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....