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.