simply that I believe that being a parent by yourself is hard. It's hard not to be able to trade off with another parent when you're having a really bad day. It's hard not to have someone to talk to about your child who loves them and knows them just as well as you do. It's hard to have the entire financial burden of supporting a family fall on you all the time. It's hard to be the only adult in a household. And when so many things in your day-to-day life are that hard, it's hard to be the best parent you can be.) In spite of those beliefs, I don't think any of the children placed with us should have stayed forever -- it would not have been in their "best interests." All the benefits that would come with becoming a part of our family are completely outweighed by the negative impact of pulling them away from a birth family that was safe, that loved them and that was willing to try to be the best parents they could be.

I've said this before. I haven't yet had a placement where the children had been abused in their home. My cases have all been neglect cases, and none of them have been severe neglect. They've been the sort of neglect that happens when a young, single parent gets lost in trying to keep up with everything and the care of the children begins to slip through the cracks. Or the sort of neglect that happens when a parent has a substance abuse problem. Someday that will change. Someday, I will get the placement that comes with physical injuries inflicted by a family member. Or the placement that comes neglected out of callous disregard for the life of the child. Or the placement whose parent can't (or won't) get clean in order to get their kids back. And for those children, their "best interest" may not be to go home. But I haven't had one of those yet. All I've had so far is parents making really big mistakes. So I do the best I can to parent their children while they try to fix those mistakes and ensure they don't happen again. And then, in the "best interests of the child", I send those children home.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Home Again

S has returned to her mother.

The "transition" was as non-transitional as I had feared. I got a call one day saying that the caseworker was requesting permission from the judge to send her home in about two weeks.

I didn't give S that date as a return date. I chose to wait until we heard from the judge lest the answer be no -- there was a sizable chance the judge would require an appearance in court. Let's say that return date was July 25th.

On the afternoon of 24th, I called the caseworker. I left her messages every where, asking where we stood on the reunification date -- was it "tomorrow"?

I got a call back on the 25th. She was to be returned on the 28th . . . in 3 days.

There would be no more visits before that return date.

So, it was, in fact, "this time you won't come back here from Mommy's house."

I'm not sure she understood. She reacted very calmly to being told it was going to happen. She asked occasionally how many more days until The Day. Once or twice she talked about "when she comes back here" and I had to gently reiterate that she wouldn't be. She reacted very calmly to packing up everything she owned and loading it in the car. She got a little clingy at the actual hand-off -- lots of hugs and kisses good bye, and she wanted me to strap her into her car seat.

Her mother and I hugged each other and smiled a lot. Her mother said she wants us to keep in touch. Her grandmother was there too, and she said the same. S rode off in the car with her grandmother -- because it was the vehicle with room for her carseat after all her things had been loaded. Grandmother stopped the car and rolled the windows down to tell me that S was saying she loved me.

Her mother has worked hard on her case plan and has done everything required of her to get her child back. I hope and pray that the changes she has made in her life are long-lasting ones. I believe that her mother will encourage her to keep the photo album we made for her for as long as she wants it. I don't know how much contact we really will maintain -- we live about an hour apart -- but I appreciate the offer and the care for S's mental health that prompted it.

It's been a few days now since we filled the van with S's things and drove off, returning with an empty vehicle. Her room is empty. We are slowly beginning again to refer to it by its wall color, instead of as "S's room." (This is requiring conscious effort on our part right now, but we believe it's better to change the name of the room now and get used to it, than risk slipping and calling that bedroom "S's room" when the next placement comes and has moved into it.)

As far as when that next placement will come, I've told the agency to give me several weeks. Last time we sent a long-term placement home, we said we would take a break, but really only took about 2 weeks. I need more time than that.

The Originals will start school soon -- we are buying school supplies, getting hair cuts, going to doctor's appointments, and getting ready to meet teachers. We will get the new school year under way and I will spend some time on projects around the house. When the Originals have been in school for about a month, then I will consider taking another placement.

Unless that turns out to be one of those Famous Last Words....

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Foster Care Sucks

We are very close to S's return to her mother. I believe that is the right conclusion to this case and I support it wholeheartedly. Well, mostly wholeheartedly.

The transition "plan" is fuzzy. She is currently spending a few nights a week with her mother -- her father is still on supervised visitation. That's not the problem -- the parents aren't "together." The problem is that there is no set date planned for the actual final return. It's just "we'll do this for a while and then submit a petition to reunify early next month."

That doesn't work well for a 4 year old.

I've asked for a target date.

I've explained that it really helps S when we can mark big days on the calendar, so she can watch them get closer as we mark off days at bedtime. I've even explained that she does OK when the date changes a little bit, but I really need a date to work with. (As in, we could manage it if we'd told her it would be August 12th and found out on the 8th that it would actually be the 14th. Or the 10th.)

I still don't have a date. I have a vague "before school starts."

This isn't a transition. Not for the child, at least. At this rate, from her perspective, we will go from "you're spending a couple of nights a week at Mommy's" to "this time you don't ever come back" with no notice.

I am beginning to talk about "soon" to her.

Last week, she melted down and told me that Mommy's house is not "safe." She told me a story of seeing a man living there hitting Mommy. I nearly crashed the car, thinking I'd been advocating all this time for her to return to a dangerous living environment.

She is, however, 4. And I know that her sense of elapsed time is not very strong. So, it was hard to tell whether this had happened during a recent visit or some time in the past. Of course, I documented it by sending a description of the conversation off to the caseworker. About a day later, the caseworker called me to let me know she had looked into it -- S had a name for the man, which I'm sure helped -- and the man in question is incarcerated, has been since before S came into care, and will be for years to come. Big sigh of relief. She may be remembering past trauma that happened in that house, but at least we really aren't sending her back into an unsafe place.

Today, she melted down again. She told me that the only things that are ever on Mommy's TV are scary and that she doesn't want to go back there. She wants to stay here.

I don't know how to help her with that. I can't. I held her and rocked her and told her I was sorry. I told her we loved her and we were glad she liked it here, but that Mommy loves her too. I told her it's OK to tell a grown-up something is too scary for her to watch and then to leave the room so she doesn't have to see it.

The reality is that it's been nearly a year -- a quarter of her life. Our house is home to her now. We are the stable, loving family that she thinks of as "hers" and Mommy is someone she sees and plays with on a regular basis.

I think we've successfully taught her that WE will keep her safe and cared for. That OUR boundaries are firm and reliable. But she is struggling -- oh, so much -- to believe any of that is true in the home to which she is returning. And I can't promise that it is. I believe her mother loves her enormously. I believe she will go to the ends of the earth to TRY to care for her. But I am not under any illusion that the structure and routine that we have built that helps S thrive will be continued. I doubt that there will be monitoring of television and radio content to ensure that it is appropriate for little ears and eyes. (This is a parent that has claimed more than once that the child's favorite movie is Coraline. This same child who was too scared to watch all of The Little Mermaid at my house.)

None of that is a reason not to reunify. It just sucks.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Medical Paperwork Fun

S needed some dental work done. She was terrified of the first dentist, who first put off doing the work for 6 months (in a vain hope that she would be better able to sit still for them by then), then said they would have to sedate her to get the work done and ultimately waited until I called them to follow up on the appointment call I was supposed to have gotten to tell me that they wouldn't actually do that work themselves.

So, I found her a new dentist.

I love this new dentist so much I have switched my biological children to this new practice. (Their previous pediatric dentist doesn't accept Medicaid.) They have been incredible. Patient, loving, calm, composed, understanding, reasonable, warm.

But the biggest moment for me was actually something the front office staff did.

My agency requires me to get a specific form filled out at every medical visit. I've been told (by county caseworkers and by medical staff at a number of different places) that they are the only agency that does this. These same people have also told me that they wish more agencies did something like this. It's a simple form. It just lists the office's contact information (name, address, phone, fax), the child's name and birthdate and then has about 5 short questions. Essentially, it's a list of the purpose of the visit, what diagnosis (if any) there is, whether a follow up is needed, and any post-visit procedures that should be followed. The form has my agency's name in big letters at the top of the page. And my agency's name is something along the lines of "Agency Foster Care," so it's pretty clear from the form what the purpose is.

I always offer the form to the front office staff, and they generally look at it like I'm insane and end up having me hand it to the doctor in the actual exam room. Sometimes the nurse or front office person will take it, but they make me say multiple times that I need this filled out because the child is in foster care. Usually in the waiting room. Possibly surrounded by other patients and their families.

At this pediatric dentist, I finally, FINALLY got something that felt like a professional reaction. It was clear she'd never seen the form before, but she took it, glanced over it, and turned to the hygienist who was going to be seeing S. Her head was now turned in such a way that I could just see the side of her face and the only other people who could see her face were staff. She held the form up so the hygienist could see it and said, "she needs this filled out" and mouthed "foster care."

It's amazing how little things like that can make such a huge difference in my comfort level. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Just when I thought I couldn't be more surprised with how completely messed up this case is.

S's mother is very close to being approved for overnight visits, as part of the plan to begin to transition her home. Yay!

The caseworker is filling out paperwork to submit to the judge to request that change. She said that "it's better" if she can include statements of support from as many different people involved in the case as possible. (I heard that "it's better" as "the more of these I have, the more likely the decision is a quick one.") OK. So, she's got my support, her own, bio mom's, and the CASA's....and she's waiting on one from S's GAL.

That's sounds fine, right?

Except when you know that this is the first I have heard of the existence of S's GAL.

Almost 11 months into the case.

S has an attorney representing her in court that is someone I have never met and who has made no attempt to have any sort of contact with the child he or she (I don't even know which!) is supposedly representing. (And I've been to court, by the way. Always accompanied by S. So it's not like there hasn't been an opportunity to meet me or has been an opportunity to meet S that I might not know about.)

And I thought the CASA -- who I've seen about 3 times -- was bad. At least I know her name.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stealth Evangelism

Disclaimer: I'm a Christian foster parent. If you don't want to read about my struggles with some aspects of my faith, skip this one. If you do read and feel compelled to comment, please be kind. :)

I've always had a difficult time with evangelism in the sense of converting others to Christianity. I know the scripture verses -- "Go and make all disciples", "No one may enter the kingdom of God, except through (Jesus)" -- but when it comes to actually approaching someone who is not a believer and attempting to convince them to change their minds about that? Really not comfortable with doing anything along those lines.

Part of this I blame on the Southern Baptists of my childhood, whose idea of evangelism was to passionately proclaim that those of us who did not attend their church were all doomed to eternal torment. (I wasn't Baptist, but I was raised Christian. I thought the evangelical Christians of my high school were misguided and offensive....especially when I saw how they interacted with friends of mine who were Jewish or Muslim.) Another part if it is simply me shrinking from the logical result of the whole process, since that might require me to attempt to convert several of my own close family members. Family members who have always treated our difference of opinion when it comes to faith with tolerance and respect. Family members who have never attempted to convince me that I am wrong and should agree with them. I struggle to believe that I am called to be the one to shatter that family harmony.

So, I don't evangelize. I rationalize this pretty well and, on a certain level, I believe that my rationalizations have merit. It is not "honoring my father and mother" to treat them with less tolerance and respect than they treat me. I spread the gospel by living what I believe, not by talking about it. I behave in ways that I hope puts a positive light on "what Christians do." I raise my children in the church... and I mean, really, in the church. We are involved in all sorts of small groups and mission projects and fellowship activities and Bible studies. And our children are aware that our motivation for becoming a foster family is rooted in a belief that we are called by God to do so.

I realized recently, however, that foster care has led me into a type of evangelism that would never occur to me otherwise. As a foster parent, I am raising other people's children. And I am raising them in the church as well. (Aside: We foster through a faith-based agency. When counties place children in my home, they know they are getting a Christian family that is actively involved in a church community. This is one of the reasons we chose to foster through this agency -- they just aren't going to send me a child who is actively participating in a different faith, although they will send me children with no faith background at all.) We have always discussed our faith with children in terms of "what we believe" and "at our church, we do this".

S was recently given a children's Bible. She actually already had one, but she loves both of them. She "reads" them over and over. She picks them for bedtime stories almost every night. She has talked about her Bibles to her parents.

When this child came to us, she knew nothing about God or Jesus. As far as we can tell, she had never attended church. Her mother was not opposed to our teaching her about the Christian faith -- when S asked her mother if she went to church, she mumbled something about "needing to get back to that" -- but it was not a part of their lives. 

10 months later, S talks about what she has learned in church. When she sees a cross, she talks about Jesus dying and coming back to life. She knows that Jesus lives in her heart and in the hearts of others. Someone asked her teasingly one day why she was so pretty; she replied calmly that it was just how God made her. She watches VeggieTales and she loves to go to church.

Soon (I hope), I will be sending this 3 year old girl back to her mother. The child that I am sending back is certain that God loves her. She is equally certain that He loves everyone else, too. The child I am sending back is likely to ask her mother about "her church" and to pressure her to find them a church home. (I'm under no illusion that this is going to be the norm. But S is one determined little person.)

It's almost like I'm sending in a little stealth evangelist to convert her mother. That's a form of evangelism I can be comfortable with. Even if does seem a little sneaky.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


A lot of S's behavior issues are rooted in her desire to be in control. Of everything. (This is, of course, not unusual with foster kids -- they've learned that they must be in control in order to survive and it is very hard for them to give up control to these strange people called the "foster family.")

Lately, this need for control is coming out as defiance. Not just in the sense of "no, I won't" when asked to do something, but also in the sense of arguing with everything and anything. Never backing down. It seems that her instinctive response to any statement --no matter what it is -- is to disagree. And to disagree loudly and rudely.

I have joked that if you tell her the sky is blue on a clear day, she will say "No, it isn't!"

Today, in the car, I got an even better example. We started the car to head to church and the radio came on. It was tuned to a local Christian station. Minutes after the car started, the radio said "You're listening to 'Keep the Faith' on ...."

Immediately, S snarled, "No, we're not!"

To the radio.

Because it is wrong about its own programming.

And S Knows All.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Line Crossed. Kinda.

Well, I couldn't help myself.

I told BioMom that "I shouldn't be saying this, but..."

I told her I felt it was unacceptable for the county to tell her that she has to wait an extra 2 months to get her child back at this point in the case. She agreed. She sounded hugely relieved to hear me say it and said she would ask her lawyer about that. (To be fair to her lawyer, I've never spoken to her and it could be that she would be reacting just the way I wanted her to, as soon as anyone told her what was going on.) By the time we were done talking, BioMom was going to call the caseworker as soon as we got off the phone.

I also sent an email to my agency caseworker in which I told her that I thought this was crazy and asked if there was anything we could suggest to speed things up. She responded with the same word I used. Unacceptable. It is unacceptable for CPS to use the court schedule as an excuse to drag out this case.

A few hours later, I got an email from the county caseworker. The final piece that they needed to do is complete from their end, although it has resulted in some small things BioMom needs to do. Once they are done -- a matter of a week or two, most likely -- we will move to overnights and petition the court to allow a hearing quickly, so S can go home sooner rather than later.

Today, when I met BioMom for a visit handoff, she told me the same news with a big smile. She said mid-July as a ball-park date to have S home for good. That's about one month from now, which sounds about right, considering we haven't started overnights yet.

It's not a done deal, yet, of course, because nothing in foster care is. But it sounds much, much better to me.

And I feel no guilt at all about being a bit of a squeaky wheel -- just glad it didn't backfire on BioMom. (I'll admit, when she said she was calling the caseworker, I got a little nervous. I hoped that I hadn't set BioMom up to behave in a way that was going to get the caseworker mad at her.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Crossing the Line

I am tempted to cross a boundary line that I am pretty sure I should not be crossing.

S's case has been sorely mishandled by CPS. Partly this is the natural result of the caseworker turnover we've had as things that should have been done early in the case were not and then the later caseworkers assumed they had been done by a predecessor, resulting in these things never being done at all. Until we finally got a caseworker with some skills in checking up on details.

The result of this is that we are now discovering that, if the first, or second, or even third caseworkers had done their job correctly, S's mother's caseplan would have been complete 3 months ago. Complete. Done. (That's before the last time we went to court, by the way.)

But that's apparently not bad enough by itself.

When I asked the (new, more on-top-of-things, not-the-one-who-screwed-up) county caseworker what the timeline for reunification now looks like, she said we can increase visitation (move to overnights with mom, for example), but we can't actually send her home until we go to court again.

I guess that makes sense. A judge has to look at this mess before they can officially send the child back to mom. When can we go to court?

Not for about 2 more months.

Wait. What?!

The court schedule for June and July is already set, so the earliest we can go to court to get ordered to reunify is August.

Never mind that it's CPS's fault that the mother's case plan wasn't complete the last time that we were in court -- not BioMom's. Never mind that we're now talking about a total of around 5 extra months of separation between a 3 year old and her mother. Never mind that this timeline means that S will have spent a full year of care -- over a quarter of her life -- and almost half of that time was pretty much completely unnecessary.

The boundary I want to cross? I want to tell BioMom to tell her lawyer to get mad. I want to tell BioMom's lawyer that she should be raising all kinds of heck about this and insisting that CPS arrange a court date As Soon As Possible, not When Next Convenient. (I'm pretty sure I won't actually cross that boundary....because I don't really want to be giving out legal advice....but I really, really want to see somebody get mad and raise a stink about this.)

BioMom is too scared of CPS to get mad. From the beginning, she has been clearly TERRIFIED that they are going to take her child away from her and give that child to me. I have consistently reassured her that my goal in this case is not to adopt her child, but simply to take care of her child until she finishes her case plan. She's done. She's been done. S should be long home by now and dragging things out 2 more months is not going to accomplish a thing, except to further traumatize an already struggling child. I should not be involved in this case anymore.

S struggles with "why is it taking so long?" and I don't know what to tell her. I can't tell her the truth -- because some of the grownups who don't know you (remember, the ones who came out to "see" you once or twice and then disappeared?) messed up and now we all have to wait longer. I won't lie to her. So she gets a lot of "I don't know" (I guess that's actually a lie, now) and "grown-up things sometimes take a really long time" from me. I'm sure that's very satisfying.

Foster Care Still Sucks, Cherub Mamma.

Monday, June 3, 2013


The biggest I-should-have-known-this-but-didn't-think-of-it-this-way-until-it-happened revelation hit me this weekend.

Foster parents are the only ones in this "system" who are working with and for foster kids 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This struck me this particular weekend because so many people in this case promised to get back to me on Friday and didn't. And I realized Sunday afternoon that they were all "off" and I could count on hearing from none of them until Monday at best.

There was the agency caseworker, who has supposedly been working for 3 weeks to find us respite care for a night early this week when we have "big kid" plans. Last heard from Friday morning; at that time, it was "still working on it" and would send me some numbers of people I could try "soon."

There was the county caseworker, who called me Friday morning and left a message asking me to call her back. Which I did, within about 30 minutes, and had to leave her a message.

There was S's counselor, who told me at the end of S's last session (which was on TUESDAY) that she would call on Friday to set up this week's counseling appointment and to talk to me "about what she's seeing with S."

None of them called on Friday.

I was sick Friday, so I didn't call them myself, but the point is that I Shouldn't Have To Do That. These are professionals. Who told me they would call on a certain date. But didn't. (Rational Aside: OK. I get that when you work in child welfare, there comes a point in the day and the week when you have to just stop and give yourself a break because it never really ends. I really do get that. But all these people have my email address. It have taken them a few seconds to send me a quick: Sorry, got swamped today, will be in touch Monday. And those few seconds would have gone a huge way towards making me feel more supported and less on-our-own-here-until-they-feel-like-talking-to-us-and-then-we'd-better-show-up-when-and-where-they-say.)

I spent the weekend stewing about the fact that all of these people get to go home at the end of Friday and pretend to forget about the children whose lives they hold in their hands while I am still fielding "When can I go home?" questions and "I want my mommy" tantrums and dodging kicking feet while I'm at it.

This morning I got busy, and I am 2 for 3 so far.
  • Emailed the agency caseworker, copying her supervisor, forwarding the whole email chain of 3 weeks worth of my asking for this one respite night. She responded with "I'm in court, but here are some people you can call." (Couldn't she have sent me those numbers on Friday night?) Then I did the rest of her job and found my own respite caregiver.
  • Called the county caseworker and got her voicemail. Still wondering what she wanted to tell or ask me.
  • Called the counselor and she actually answered! We spoke briefly and I learned what she had wanted to talk to me about. She had a revelation that S may be a little uncomfortable with reunification at this time because she remembers how unstable life was with her mother before she came into care and that's not what she's used to anymore. Really? You think? A 3 year old that spends 10 months in a stable household with consistent routines and rules might be a little put off at the idea of leaving all of that to return to the chaos that was home before? And could be feeling conflicted about that because she does love her mother and want to be with her? (AND ISN'T THAT ONE OF THE REASONS I PUSHED FOR COUNSELING IN THE FIRST PLACE!?)
So, to sum up. I still don't know what the caseworker wants to tell me. (Is there a change in visitation? Is there progress in the case? Is there a court date planned? Did one of the parents complain about me in some way? Has the county now decided that all foster parents must wear a certain color shirt at all times in order to identify them as foster caregivers, but still cannot in any way identify any children as being in care?) I have successfully saved the Original's reward night for the spring semester from either being short one parent or the event itself being cut short (which it would be if we tried to add a 3 year old to an evening outing that wouldn't start til close to bedtime). I have learned that the counselor is "seeing" things that I think should be obvious from the bare sketches of this case's situation and doesn't have much to tell me in how to help the child cope with those things.

Foster Care Sucks.

Friday, May 24, 2013


I'll just say this upfront. This is a whiny post. I'm having a difficult day and I want to complain for a while.

I'm exhausted. S is still raging. She saves them for me. I know this because I have seen her turn it off like a switch when she hears another adult come into the house, whether that's Mr D coming home from work or one of the myriad of social workers and counselors that drift into and out of our home on a semi-regular basis.

She's not throwing things at me any more. Well, not physical things. Now she's hurling words at me, as though she is desperately trying to break me. I don't know if she's trying to lessen her own pain by forcing it onto me or what is going on.

I'm trying to implement the things I've learned in training and from reading The Connected Child , but she keeps finding ways to react to them that aren't in the script. When I get down on her level to talk to her, she runs away from me. Do I follow her, in which case it turns into a chase around the house? Or try to honor her desire for space and have a conversation from across the room? She won't give me eye contact.

She resists complying with rules and requests by me with violence and anger...until the moment comes when she realizes that it's "too late" and then she tries to backtrack and begin to co-operate. My instinct is to say that she's missed her chance to make that choice and move on. I don't know if this is the right decision or not. Sometimes that choice is out of my hands anyway, depending on the reason it's "too late."

An example. She wanted to color today, and we had 30 minutes before we had to leave the house for something. So, I got out the crayons and put a piece of paper on the table. She demanded more paper, saying it wasn't enough. "Ask, don't tell." She Would Not Ask. She kept yelling "I want more!" I tried cueing her the exact words to asking, she kept resisting. When the 30 minutes were up and I declared it time to go, she finally said "Can I please have more paper?" I put more on the table for later, but there was no time left to color. She cried for 20 minutes in the car. No, she didn't cry. She sobbed, yelled, kicked, screamed and shouted things at me in the car. (Things like, "You're mean!" and "Nobody likes me anymore!")

And the most exhausting part is that she only does it with me. Oh, other adults get the occasional uncooperative moment, but not the violent acting out rages that I get. And that I only get when there are no other adults present.

I'm trying to believe that doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong. I'm trying to believe that means she's resisting my authority as the replacement mother figure or that she trusts me enough to try to push me away. But it's wearing me down.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

One Step

I've sung in church choirs for most of my life. I'm a "traditional worship" kind of girl, so I sing anthems that are set for SATB choirs to sing with a piano or organ accompaniment. Sometimes, the music from one of those anthems will stick with me and I'll find myself singing it to myself at times that seem random at first. Then I listen to the words I'm singing and usually realize that the message is appropriate to my life.

Foster care repeatedly brings back an anthem we sang at a church we attended a decade ago, when Peter was a preschooler. It's called "One Step He Leads" and it's by a composer called Pepper Choplin.

Sometimes I worry,
And wish I could see
What lies ahead,
What the future will be.
 But God calls me on
To follow, in faith,
And He'll take tomorrow,
If I give him today.

One step, he leads
And one step I'll follow.
God knows my needs,
And he will supply.
I don't know the future,
Or all that's in store.
But I'll take one step,
One step,
To follow my Lord.

There's a second verse, but I can never remember all the words to it. On rough foster care days -- on the days when I don't understand what's going on and I wonder how long I can handle living with this limbo or the days when a little one is melting down over all the ways her world is falling apart and neither of us can fix it -- the words of this echo in my head and I can't help but sing it to myself. "I don't know the future or all that's in store..."

On those days, I KNOW that that those moments are God answering my prayers for guidance and clarity and understanding. And I may not like the answer, which is to take this one step at a time and trust Him. But the fact that it's not the answer I wanted doesn't mean it's not an answer to prayer. Some days singing it out helps me get where I need to be again. "He'll take tomorrow if I give Him today."

Giving you today, Lord. And trying to trust that You will take care of all the tomorrows.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Visit Drama

All the pieces that go into scheduling visits for S are so difficult to juggle and it causes such issues that it's frustrating. And meanwhile, there is a little girl who just wants to know when she'll see her parents again. And I can't tell her.

When visits were just with Mommy (Daddy was in jail), we didn't have that much trouble. Her work schedule is all in the evenings, so visits were on a weekday, mid-morning to lunchtime, always the same day of the week. Perfect. Predictable, routine, evenly spaced.

Adding Daddy's visits originally wasn't that much of an issue either. Tack his time on either before or after hers.

But then he got a job. Which, of course, is a good thing, except it was M-F all day, so he wanted weekend visits. We did a few of those and then he lost the job. During the last one of those weekend visits that he had, he gave the supervisor a ton of attitude when she hinted that a lot of people had made sacrifices to make this happen the way he'd wanted it.

Supervisor would rather not work weekends herself, so we went back to weekday visits.

Now, he has another job and wants weekends back; supervisor is pushing back. I think he rubbed her the wrong way when he refused to admit that he owed anyone some gratitude for adjusting the visit schedule for him (specifically, I think she wanted him to acknowledge that S's mother was owed some thanks for being flexible with her own schedule). She's told him she'll do one weekend a month and if he wants a 2nd visit that month, he's just going to have to request a day off.

I also suspect that she doesn't think this job will last long either and is setting some firm boundaries with him.

But what all this drama leads to is this. There are about 2 weeks between visits. On visit day, I never know when the next one will be. Lately, I don't know until a day or two beforehand. Which sucks. It sucks for me and the other kids in the house -- it's hard to plan ANYTHING when I don't know what time she will need to be picked up or returned and during what time frame she'll be gone. But, bigger than that, it really, really sucks for her. We used to put a sticker on the calender on visit day and mark off the days as they passed, so she could have a visual for when she'd see Mommy again. We're still marking off days, but there's no sticker anymore for long stretches of time. Wouldn't be surprised if it makes her feel like she's never going to see her mother again.

I hate this. This little girl needs her time with her parents to be consistent. This is a child that is desperate for control and stability and the only things she's getting from the state are more disruptions and disorder. I hate the way this increases her behavior issues because she just can't cope with the not-knowing of all of this and I hate that I can't do anything to fix it. I hound the supervisor planning the visit; I remind her that S asks when she'll see them again and it's really hard on her when I can't tell her. But I don't think this is all the supervisor's fault--it's just too many schedules to juggle and too many people to try to get on the same page.

Mommy is requesting a move to unsupervised visits this month, so this may be the last time that there's just the one long visit time with both parents getting a share of it. I'm hoping that will help. I'm hoping that unsupervised means that Mommy and I work it out between us and it's just Daddy's visits that have to be "I don't know." Maybe the supervisor will be more OK with a weekend visit when it's just one parent, instead of two back-to-back. I'm not sure, but I suspect that S will cope with uncertain Daddy-time much better than uncertain Mommy-time. (It's always Mommy that she asks when she'll see her. It's always Mommy she cries for when she's unhappy. It's always Mommy that she wants to know when she can go to her house. Never Daddy for any of those things, although she will acknowledge that she'll see him the same day she sees Mommy.)

Foster care sucks.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Like a lot of foster parents with other non-foster children, I spend a lot of time feeling like I'm living in two worlds that only overlap in my house.

Most of the parents of the Originals' classmates and friends have "normal" children with "normal" problems. I don't want to minimize those problems because they can be very real and legitimate concerns. But sometimes, I just want to slap some of those people.

I hear a lot of people agonizing over "labels." They don't want their child "labelled." They don't want people to "only see the label." (Unless, of course, the label is "gifted", but that's a whole different vent.) That's a legitimate concern...that makes me grind my teeth.

Anecdotal evidence -- my only experiences with a child that's been "labelled" have been positive. My daughter is "special needs." She is "labelled."

And you know what? The label gets the insurance to pay for the therapies. The label gets the school system to make accommodations. The label helps my daughter explain some of her "quirks" to her friends.

We've just started counseling for S. Her new psych eval mentioned the possibility of a behavioral disorder. I don't know much about the specific disorder yet and I don't yet know if that's right or not....but if having that label helps us get help with the rages, then I'm happy to label her. I can't say that too loudly, though, or I start feeling like one of those parents who "just wants to drug their child, rather than work on the problem." I do want to work on the problem; sometimes medication is what helps work on a problem. We don't refuse to give a child an antibiotic when they have an ear infection -- why do we refuse mental health medication, if it helps? (We aren't talking about medication, anyway. We're talking about using different behavioral tools for S because maybe her brain operates differently than most children.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Random Thoughts

  • It's a good thing S had school today because we were getting on each other's nerves this morning. I did not have my usual patience for answering the same questions that I answer on a daily basis; she was not happy with my insistence that she knew the answer to that and I wasn't answering it again. I was not feeling the compromises today; she was not willing to hand over any power whatsoever. The initial pickup at school didn't bode much better for her side of it as she nearly melted down when I would not let her run through the parking lot with her new "kite" made in school that day, but the hours "off" had given me a deeper level of serenity and patience. I was able to redirect her onto a grassy field to show me the kite and successfully headed off the meltdown by meeting her need to show off her new creation while still meeting my own need to keep her safe.
  • We might have court in a few weeks. But I don't know that for sure. If I think too hard about this, I will get irritable again. I will just say that S's mom told me when court is and asked if we would be there. I told her, honestly, that I'd like to be, but that I haven't heard anything about it yet. My query to the caseworker has, shockingly, gone unanswered. (BioMom says her letter tells her they will be discussing the possibility of moving to unsupervised visits with her. I would like to be there to add my resounding and enthusiastic support to that idea and hopefully get an official answer on what the rules will be -- specifically, what's the upper limit to frequency and duration?)
  • Finally, finally, finally starting counseling for S, although it is clear to me that this counselor has only worked with kids in "schools" that are full-time day-care or, you know, K-12 schools. She's seeing S at "school" for an hour a week. Out of the 9 hours that S spends there. For the month that remains of S's school year. OK. What really made me laugh was when she earnestly told me she would plan to see her at 10am, so that she could be done "before lunch and nap-time." Yeah, those are at my house. :)
  • It's almost May which means all the random "events" are starting up for the Originals as well as for S. Spring Sing concert, Field Day, Writer's Tea, Barter Day, Teacher Appreciation week, Band Concert in the Park, 5th Grade "Walk" (a "not-graduation" ceremony), Volunteer Appreciation breakfasts, sports banquets and End of Year parties. My May calendar makes my eyes hurt. Part of me wants to suggest that next year, we hold all our volunteer appreciation events at some random time during the that they don't fall when our volunteers are busy, you know, volunteering?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It's all Glacial

Glacial is my word for the day.

As in, the pace of this case glacial.

Nothing much new right now, except that I learned something about the case history which makes me even more frustrated with this glacial pace.

I knew that S's mother's initial arrest was drug related. I was under the impression that the drug in question was a highly addictive, extremely dangerous one. The drug I thought was involved is one that I have been told is very difficult to stop using; many drug counselors are adamant that the usual "6-months clean" on a case plan is not even close to being enough to ensure that the parent has truly kicked the addiction. That understanding was giving me some modicum of comfort with the glacial pace of the rest of this case, as it meant that S's mom was getting more than 6 months to really stay clean.

On a piece of paperwork today, I saw reference to her drug arrest. It stated that the drug in question is not the one I though. Instead, it is a much milder drug -- one that is legal in some parts of the country, although not here.

I am not going to debate drug legalization in this space. I don't know enough of the facts about addiction and the different types of drugs in question to speak knowledgeably about that.  The fact is that, in this state, that drug is illegal. I don't believe that it's OK to break laws just because you don't believe they are "right", so I'm not going to argue that S's mother "didn't do anything wrong."

But I sure do feel like she did a heck of lot less than I first thought. And the idea that S has been here -- and limited to 4 hours a month with her mother -- for EIGHT MONTHS over this makes me sick to my stomach.

Still hearing that the caseworker is "working on unsupervised visits" which could be longer and more frequent because they don't cost the county any money. Still offering to personally transport to and from said visits if that will help them happen.

Finally getting counseling started.

Glacial. Things that affect the lives of 3 year olds should not be glacial.

Friday, March 22, 2013

On a lighter note...

Because it's age appropriate, we've talked a lot about "private parts" and "privacy" with S.

In the grocery store today, walking by the magazine section, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition was on display.

S giggled and pointed and said "I can see her private parts."

We agreed that the lady on that magazine cover should put on a shirt.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My own triggers

I'm feeling a little better about S's rages.  I finally got a response from someone . . . someone who listened to what I had to say, validated it and gave concrete, specific advice for how to move forward from here. That really helped. I also realized something.

When we were going through our home study, there was an interview section. The interviewer asked us questions about our own childhoods and relationships with family members. She talked about how there aren't really "wrong" answers to those questions (although I'm sure there are some answers that would be red flags), but said it was important to know what sort of things might be in our own pasts that a future foster child could trigger. We needed to work through any of those issues ourselves before we could help a child with similar ones.

Made sense to me. I thought long and hard and tried to imagine anything that could impact a placement.

But I looked too far back. I didn't think about more recent experiences.

I kept asking for help for S, telling professional after professional that she is melting down and I don't know how to help her.

I kept getting all but patted on the head as these people tell me this is "normal" and I'm doing a great job with her and would I like to schedule a respite weekend soon?

I finally realized what past memory that response is dredging up. Susan. The first, oh, about 7 years of her life. Specialist after specialist telling me she is "fine", she's "within normal ranges", she'll "grow out of it" or "catch up." Years of feeling in my gut that she's not fine, that there's something bigger here than a "mild developmental delay", that I don't know how to help her. Pretty much from birth. Until finally, in the spring of 1st grade, the school psychologist did a psych eval on her at my request. (Requested on the advice of the private psychologist we were seeing who told me they had to do it if I asked for it and that he could do one, but that the school might dismiss any findings he made, but "if they find it, they have to offer her resources in school to help her.") And that was when we finally had the Asperger's diagnosis. 7 years.

S can't wait 7 years.

I can't wait 7 years.

I don't ask for help or support services lightly. I know resources are thin and there's not enough money in the pot to cover all the help everybody wants. So, it takes a pretty dramatic problem for me to start screaming for help. And getting brushed off with what they think are reassuring statements is the last thing I need.

Again and again, forever and forever....foster care sucks.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Normal" is not OK

I am currently screaming through keyholes and banging on doors (figuratively, of course) in an attempt to get some sort of counseling in place for S. She is literally banging on doors and screaming. The response I get from caseworker after caseworker?

"This is normal in children her age around this point in a placement. She's just so frustrated that it doesn't seem like anything is changing and she feels like she's been here a long time."

OK. I know all that. I'm frustrated by those things, too. How 'bout some professional help for her to learn how to PROCESS THOSE FEELINGS? Or at least professional advice for me on how to help her?

"Oh, we can't refer her for counseling until she's 4."

So, it's normal for 3 year-olds in care to scream themselves hoarse and hit walls until their hands bleed....but it's not possible to get them help? How does that make sense?

Foster care sucks.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Oh, for the love....

Just found out S's county caseworker is changing AGAIN.

I just....

This isn't....

I can't...

There are no words.

FOUR caseworkers in SEVEN months.

Unacceptable. And yet, I have no choice but to accept it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Naming Progression

I'm writing about this again because I just think watching it develop is interesting and I don't want to forget this.

I wrote about what S started out calling us here when she started transitioning towards a different name. That time it didn't last long.

But around Christmas, she switched over to pretty much always using Mom and Dad for the two of us, while using Mommy and Daddy for her bio parents.

Except when she's mad at me or I don't respond quickly enough to the first call for attention. Then she calls me Ms FirstName. :)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What if they don't?

Generally, I love PBS Kids programming. We happen to get two different local PBS stations, so when my pre-school kids watch TV during a school day, their choices are PBS1 show and PBS2 show. (Generally this means I'm saying things like "you can watch Dinosaur Train or Super Why, which do you choose?" If they don't like either of these, well, I guess we'll do something else then.)

This usually works well, and we love us some Super Why and Curious George at this house.

S has taken a liking to the new Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood as well, which has been fine....until today. If you've never watched the show, there's always a short sung tag line that's the "lesson" for the day. (There's been things like "Making something is one way to say I love you" or "When you feel so mad that you want to ROAR, take deep breath and count to 4!") The song gets repeated several times as the character has to practice that lesson during the story.

Today, the story is one of those stories that sounds like a great idea . . . to people who've never had foster kids.

The premise is that Daniel's parents went out for the evening and he had a baby-sitter stay with him.

Today's theme tag song was "grown-ups come back."

Oops. We, um, obviously didn't watch the whole thing. I "remembered" that we were going to make muffins today and we did that instead.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Same old, same old

Not much has changed here, which has caused me to have little to write about.

Finally met S's newest caseworker. She did ask to see S's room and attempted to talk to S at least a little bit (but S is still 3, so it will take time before much can really be accomplished there). She took notes about my concerns and frustrations. It remains to be seen if she'll actually do anything about them. She was new to this county, so didn't know a lot about "how that works here" when it came to some of my questions, which was frustrating. I couldn't tell if she was also new to foster care in general (just from a different county) or whether her previous social work experience had all been in a different area. I got the impression she had worked in the past investigating complaints -- deciding whether to remove children or not -- but may have never actually followed a case through to the bitter end. Why does S keep getting newbies? Is it because her mother is working so hard and the case looks "easy"?

S's rages are escalating. I'm pretty sure they are made worse by two things.

One is the recent return of her BioDad. He was in jail at the start of the case, out briefly enough to see her once, then arrested again and now out again. To his credit, he wants his time with her and he wants it to be a positive interaction. However, he is the classic example of a "Disneyland Dad" who shows up with sweets and presents and lets the child do whatever the hell she wants and calls it awesome bonding time. So, I get back an overtired, overstimulated, oversugared little tyke who melts down all over me.

Two is BioMom's recent use of some unfortunate phrasing. In an attempt to help her daughter understand that progress is being made, she has told her that she's finished some of her "homework." And continued to promise that she'll be able to come to Mommy's house "soon." The problem is that Mommy doesn't yet have a house -- and that's the one part of her case plan that is really still hanging to be completed. She has gotten a lot done -- many classes completed or nearly so, months of clean drug screens, employment obtained and kept. But until she finds herself a new place to live, S isn't going anywhere. And "soon" to a 3-year old? Does not mean "in a few months", which would be the best case scenario at this point. So, after one of these conversations, I get a emotionally, traumatized little girl who just wants to go home to Mommy and doesn't understand why I won't let her.

Oh, and throw in the fact that her preschool has some events coming up to which they invite family members. And her teacher informed me (with a great deal of embarrassment) that when she told the class that "their Mommies and Daddies" would be coming, S lit up and asked if her Mommy was coming. (She's not. It's held during one of the times she's in her required classes and the preschool is about 1.5 hours from where she lives. And she doesn't drive.) I'll be there, of course, but that's not the same.

We attempted to file our taxes, only to discover that the SSN for one or more dependent has been filed under someone else's account. We suspect it's L & O, who lived with us for more than half of 2012, then were with their mother for a few months, back in foster care (with another family) for at least a few weeks, and spent the remaining month or two with a different family member. For some reason, the IRS is not able (or willing?) to tell us which SSN is causing the error when we attempt to efile. So, we have to paper file and wait for it all to be sorted out.

So, it's been a lot of fun around here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I'm trying really hard to pray for S's parents.

It's easy to pray for her mother. To pray that she continues on the path she has started. To pray that she feels support and encouragement from God and from those around her. To pray that the parts of her case plan that are out of her hands are resolved quickly. To pray for her healing and her spirit and her grief. To pray that her path to reunification may be smoothed. I can see S's mother working so hard to be the parent that S deserves and I want her to succeed, so it's easy to focus on the good things she's doing and thank God for them and to ask Him to help her with the rest of the steps.

It's hard to pray for S's father. In the last 6 months, he has had 1 visit with his daughter, because there was only one that fell during the brief time he was out of prison. He's out again now and will have another visit with her in a few days. So I am trying to pray for him and it is so, so hard. Although I can intellectually imagine that he also has grief at having lost her, I don't see it. What I see is an angry man insisting that nothing is his fault. (According to him, S's first caseworker was out to get him. Right. Her concerns with him as a placement had nothing to do with his history of arrests for violent behavior, the pending criminal charges on him, or his refusal to ask the "friend" with whom he was living to submit to a drug screen and background check.) I see a man who wants to play with this little girl, not parent her. I know that God sees more than I do -- that it is not my place to judge him -- but I am struggling to translate that knowledge into prayer for him. It's not that I don't want him to be the parent S deserves -- it's that I don't see him trying and it's hard to pray for his success at something he's not trying to do.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Caseworker Carousel

One of the things I am realizing with S's case is some of the little ways in which I had it good on L & O's case.

L and O had the same county caseworker throughout the entire 13 months that they lived with me. The agency caseworker went out on maternity leave when they had been with me for about 6 months. (Everybody involved had thought they'd be with family by then and she got put on bedrest, which required her to take leave sooner than planned.) She was replaced by a caseworker who stayed on their case for the remainder of their time with me and who took over their new case when they were returned to care.

That gave L & O some continuity. Some of the "adults in charge" did not change...which ensured that the messages they received about their mother and their time in foster care stayed consistent.

I got frustrated at times with how difficult it was to get a response from the county caseworker, but she was always here for her monthly home visits, always saw the kids' bedrooms and spoke with them (privately at every visit for L, sometimes privately for O especially after he got comfortable with her). I knew that she was overworked and overloaded with cases and (mostly) accepted that my questions would get answered at the next monthly home visit.

S has been with me about 6 months. My agency caseworker has remained constant. I just had a home visit from her county caseworker....who informed me that S will be assigned a new caseworker tomorrow as this caseworker's last day is the end of the month. That will make the 3rd state caseworker S has had in the time she's been in care. And, of course, I don't even know who it is or how to contact him or her.

The first one was pretty good -- she saw S's room at each visit, she worked hard with BioMom to help her understand everything she needed to do and how to get it done, she kept me notified of important dates as soon as she knew about them, she attempted to build a rapport with S. But after a couple of months, she informed me that she was "rolling off the case" and gave me the contact information for her replacement. The replacement was very nice, but not particularly effectual. She never once went anywhere in my house other than the entryway and the kitchen table at which we sat while we talked. She was a new hire by the agency who is already leaving -- I'm thinking she turned out to be not cut out for this job? I am not naive enough to even hope that the case will be given back to the original caseworker. 

S's referral for counseling is lost in the wind ... and the person who should be following up is as good as gone, which means I will have to start over with a new caseworker with my evidence of why she needs help even though she isn't on the verge of getting kicked out preschool or burning down my house. Which means it will be even longer before she gets that help. Not to mention the fact that S's mother -- who is doing everything she can to get her daughter back -- is about to be given a 3rd person to whom she has to prove herself.

To steal (with permission!) from Cherub Mamma -- foster care sucks!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Challenging Days

We're going through a rough behavior period right now and I don't know how -- or if -- to blog about it, so I just haven't been writing.

S has been here for over 5 months now. I'd say we are definitely out of that "honeymoon period" they talked about in training.

I'm trying to keep things simple and focus on one major behavior issue at a time, so that we don't set ourselves up to be constantly criticizing her.

So, I picked the biggest one, set some boundaries and am holding my ground.

She hates it. She reacts with shock and frustration every time I follow through on a promised consequence. (And she's reminded of the consequence and given a chance to change the behavior every time. She never does.)

I make her cry at least once a day. It's becoming a gruesome joke -- how long we will make it today? To bedtime? To lunch? Not even through breakfast?

Today, I was that parent in the grocery store with the 3 year old in the cart screaming her head off and kicking her feet. You know, the one that seems to be ignoring their brat of a child? That was me. I wasn't ignoring her. I had told her that we would talk about what had happened and how to get what she wanted when she was ready to stop crying. I repeated that to her several times before she finally "heard" it and insisted (still sobbing) that she was done crying.

I don't know. I don't know if I'm doing this wrong. I don't know if there's a better way to help her understand that her choices have consequences and that I always mean what I say.

I have a training class coming up on behavior tools, which I really hope gives me some new ideas because I am at a loss.

It's hard to explain this even to caseworkers because it sounds like "normal 3 year old testing limits" behavior. Until you see it. And you see how out of proportion her rage is and how genuinely confused she seems to be by the fact that I follow through on consequences and how utterly incapable she is of repeating back the reason for that consequence. Even when I just gave them to her. The conversation will go something like this:
     Me: "I put you in time out because you hit me. Do you understand?"
     Her: "Yes."
     Me: "OK. Tell me why you had to go to time out."
     Her: "Because I asked for ice cream."
     Me: "What happened when you asked for ice cream?"
     Her: "I wanted some."
     Me: "I know you wanted some ice cream. You asked for some and I said no. Do you remember what you did when I said no?"
     Her: "We don't hit."
     Me: "Yes, we don't hit. But you hit me when I said no ice cream. Do you remember that?"
     Her: "yes."
     Me: "And you had to go to time out for hitting."
     Her: "yes."
     Me: "So, tell me why you were in time out?"
     Her: "Because I can't have ice cream." **Not a real conversation. Hitting is not the behavior issue and not getting ice cream has never triggered it. But it gives you the flavor of how we're talking in circles and it feels as though she really can't articulate why she's in trouble....which makes me wonder if any sort of discipline could possibly be effective! 

Before I know it, it seems we have spent more time trying to get her to verbalize her understanding of the misbehavior than it is reasonable to expect a 3 year old to talk about it.

I can't tell if she really doesn't get it, if she's trying to manipulate me into dropping it (by "playing dumb"), if this sort of response has gotten her out of trouble before....I just don't know. Maybe I picked the wrong behavior to focus on...but I don't feel like we can resolve any other behavior issues until we get this one more in line with normal 3 year old development.

She's had a psych eval, which said she was mostly fine, just "borderline in a few areas." I'm pushing for further testing and support for those borderline areas, but the wheels are turning really, really slowly.

I feel stuck. And I don't even know how to end this post, because it isn't resolved. We're working on it. We've told BioMom we're working on it and what we're doing and asked her to "be consistent" with us during visit time, but realistically we doubt that's happening. (Who wants to make their child cry when you only get to see them a few hours a week? Especially with someone watching every move you make. If S reacts to her mother enforcing these boundaries the same way she reacts to me, I'm sure Mom caves to make her "happy" again. I probably would, too, in her shoes. I have the luxury of enforcing my consequences in relative privacy and having plenty of "not in trouble" time to balance it out.) I'm trying to trust that things will improve if we stay consistent, but I'm feeling discouraged and ineffective right now.